The Challenges Interpreters Face
Interpreting is one of the main components of language services, but with that comes many challenges. Whether the interpreting is done over the phone, via video or in-person and if it’s for healthcare, business, or legal purposes, new and experienced interpreters are likely to face many challenges every once in a while.
Difficulty Hearing the Speaker
This is one of the most cumbersome challenges and the situation can develop from only two things. One, which can be fixed- the audio equipment is not working properly, and two, a problem with the individual speaker.
While audio malfunctions can easily be rectified, a problem with the individual speaker cannot be fixed right away. These problems can be –
Being an interpreter is very demanding. Aside from having a high level of proficiency in the source and target languages, they must be highly knowledgeable of the culture of different countries. You might be knowledgeable, but what if your speaker does not know the language they are speaking in, that well? Or, they know it but are not pronouncing words correctly or the way you studied?
While this may occur more often that it should, the interpreter has to know the differences in how the language is spoken by people from different regions. Speakers will often use local idioms, slang and jargon, so it is very important for an interpreter to be aware of these otherwise the job will not be done effectively.
Interpreters rely not only in their excellent language proficiency but also in their vast knowledge of a different cultures, the cultural connotations of the words spoken, and how the language is expressed in a different culture. if an interpreter is not entirely knowledgeable in the language, culture or different slangs they should not be interpreting for that specific job.
Interpreters act as a conduit for intercultural communications. It is important to not only interpret the words, but to deliver the source language in the tone of voice that reflects how it sounds in the target language and transfer the intended meaning of the message. It is challenging, but interpreters must be quite flexible yet quick in making decisions right on the spot.
What type of interpreting is it?
This can play a huge factor when interpreting. Whether it is Video Remote Interpreting, or in-person, it is important to know what to do when interpreting in that specific industry. When working in healthcare, the interpreters must be knowledgeable, somewhat on the topic. For legal assignments, do not change anything as this can lead to many issues.
Interpreters must come to the conclusion themselves if they can or cannot do their job effectively. As part of the Code of Ethics of the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) the principle around competence stresses this rule. If you cannot hear the speaker, understand the language they are speaking in, or know what to do in a certain industry situation you will not be able to interpret successfully.
When coming for an appointment or a medical procedure, patients are often accompanied by a family member, a friend or a caregiver. The people accompanying a patient play an important role: moral and physical support, an extra set of ears, an advocate and an ally. And sometimes, family members and friends play another role – they provide language assistance. While asking a family member to interpret might seem like the perfect solution – after all, it’s free of charge and easy to arrange – doing so might be not only unethical, but also dangerous.
Professional interpreters abide by a code of ethics, which typically includes tenets specifying, among other things, the need for accuracy. Accuracy involves interpreting everything – whether profanity, a silly joke, a critical remark or a serious diagnosis. Family members, with very best of intentions, don’t always accurately interpret what is being said. For example, they might be tempted to soften the message when the patient is critical of medical providers. Doing so takes away from the patient’s autonomy and silences their voice. Additionally, in some cultures it is undesirable to share bad news with the patient as it is believed that it might make the patient depressed and ultimately worse off. As a result, a cancer diagnosis and suggested treatment options may be reduced to “You’re just a little sick and will get better after taking some pills.”
Professional medical interpreters undergo basic training in order to qualify for national certifying exams. Once interpreters get certified, they are required to receive continuing education. This ensures that interpreters working in healthcare settings have a solid understanding of medical terminology in all their working languages. However, there is no guarantee that family members will be able to use complex medical terminology in both languages. As a result, instead of the exact words the patient uses to describe their past medical diagnoses and procedures, or the detailed explanation a medical provider gives as they present treatment options, the parties might be receiving abbreviated versions or summaries. Why might this be dangerous? From the point of view of the patient, they have a right to be informed of their care and have to understand exactly what a particular treatment involves in order to consent to it. By definition, consent must be informed and given voluntarily. This might not be the case if a patient is agreeing to a procedure while not receiving the full extent of the information. From the provider’s point of view, making an accurate diagnosis and ensuring adherence to treatment requires being able to communicate with the patient directly (with certain exceptions related to a patient’s age and mental capacity). However, this might not be possible if a physician is working off somebody else’s words, which may be inaccurate due to the lack of medical vocabulary needed to explain something, mistaken assumptions or even malicious intent (imagine someone who is perpetrating abuse interpreting for their victim).
To sum up, there are many ethical and legal consequences that can arise from using ad-hoc interpreters such as family members. To mitigate these consequences, it is always best to use professional interpreters who have been trained in all aspects of interpreting in healthcare settings such as being fluent in medical terminology and maintaining confidentiality, accuracy, and role boundaries.