The quality of a service is usually assessed based upon whether the end result met, exceeded, or fell short of prior expectations. For many services, this can easily be determined based upon one, straight-forward expectation of an outcome or result. Your cake, for example, is either dry, or it’s not. Your car, is either clean, or it’s not. Interpreting, on the other hand, has a unique standard of quality. By nature, interpreting has three expectations consistently at work in each experience: the expectations of the service provider, the expectations of the client, and finally the expectations of the interpreter themselves. Unfortunately, when these expectations meet and do not match up, there is a site of conflict around the quality of the service. For this reason, it is essential that all involved in an interpreting experience are aware of the role of the interpreter so the quality of the experience can be the best possible.
At face value, the role of a spoken language healthcare interpreter may seem relatively apparent – to strictly relay messages from one party to another, as a sort of disinterested mediator between the two parties with a language barrier. With this definition, anyone who can speak both source languages should be able to perform the duties of an interpreter. However, in reality, the interpreter’s purpose is slightly more complex than a game of telephone, as hard as telephone can typically be. The interpreter does more than provide a tunnel, they work to make communication so complete that no language barrier remains, the goal being that the consumer speaking a non-dominant language receives the same resources and treatment as one who speaks the dominant language.
To expand on the role of an interpreter in every experience, we must first separate the interpreter from “one who is bilingual”. LTC Language Solutions’ Quality Assurance Supervisor, Liz Essary says, “A professional interpreter knows how to work within role boundaries so that two people who speak different languages can communicate as if there were no language barrier.” Liz, who has 15 years of experience in interpreting in both medical and community settings, says an untrained interpreter may be “well-intentioned” but not be aware of the ethics involved with interpreting professionally. This lack of training may lead to unawareness of role limitations and tension between client, interpreter and care provider.
Secondly, advocacy within interpreting must be understood as an organic part of the interpreter’s role and rightly found within ethical limitations. While the interpreter as an advocate has historically been a point of conflict in the profession – since it appears to undermine the definition an interpreter in the first place – advocacy actually occurs naturally as language barriers and systemic barriers are being broken down in order for those with language barriers to be treated in an equal manner to those without. Advocacy in this respect has little to do with bias and much to do with education and clarifying cultural expectations.
For Liz, sensitivity for role boundaries within advocacy are heightened in situations where she can personally relate: “I think in those situations where I see myself reflected [it is hard to separate from personal advocacy and the role of an interpreter], such as working with adult children who are caring for parents.” However, with clear checks, interpreters can guard against compromising professionalism and stay within their role boundaries. Liz says a good question she asks herself is: “If I advocate in this way, will it cause a conflict with my principles?” (Main principles are role-boundaries, confidentiality and impartiality.) Empathy as an interpreter is a good thing, so long as it does not interfere with accuracy or impartiality. “Engaging with the client outside of the interpretation” or “adding [your] own piece to the interpretation” are two things that would be in conflict with those principles. “Advocacy can be unprofessional when it starts to cause a conflict with our other professional values,” she clarifies. Service providers will want to be looking for interpreters who stick to those principles and interpreters will want to make sure they set up the proper boundaries well.
Liz believes what separates bilinguals from interpreters most is training and experience. So, next steps for new interpreters could be to get involved in professional organizations, enrolling in interpreter trainings that explain ethics and professional values, or attending interpreter social events to network with experienced professionals in the field. Those who frequently request
interpreting services can start by deepening their understanding and simply engaging with their interpreters and interpreting agency about the profession, as well as asking about trainings and experience. LTC is excited to have begun providing education and training for interpreters in the opening months of 2017 to develop professionalism, ethics and awareness in the field. Additionally, below is a list of organizations where development opportunities for interpreters and service providers alike can be found. Happy interpreting!
National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare (NCIHC)
Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters (MATI)
South Eastern Medical Interpreters Association (SEMIA)
Community and Court Interpreters of Ohio (CCIO)
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT)
-Cassidy Tyler, Interpreting Events Coordinator