The field of medical interpretation is relatively new and, as a result, there is sometimes confusion about its basic aspects. In an attempt to shed some light on this area, below are some commonly asked questions regarding medical interpreting.
1. What is the difference between "interpretation" and "translation"?
From the MMIA "Standards of Practice":
Interpretation is the conversion of a message uttered in a source language into an equivalent message in the target language so that the intended recipient of the message responds to it as if he or she had heard it in the original. … To be able to do this, the interpreter must not only be fluent in both the source and target languages but must also have the skills and knowledge base to be able to comprehend the message quickly in the source language and just as quickly re-express it in the target language. … Equivalence, however, does not mean a literal or word-for-word conversion from one language into the other. Rather, it requires an analysis of the original message in order to render the fullness of its meaning in another language. The primary test of a competent interpreter, therefore, it the accuracy and completeness of the interpretation.
Translation is the conversion of written text from one language into another, while interpretation involves the spoken word. Properly translated written materials can be critical to ensuring effective communication in the medical settings such as in the case of obtaining informed consent, establishing advanced directives, and issuing discharge instructions and prescriptions.
In a nutshell, "interpretation" refers to what is spoken; "translation" refers to what is written.
2. I am bilingual in English and Spanish, and am interested in becoming an interpreter. What should I do?
Your bilingual status helps in becoming an interpreter but it is not, however, the only factor involved. A medical interpreter must not only be fluent in both the source and target languages, but must also have the skills and knowledge base to quickly comprehend the message in the source language, and just as quickly re-express it in the target language. To do this, a person must have interpreting skills, knowledge about specialized healthcare terms and concepts, and be able to adhere to the Code of Ethics for medical interpreters.
There are many training programs available for interpreters, both experienced and novice. Your participation in such training will help ensure that you are on the right path to becoming a medical interpreter.
3. My hospital is thinking about starting an interpreter services program. Where should we begin?
There are excellent tools available to help hospitals interested in establishing/enhancing their interpreter services programs. We recommend that you check out:
"Best Practice Recommendations for Hospital-Based Interpreter Services", Massachusetts
Department of Public Health
"Linguistically Appropriate Access and Service: An Evaluation and Review for Healthcare Organizations", National Council on Interpreting in Health Care
Both can be accessed through links on this website under Resources/Tools.
4. Many interpreters say they are "certified". What does this mean?
A certified interpreter is a professional interpreter who is certified as competent by an accredited professional organization or government entity through rigorous testing based on appropriate and consistent criteria that have been used in developing valid and reliable tests.
Interpreters who have had limited training or have taken a screening test administered by an employing health, interpreter or referral agency are not considered certified. Additionally, someone who possesses a "Certificate of Attendance" or a "Certificate of Completion" from a training program is not considered to be certified. While certification exists for court interpreters and sign language interpreters, there is currently no certification available for medical interpreters in Massachusetts.
5. I am a provider at a local hospital that uses interpreter services. I have noticed many times that the speech uttered by my patient is much longer than its English version provided by the interpreter. What is going on?
Don't expect a 'word for word', or 'literal' or 'verbatim' translation. That is not how interpreters transfer or convey meaning from the source language to the target language. Remember that English is a relatively direct and concise language. Other languages, such as Vietnamese, tend to be more metaphorical and circumvented. Allow for the time the interpreter may need to restructure information from the source language and present it in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in the target language.
6. As a corporate member, can all employees/staff/members of the organization get a membership discount when attending the conference ?
No, only the representative of the corporate membership receives the member price for the conference and there is only one representative per corporate membership.
7. As a corporate member can my professional information still appear in the intepreter directory, while not my personal information such as home address, etc.?
As a corporate member, you will have almost all the benefits that individual members have (including some they do not have), but to be listed in the interpreter directory you will need to join as an individual member.