Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is Our Industry Disconnected from Clients?

There is a disconnect--a divide. The difference between what we know and what our clients know is vast and the gulf that lies between us is insurmountable alone.

This is how I felt walking away from the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference. Held February 28th, its global health track featured leaders from international pharmaceutical companies, the Pentagon, the Obama administration--even George W’s daughter sat a panel under her Global Health Corps role. These, supposedly, were the world’s greatest minds on global health and social enterprise, with Harvard‘s reputation fully stacked behind them. But when it came to language services, they didn‘t know jack.

Here’s what made me realize this:

I was sitting in the back row listening to a panel made up of Barbara Bush, the director of the International Health Specialist Program for the Pentagon (Lt Col Mylene Huynh), Merck’s director of global affairs (Kris Natarajan), Management Services for Health‘s CEO (Jono Quick), and two professors from the Harvard School of Public Health (Drs Jessica Cohen and Till Barnighausen). The topic was “Breaking the Silos: Collaborations That Impact Complex Global Health Issues.” According to the program summary, the session’s goal was to bring together people and information from different fields, all with the goal of improving global health.

When it came time for Q&A, I raised my hand. “People don’t heal if they don’t understand,” I said. “The rest of the world does not speak English.” I then asked what we could do as a language industry to help connect with the global health one.

There was a long pause. Too long. Then Lt Col Huynh from the Pentagon spoke. Bilinguals and heritage speakers need to learn medical terminology. Sure, I thought, that’s a given. The military, she claimed, does not have systems in place to teach medical linguists medical language terms. Okay. Fair enough. She’s acknowledged their need and is speaking out. That, we can address; lessons, we can do.

But then Harvard’s Dr Barnighausen spoke up. And his response made me wonder what I’ve been doing with the last four years of my life, what our industry has been doing the last ten. He told a story about the one time he had worked with a “translator.” He asked the “translator” to ask the patient if his stomach hurt. The “translator” and the patient had a long back and forth conversation before the “translator” said, “No.” Dr Barnighausen’s reaction was to stop working with translators (which is good, as he needs interpreters instead) because “they’re all like that.”

I wanted to weep. I sincerely and utterly wanted to weep. The moderator went on to the next question while I sat there in shock. The camera Harvard was using to record it all (Harvard, conveniently enough, was unable to locate the video upon request) panned away from me and back toward the panel as they continued, but I didn‘t hear a word. I was too in shock. This “expert,” this Dr Barnighausen, wasn’t an expert on language‘s crucial role in health care at all.

This was Harvard. These people were supposed to know what they were doing.

After the session, I ran to the front to try and catch Dr Barnighausen. If, for some reason, our entire industry, the multiple associations that we have, the whole of both certification movements, had not been able to reach him, I would. But I didn‘t. The moderator carted him away before we had the chance to talk. I did get to speak with Lt Col Huynh, though. I told her how glad I was she articulated her answer so clearly, how much I appreciated the information. I told her how much Dr Barnighausen’s remarks had pained me, then what she said pained me even more. “But he’s right. They’re all like that.”

I immediately started gushing about the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, its code of ethics, the certification for medical interpreters expected this fall. “You mean there are ethics?” she said, “This is a profession?”

This woman works for the Pentagon. She is in charge of our entire military’s medical efforts.

Clearly, there is a disconnect. It is wide and vast and sprawling.

As a language industry we are working hard--harder than ever before--to develop interpreting as a profession. We have more trade associations than ever before, more conferences than in years past, more training opportunities than before. But do they help? And, if so, whom?

There is a disconnect. When representatives of our own government, professors at the country’s purported top school--when our nation’s leaders have never heard of us--when they stand aghast at the sheer principle of our having ethics--when they think we’re all bilingual quacks who summarize--what are we doing wrong? Who are our efforts for?

Conference after conference, session after session, we talk, but to each other. We must talk to the client. We must talk to those who need to listen. Instead of teaching Bridging the Gap, we should be bridging the gap between us and our clients.

But how? In the past, this has fallen on the freelancer, on the LSP, on the person selling the services. That’s why we call it client education. But the LSP can not tackle this great gap by itself. The language industry is being squeezed. Rates are falling, client demands are going up. If the LSP refocuses its effort to focus on client education, the burning of resources will mean there is no LSP left. We need our associations to help us. Clients do not always believe freelancers or LSP’s because they assume we have something to sell. But if the associations would work together to sell clients on our industry, there’s no telling who or how many people we could help.

We must close the disconnect. We must stop thinking intrinsically and think externally. Educational PSA’s on YouTube, an NCIHC booth at global health conferences. Our associations must market this industry just as we LSP’s market our services. There should be no excuse for our nation’s leaders to know so little. Again, there should be no excuse for our nation’s leaders to know so little!

Where are we going wrong? How can we take this talking together and make it working together to educate the client? How do we bridge the disconnect?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jost Zetzsche on MT vs TM

I recently had the privilege of attending (and speaking at) this year's TCD conference. While there, Jost Zetzsche spoke on the (non-)threat machine translation poses to the translation industry. Here are some of his thoughts:

Monday, March 8, 2010

In Every Language Interpreter Grant Program

What It Is

A grant for $1,000 worth of on-site, interpreting services made available to healthcare providers who have never used a professional, foreign language interpreter before.

