Interpreters in every sector have a challenge that they can handle well or poorly:
How do I include everyone present in the conversation?
Very often one party will address the interpreter directly. The other parties in the room feel included or excluded depending on the interpreter’s skill in being transparent.
Being transparent requires very fast thinking on the part of the interpreter, as well as excellent diplomatic sense and knowledge of the protocol fitting of each situation. Comments directed to the interpreter are usually NOT intended for the third party to understand or respond to. However, interpreter ethics for healthcare and community interpreting require an immediate correction of this imbalance by opening the comment to the third party. Care is needed to do this in a thoughtful way so that the initial speaker does not feel betrayed. For example:
A doctor might say to the interpreter at the beginning of a patient visit: “I sure hope that this woman has brought her pill bottles with her today. It took too long to do the medication reconciliation last time.”
A teenager in a school behavioral plan meeting might say to the interpreter: “This teacher is always mean to me but nice to everyone else.”
The interpreter must let everyone in the room know the gist of the comment, however there is the opportunity to reset the moment by reminding everyone that communication will be transparent. That opportunity must be handled ethically AND diplomatically, so that the rest of the session can move forward with everyone knowing the rules.
The interpreter speaks in her own voice, which we call intervening:
interpreter to the patient: “The interpreter is being addressed by the doctor. The doctor is hoping that you have brought your pill bottles today, so that the time of the appointment is not taken just with reviewing what meds you are taking.”
Interpreter to the doctor: “The interpreter has just passed on your hope that the pill bottles have been brought. Of course, I will be interpreting everything.”
There is another type of situation in which transparency is just as critical, which is when the interpreter herself breaks into the interpreted conversation and intervenes using her own voice in order to clarify something. Or she might intervene to suggest that one party re-phrase something to express a comment more clearly or fully. This would never happen in a court hearing, but does happen frequently in healthcare and social service encounters.
An example of the interpreter intervening transparently in a healthcare interpretation:
Doctor: “Is the pain throbbing or pulsating or piercing?”
Interpreter to the doctor: “The interpreter requests that you please describe these different kinds of sensations as this language does not have specific pain descriptors to match what you asked.”
Interpreter to the patient: “The interpreter has asked the doctor to provide clarification regarding different kinds of pain so that you can tell her which type of pain you have.”
One of the most frequent complaints that professionals AND clients make about interpreters is that the interpreter has side conversations with the other party, which makes them feel left out and devalued.
The interpreter who always keeps everyone in the room included in the conversation is highly appreciated.
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