Five Things Your Interpreter Wishes You Knew

Your interpreter wants a word with you!

Your interpreter would like a word with you.

Curious about what interpreters do?  Wondering how to best work with interpreters?  Here are some common misconceptions surrounding interpreters, and some helpful points to know about working with them!

Translators write and interpreters talk.  Although there are some professionals who do both interpreting and translating, the terms are not interchangeable.  If you’re speaking, you’re working with an interpreter.  Now you know.

An interpreter is not a walking dictionary.  I have over a decade of experience in healthcare and legal interpreting.  I have a graduate degree in interpreting.  I used to supervise an interpreter services department.  Still, there is always something I don’t understand or don’t know how to say, and that’s something I actually enjoy about this work.  In fact, part of an interpreter’s skill set is managing difficult speakers or difficult terminology.  Many professionals dedicate their entire training and practice to one specialty, while many interpreters work everywhere.  From medical specialty clinics to immigration offices to mental health consults, interpreters have to be prepared for everything, and we DO prepare, but expecting your interpreter to be a walking dictionary isn’t reasonable.  If your interpreter asks for clarification, it’s not a sign of an unprepared or incompetent interpreter.  It’s a sign that you’re working with a trained, competent interpreter.

We are there to facilitate communication.  What that means on the most basic level is that you say something in one language, and we say it in another.  If there’s something your interpreter doesn’t understand, or needs repeated, or needs extra explanation, she’ll let you know and then get on with the business of interpreting.  Otherwise, we’re not there to say comforting words to your patient, or explain legal procedures to your client.  YOU say the comforting words, YOU explain legal procedures, and your interpreter interprets.

Facilitating communication also means that we want the interaction between you and the other person to look and feel–as much as possible–like an interaction between people who speak the same language.  So speak directly to the person you’re speaking to, rather than telling your interpreter, “Ask him, tell him…”.  And expect your interpreter to speak to you as if she were the speaker, rather than saying, “He said, she said…”.

We are there to interpret everything.  Please don’t say something and then tell us, “Don’t interpret that.”  Imagine everyone in the room understands and speaks English, and speak accordingly.  Also: Some people who speak through interpreters actually understand some level of English, so they will understand what you’ve said even before you’ve asked the interpreter not to interpret it.

Many of us have specialized education, training, and have invested heavily in certification exams.  I didn’t spend a summer abroad in college and learn to speak another language and then become an interpreter.  Nobody did.  Yet it seems many people think all bilingual people can serve as interpreters.  There are just as many misconceptions about what it means to be bilingual and how another language is acquired.  A skilled interpreter is just like any other professional.  When you enjoy a smooth experience speaking and listening through an interpreter, that experience comes from years of study, training, exam prep, and on the job experience.

There is much more to be said in the way of language acquisition, how interpreters are trained, and the differences among healthcare, court and legal, and conference interpreting.  As an interpreter or someone who works with interpreters, what would you add to the list?

The New Girl, Again

colored-folders-1239719Hurrah!  You’ve finished your healthcare interpreter training and you’re ready to go out and work!  Here are some tips to get you started as an on-site interpreter, based on my second time around as a freelance interpreter.  (You can read my first New Girl post with more tips here.)

How do I get the work?  I’d recommend working with an agency.  They do all the leg work, and then pass on the assignments to sub contractors.  I think there’s another post to be written about how to tell a good agency from a bad one, but I wouldn’t work with anyone that doesn’t have a good reputation or who tried to get me to lower my rates, or who didn’t pay me on time.  Make sure when you apply to the agency, you’re accurately representing your qualifications.  If you took a training course for medical interpreters and received a certificate of completion, you’re a trained interpreter, not a certified interpreter.  If you’re confused about trained interpreter versus certified interpreter, you can check out this post that also has info about the certifying bodies. Continue reading

Everything I know about interpreting, I learned in the kitchen

Nearly twenty years ago, Untitled design(9)I moved back to the US from Costa Rica, and I dropped out of school with a handful of credits left to finish my BA.  I went straight to work in a restaurant.  I started waiting tables in this Italian place, and I was going to stash away all my tips until I had enough to go back to Costa Rica.  Turns out I hate waiting tables, but I wasn’t ready to leave the restaurant.  There was something happening in the kitchen that called to me.  I ended up working in the kitchen for years, until I decided I needed to go back to school and finish the semester’s worth of credits to earn my BA.

Something similar happened on my road to conference interpreting.  There was something going on in the kitchen (or the booth, rather) that I couldn’t ignore.  Just as in the kitchen, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I stepped into the booth.  It’s true: Everything I learned about interpreting, I learned in the kitchen. Continue reading

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, the Job Task Analysis, and You!

certification for healthcare interpretersWe all know the benefits of certification.  Some of us have already passed our exams, or are preparing for them.  But did you ever wonder where those exams come from?  How do they know what to include in the exams?  The certifying body (in this case, CCHI) starts by doing what’s called a Job Task Analysis (JTA) of healthcare interpreters all over the US.  Through surveys, the JTA identifies the current knowledge, skills and abilities needed to competently perform as a healthcare interpreter. At the end of the survey, the data is analyzed and published in a report that’s available to the public.  The CCHI’s first JTA was in 2010 and led to the development of its certification exam.  You can see the 2010 report here. Continue reading

Back to the Booth

12309533_10153465986341865_8688022386764836542_oA trainer recently said about interpreting practice: You practice.  And then you do it again.  And again, and again, and again.  And when you’re tired of it, you do it some more.

