Tag Archives: Medical interpreting

Translator’s Guide to Handling Client Complaints

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Challenges Faced by Consecutive Spanish Interpreters

Why Spanish Interpreters Are Really Multi-Lingual, Especially When Speakers Use Spanglish

One of the ultimate objectives of Spanish language training is to teach students to speak, read and write accurate and impeccable Spanish with the hope that some day, they may become sufficiently proficient in the language to use it professionally. Great efforts have been made to maintain standard Spanish and some of the career paths students of Spanish have aspired to are translation, interpreting, document review, voice-over recording, writing, teaching, et al. 

In this article, we will discuss the challenges some Spanish interpreters face in their daily work. There are two main types of interpreting: (1) simultaneous and (2) consecutive. In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter renders the speaker’s words from one language into another while the speaker is still speaking. In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter waits for the speaker to stop speaking and then renders the speaker’s words from one language into another. Consecutive interpreters can interpret at court hearings, depositions, jailhouse visits, interviews, business meetings, medical appointments, independent medical evaluations, during telephone conferences or exchanges between a small number of persons. 

Since speakers can go uninterrupted for a significant amount of time before a break is finally given for interpreters to render all that has been said into another language, consecutive interpreters are faced with the task of remembering extraneous amounts of speech. They have to rely upon their short-term memories and note-taking skills. In order to recall what speakers have said that needs to be rendered into another language, consecutive interpreters have to develop an elaborate, personal system of symbols to represent everything that is said in interpreting assignments. To a certain extent, the note-taking system developed by the interpreter is like a language in itself. 

In addition to relying upon their short-term memories and note-taking skills, consecutive interpreters have to be familiar with the respective terminology and subject material being discussed, along with the various regionalisms used in different Spanish-speaking countries, so constant vocabulary building is essential for interpreters’ success since during each assignment, they will have to interpret for Spanish speakers from different regions. 

three ring venn diagram
Spanglish is a blend of Spanish and English used at varying extents


As if they do not already have to think on their feet, finding the appropriate symbols to represent everything that is said and then rendering the verbal translation at the appropriate time, interpreters also stand the risk of being baffled when a defendant, deponent, claimant, participant, patient or other speaker says something that they have never heard before in Spanish. It can take the interpreter some time to regain his or her composure and he or she may request a moment to check a dictionary. At some point, the speaker may even clarify the intended meaning of what was said or the interpreter may eventually figure it out. Whatever the case, when such clarification is provided, the interpreter can be taken aback at the realization that the speaker has just spoken Spanglish![i] Spanglish is a blend of Spanish and English that can be used at varying degrees. Users of Spanglish simply do not pay any attention to the efforts being made to keep Spanish, or English for that matter, standard. To the contrary, they have a mind of their own and develop this new way of speaking for their own convenience. Spanglish vocabularies have seen tremendous development and are no longer just a matter of a few words..[ii] 

Hence, Spanish interpreters must either decide to study Spanglish and stay up-to-date with the growing vocabulary or run the risk of being rendered speechless in interpreting assignments. Following are a few Spanish words, their Spanglish counterparts and English meanings:

Spanish Spanglish English
sótano beisman basement
paseando jangeando going out or hanging out
goteando liquiando leaking
alfombra carpeta carpet
éxito suceso success
almuerzo lunche lunch
ayudar asistir to assist
asistir atender attend
empujar puchar to push
estacionar parquear to park

Spanglish is constantly evolving; it is neither organized nor consistent. Perhaps, the only way in which Spanglish may be comparable with Spanish is that different Spanglish expressions are used by different speakers in different regions.[iii] It would appear as if the responsibility for Spanglish interpreting has automatically fallen to Spanish interpreters and embracing this responsibility is not always easy. As Spanglish continues to evolve, the translation and interpreting industry may have to rethink this arrangement and more specialized Spanglish linguists may have to arise to embrace the task of interpreting Spanglish as distinct from Spanish and English. 

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanglish 

[ii] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1438900 

[iii] http://factoidz.com/the-spanglish-language/

Language Professionals and Immigrant Issues

Being multi-lingual may serve as an indicator that some translators and interpreters are immigrants who at one point or another, have had to face some of the very same issues in which they become professionally engaged. Translators and interpreters do well to pay close attention to matters relating to immigrants and immigration since, among other reasons, the profession is involved in many ways.

A few years ago, through professional interaction with the LaGuardia Community College Immigration Legal Services Center, I learned about the services offered by the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project, which provides free services at various campus centers located throughout New York City. Services to the public include confidential one-on-one consultations with immigration attorneys and paralegals, as well as access to immigration and citizenship forms, and community and educational activities. and other citizenship and immigration clinics around the country. Usually, after immigrants cross the main hurdle of obtaining the right to live and work legally in the United States in order to make a living for themselves and their families, there are other issues they have to face.