More About It

• In Every Language’s Interpreting Grant Program allows healthcare providers who have never worked with professional, foreign language interpreters to learn first-hand how interpreters help improve patient care for their limited-English proficient patients.
• This program is ideal for providers who
--have not previously known where to find professional interpreters
--are unsure how to work with professional interpreters
--have not previously had funds to budget for professional interpreters
--would like to learn more about using professional interpreters vs friends and family, etc.
• Interpreting appointments are booked by the winner through the In Every Language office on an as-needed basis.
• This in-kind grant on may be used to provide on-site interpreting at your Louisville-based facility in any of the following languages: Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Ewe, Farsi, French, German, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Korean, Liberian English, Lingala, Mai-Mai (spoken in Somalia), Mandarin Chinese, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Sranan Tongo, Swahili, Uzbek, Vietnamese, and Wolof. (Language availability may change as interpreters move in and out of the Louisville area.)
• In addition, one on-site, cross-cultural training on how to work best with interpreters will be made available to the winner.
• Services must be rendered before 12/31/10 in order to apply toward the grant.

Who Can Apply

Healthcare providers of any type (hospitals, clinics, physical therapists, private practices, specialists, etc) who have never worked with professional interpreters. While we hope that this program will grow to include the rest of the Commonwealth, it is currently only available to providers located in Greater Louisville, Ky.

If your practice has never used a professional interpreter before, we encourage you to apply. If you have any questions about your eligibility or the application process, please call our office at (502) 213-0317.

How to Apply

To apply, please follow these steps:

1. Review the information in this application packet to make sure the In Every Language Interpreting Grant is appropriate for your practice.
2. Complete your application. An application form can be obtained by emailing In Every Language.
3. Please send three (3) hard copies of your proposal by mail to In Every Language; ATTN: Interpreting Grant Program; 812 East Market Street, Suite 201; Louisville, Ky 40206.
4. The committee will then confirm your eligibility and review your application carefully.

The application deadline is June 10, 2010.

Once your application has been submitted, the In Every Language Interpreting Grant Committee (made up of two (2) In Every Language employees and a neutral, third-party) will select the award recipient(s). While ideally one (1) practice would receive the full $1,000, in the event of a tie, multiple awards may be granted.

All applicants will be notified of the winner by email on or before June 30, 2010.

The Fine Print:

By applying for the In Every Language Interpreting Grant, you represent and warrant that you are duly authorized to represent the organization for which you are applying. If selected, you allow In Every Language to publicize the grant and its use by your organization.

The winner will be provided with a rate sheet outlining In Every Language’s standard charges for interpreting and each time an interpreter is sent, the appropriate amount will be deducted from the whole of the grant in accordance with this rate sheet. Should the winner go over their allotted balance, they are responsible for paying the remainder due.

Interpreters are scheduled first-come, first-serve and interpreters may or may not be available in your required language pair depending on interpreter availability at the time of your request.

About In Every Language

In Every Language is a Louisville-based translating and interpreting services provider. We are members of the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care and the Association of Language Companies. We are currently working with the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association to develop the nation’s first certification program for interpreting in domestic violence situations and we played a small, but significant role in the National Coalition on Health Care Interpreter Certification’s efforts to develop national certification for medical interpreting.

In Every Language is also a certified B Corporation. This means that, while we are a for-profit company, we behave like a non-profit when it comes to our commitment to community. As a result of this commitment to community, we are sponsoring an annual $1000 interpreting services grant. Through this grant, In Every Language hopes to help Louisville-based providers understand the vital difference that professional interpreters can make in the course of patient care.

To learn more about how In Every Language can help improve care for you and your patients, please call (502) 213-0317 or visit

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tips for Working with Interpreters in Political Settings

1) Interpreters work in two different ways: simultaneously and consecutively. Simultaneous interpreters will interpret while you speak; consecutive interpreters interpret in pieces as you go. Each interpreter has his own preference. If you are working with a simultaneous interpreter, please speak slowly so he’s not too far behind you. If you are working with a consecutive interpreter, please do not say more than 2-3 sentences at a time so the interpreter can relay all of your information.

2) Be aware that EVERYTHING you say will be interpreted, even if it's just your asking the debate organizer for more water.

3) It is not uncommon for an interpreter to interrupt. It is his job to convey everything you say accurately and completely. This may include stopping you if he needs to interpret what you have already said, asking you to slow down if you are going too fast, or stopping you to seek clarification when needed.

4) Don't be surprised if your interpreter has questions about seemingly simple vocabulary words. What's only one word in your language could be one of many words in the other language, depending on the context. In French, for example, the English word meeting could be a "tête-à-tête," a "rendez-vous," a "conference," or even a "meeting,” depending on how many people attend and how formal the meeting is or isn’t.

5) If you’ve studied the other language and the interpreter uses a different word than you would, don’t be alarmed. Many languages have multiple dialects. Spanish, for example, has 19 major dialectal forms. The interpreter may simply be using a different Spanish.

6) Allow for extra time and ask the debate organizer ahead of time if the interpreter’s time will be deducted from your own. Everything you say will have to be said twice (once by you and once by the interpreter). In addition, some languages simply take more words to express a point than others do. Spanish, for example, uses 33% more words to say something than English.

7) Look at the limited-English proficient person instead of looking at the interpreter.

8) Keep it in the first and second persons. Instead of telling the interpreter "Ask him which issue is most important to him," say "Which issue is most important to you?"

9) Be as precise as you can with your comments. Anything in your syntax that is unclear (i.e., dangling modifiers, unidentified pronouns like "it," double negatives), may be interpreted incorrectly. Along these lines, shorter sentences are best.

10) Please understand that the interpreter does not take sides. The interpreter is ethically prohibited from having an opinion on your candidacy, the race at large, or the issues involved. This means he is neither for or against you, or for or against your opponent. He is ethically bound to be impartial and to acknowledge his role boundary as an interpreter and nothing more.