Monday, February 22, 2010

How to Chose the Right Interpreting Company: Introduction

It's been a while since the California Endowment released Cindy Roat's letter on how to pick the best interpreting company for you. But the information in it is still important today. In effort to try to get this information to our clients, I'm going to post the letter here, with Cindy's permission. Technically, the California Endowment requests that we publish this in its entirety. Unfortunately, Blogger has another idea as blog entries can only run a certain length. I'll be publishing the letter one section at a time, instead, but these entries will be back to back and I certainly encourage you to read them all.

Let me know what you think!


It happens every day. A patient comes in for an appointment; the doctor speaks English, the patient speaks Spanish. The social worker meets with a client about a problem with food stamps; he speaks English and Spanish, the client speaks Hmong. The school nurse calls home about a child with a fever. She speaks English; mom speaks Farsi, Armenian, Somali, or one of a hundred different languages. How is the service provider to do his or her job well in the face of these language differences?

There is a growing awareness in California, and across the United States, of the importance of quality language services to support communication between service providers and Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients and clients. Federal Civil Rights guidelines and accreditation standards are becoming clearer about these requirements.1 A growing body of research is showing that the use of family, friends and untrained bilingual staff to interpret leads to poor communication, and other research is showing that unclear communication leads to poor outcomes and higher service costs. Serving a multilingual community is becoming the norm for most health and human service organizations, leaving administrators searching for the resources that will help them close this language gap most efficiently.

There is no one formula for providing language access services. Hospitals, clinics and social service agencies are hiring staff interpreters, training bilingual staff to interpret and recruiting bilingual providers. Many are turning to a unique resource and a growing industry that can play a vital role in assuring language access for LEP patients and clients: the language agency.

Language agencies are organizations that provide interpretation and/or translation services to another organization, usually in return for a fee. They are also called interpreting agencies or translation agencies. They may differ in a number of ways. Some only provide interpreter services; others provide a variety of services. Some provide in-person interpretation only, some telephonic interpretation only, others provide both. Many are small, privately owned, for-profit companies, often started by entrepreneurs who were (or still are) interpreters themselves. Some are divisions within nonprofit community service agencies set up to coordinate support for immigrants and refugees. Others, especially telephonic interpreter agencies, may be large national corporations. Some specialize in particular venues, such as the legal or health care arenas, while others serve a variety of industries. None of these profiles are intrinsically better than the others; the key is to have
a clear idea of what you want from the agency and to choose one that meets those requirements.

How best to use a language agency? What can you expect from such a service? And, how do you choose a good one? This publication is designed to assist health and human services administrators who are interested in contracting with a language agency and who are asking themselves these questions. It deals principally with agencies providing interpreter services, as opposed to translation services, and spoken language as opposed to sign language. Much of the information included here, however, will also apply to translation agencies and to agencies specializing in interpretation for the deaf and hard of hearing. The purpose of this publication is to help you consider how a language agency might fit into your language access program, to suggest what you might look for when you are choosing an agency, and to help you avoid unrealistic expectations of an agency. In addition, a compendium of a few language agencies from each region of California is included to give you a sampling of existing resources. Language agencies can be a valuable partner in serving your LEP clients and patients; hopefully this guide will help you to find a good one and to work with it efficiently.

Source: Roat, Cynthia E. “How to Choose and Use a Language Agency: A Guide for Health and Social Service Providers Who Wish to Contract With Language Agencies.” Los Angeles: The California Endowment, February 2003.

Go to Part 2.

1 comment:

Interpretation and translation services said...
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