Perception Issues. Through aiding in the communication process, translators and interpreters can help immigrants overcome the negative connotation that the word “immigrant” can sometimes bear. Because of fairly recent events in the U.S., some immigrants now have the appearance of being a threat to the security of the country. Others are often perceived as a threat to the economic wellbeing of U.S. citizens because of their willingness, borne out of their need, to work for a fraction of the prevailing rate in their respective industries. There is a tendency for some people to assume that immigrants have no assets or education and that their motive for immigrating into the U.S. is to take something from the country rather than to make a contribution there. While many immigrants do seek “opportunity,” a significant number have obtained tertiary education and/or professional skills and experience, while others are already property owners before hitting the shores of the U.S. Even though their decision to leave all of these behind may appear questionable to some, immigrants can have a lot to offer when they arrive in some cases at great sacrifice, especially when there are families in the new environment and/or back home to be supported.

Language Issues. Some immigrants who do not speak English tend to remain insulated in an environment where they feel they will be best able to function and be understood. The lesser the extent of the support they receive in their cultural communities is the greater the extent of the difficulties and challenges they will face when dealing with the public since they are unable to effectively integrate into the society, due to a lack of English language skills and cultural understanding. Because of this shortfall, some immigrants face difficulties because some US Citizens do not like the idea of having to accommodate immigrants so much. It is not unusual to hear the complaint, why do I need to press “One” for English when, after all, this is “America” and everyone should learn to speak English! Learning English to an acceptable level of proficiency takes time, nevertheless. Therefore, as long as immigrants are invited to the U.S., language professionals will continue to be called upon to bridge the gap, be it through teaching English as a second language or through translation and/or interpreting in a variety of situations in which immigrants find themselves.

Social Issues. At times, when people immigrate to the United States, they experience a culture shock and, not understanding the diversity that exists, may at times appear to be impolite. This can be very annoying for others when, for example, they may either avoid those who speak English or speak in a different language while in the presence of English speakers. This happens very frequently in places like grocery stores, dry cleaners, restaurants, nail salons and beauty parlors. Because their behavior may appear to be impolite, these immigrants need to be taught not only English but cultural awareness, especially in order to navigate service industries.

Over a two-year period, I observed the reaction of students in an English reading class I established for immigrants at St. Pius V Church, a Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica, New York comprised of a diversity of parishioners from the Caribbean, North America, Latin America, Central America, Asia and Europe. Some forty-one participants enrolled, and classes comprised mainly of Spanish, Portuguese and French speaking immigrants. The participants in the classes had some appreciation for their need to learn English in order to be prepared for life in the United States. A very important component that was added to the class was a cultural understanding of the community in which the students lived.

Other Social Issues. I was once in the presence of some women a few years ago and one very young mother of three told me that she was worried for her young toddlers and that she felt they would have a better life if only they could change her names. I understood her plight and the fact that for decades, some immigrants have changed their names for various reasons, including their need to avoid religious persecution, I cannot imagine a life worth living as someone else and would never consider changing my name, except to use a pseudonym for some artistic purpose. Immigrants from other cultures have had a similar social dilemma and have felt the need to use the anglicized versions of their names in order not to appear socially inferior. Others have felt the need to go to any lengths to look like their Western counterparts and have had their eyes surgically altered to lose their original look.

Health Issues. Immigrants are no exception to the numbers in the U.S. in need of adequate healthcare and healthcare coverage. Not only that, but they face the same concerns as everyone else when it comes to lifestyle, accessibility to proper nutrition, stress reduction and prevention. Because of litigation passed that requires healthcare facilities and providers to ensure that interpreting services are made available to non-English-speaking patients who present for medical attention, foreign language professionals are in greater demand and have more work opportunities than before. It is standard procedure for hospital and other healthcare facilities’ human resources departments to include multi-lingual healthcare providers among their personnel.

Legal Issues. Immigration attorneys deal with a range of concerns, including but not limited to adoption, asylum and protection, business and employment, consular processing, deportation and removal, family-related concerns, general matters, litigation, and naturalization. Some immigration lawyers also specialize in criminal law and human rights issues and immigrants needing support in these areas have to avail themselves of their services. Each of these legal areas entails distinct subject matter and call for informal meetings, conferences in chambers and a plethora of documentation requiring experience and the knowledge of various processes and varied terminology in all languages. Language professionals are required in the legal arena to assist with immigrant issues.

Working with immigrants can be very exciting and rewarding and it is certainly an area in which translators and interpreters can create and find many opportunities to develop their skills and make a difference.