A thumb is not a toe! II

June 26, 2011 JAlfonso 1 comment

The telephonic interpretation described in the previous blog was a big mess! Some very basic Spanish was interpreted incorrectly. A thumb is not a toe!

Let me clarify.  I strongly believe that telephonic interpreting is very important. In fact, under certain circumstances, it might be the only way to provide a badly needed interpreter.  No medical professional should ever think he or she can get by with a little Spanish and hand signals; nor should the patient.  Some conversational language skills might be fine for ordering a burger or finding a restroom.  However, it is not worth the risk when medical treatment is involved.  If no qualified interpreter is available, the option of a telephonic interpreter remains.

All in-person and telephonic interpreters are still bound to follow an ethical code of conduct. For instance:

The interpreter strives to render the message accurately, conveying the content and spirit of the original message, taking into consideration its cultural context.

Obviously that particular interpreter missed that one by saying toe instead of thumb.  She also misled the patient to believe his thumb would be amputated instead of repaired.  Basic language skills were missing.

The interpreter strives to develop awareness of his/her own and other cultures encountered in the performance of their professional duties.

The patient was from Costa Rica. The interpreter needed to become familiar with the Spanish used in Costa Rica in order for the patient to understand the interpreter.

The interpreter must at all times act in a professional and ethical manner.

When the mistakes were made, she should have corrected herself and admitted it.  When the patient stated he could not understand her, it was her responsibility to interpret that statement to the nurse.  On both counts the interpreter remained silent.  Failing to do so was both unprofessional and unethical.

Add to this phone connection problems and people mumbling:  you now have a recipe for disaster.

My personal belief is that in-person is better than telephonic. Telephonic should only be used as a last resort when no interpreter is present. Finally, all interpreters should qualify for the job, follow a professional code of ethics, and recognize when they err.  Mistakes do happen, even to the best of interpreters.  If you have no alternative but to use the phone and there is a problem with communication, ask for another interpreter. Perhaps another will work better.

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