When I first arrived to our interpreting lab in Toronto, I was in awe.  Fourteen brand-spankin’-new booths!  I could practice again and again, and then some more when I got tired of it!  All booths, all the time!

It didn’t take long for me to change my mind about the booth.  Continue reading

Note taking for Healthcare Interpreters

notepad-1240975-640x480I’ve taught note taking for healthcare interpreters to many people, and over the years I’ve developed my own system that for me is quite effective.  With note taking, the provider or patient can speak for longer without the interpreter interrupting to interpret.  You can be more accurate with the added memory support.  With note taking, you can feel more confident taking the consec portion of your oral exams for national certification.  There’s one trick though: You have to know how to take notes.

Here are some things to get you started, based on my experience as an interpreter and an interpreter trainer. Continue reading

Feedback: Going Beyond “That Was Great”

Giving and receiving feedback is great when you know how!

Giving and receiving feedback is great when you know how!

Interpreting practice and feedback are important.  One of my grad school professors wrote an article about peer assessment that inspired me to write about my own experience.  Practice with a partner or in groups involves giving feedback to others, and in turn accepting others’ feedback.  It requires a lot of work from everyone involved.  It’s not just a matter of half-listening and then telling your practice partner, “Yeah, that was great.”

A few years ago, I practiced alone and with a partner to prep for my state court exams.  Last year, I prepped the staff interpreters at my hospital Language Services department for their national certification exams.  Last year, I prepped for my transition exams to be admitted to the second year of my graduate program, and then I passed my exit exams and graduated.  All that, thanks to great practice partners who took the time to work with me and give me the feedback I asked for!   Here’s what I’ve learned about feedback in interpreting practice, and how to make the best use of your time. Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions for Healthcare Interpreters

happy new year!Just starting out?  In a rut?  Wondering how to up your game as a healthcare interpreter in 2016?  Here are some ideas to get you started!

Learn about certifying bodies for healthcare interpreters:  In the US, you might be in a state that offers state-level certification.  For most of us though, the only certification available is on a national level.  Check out the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters and the National Board for Certified Medical Interpreters.  These are the only two national certifying bodies in the US.  The National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare (NCIHC) and the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) are professional organizations, NOT certifying bodies.  It’s important to understand the difference, especially if you’ve been certified.  If who does what is a bit murky to you, check out this short post that will clarify it. Continue reading

La Despedida (The Farewell)

IMG_3757At my first job as a staff interpreter, my colleagues would scold me because I would never saludar–say hello–at the beginning of the workday (I will just never be a morning person).  They’d also razz me because I’d never despedirme–say goodbye–at the end of the workday when I’d leave to go home.  I’d just slip out quietly, usually after a very tough and very busy day of healthcare interpreting.   La despedida–the goodbye, the farewell–has never been my strong suit.

Earlier this year, in July, I said my goodbyes to the house that I bought the summer I turned 30 and then rented out this summer–the summer I turned 40.  So many great (and not-so-great) parts of my life unfolded in that house, but I know that I can keep all those parts of my life and all those memories without still living in the house.  I don’t need the house.  Somebody else lives there now, but after I left I’d still catch myself just about to suggest dinner or drinks at my favorite neighborhood haunts.  But, I’m not there anymore.  Farewell, house.  Farewell, neighborhood.  Farewell, all the places where I met with friends, debriefed after a rough day, plotted and schemed, planned so many of my next moves–including grad school and my move to Toronto–over drinks. Continue reading

Defining and Evaluating Bilingual Hospital Staff and Interpreters

IMG_3830Back when I was supervising my Language Services department, one of my responsibilities was overseeing our bilingual staff and interpreter approval program.  Honestly?  It wasn’t ever anything I wanted to be in charge of.  But I thought it was important.  I think it just made me uneasy in the beginning because I could never really pin anyone down to help guide me and answer my questions: Whose language should we evaluate?  What should we evaluate?  How do we know if they’re “proficient”?  What does that mean?  How do we evaluate language?  Who can be an interpreter?  What’s the difference between interpreters and bilingual staff?  How do we come up with an evaluation process that people will actually use?  Why do we evaluate them?  How do we follow up?  Essentially: How can we make sure that patients are getting what they need through effective communication when they’re being served by interpreters and bilingual staff?

I’ve got some basics here that may be helpful if you’re responsible for these kinds of things, or if you yourself are a bilingual person working in healthcare, wondering what it means to be an interpreter. Continue reading