Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pass the alphabet soup!

We're pretty excited over here in Interpreter Land.  The time has come that medical interpreters will be able to choose from not one, but two different certifications.  What's the big deal about some letters after your name, you may ask?

Professional interpreters spend a great deal of studying terminology, obsessing over the right way to turn a phrase, dealing with awkward conversations to preserve their neutrality and code of ethics, working diligently to maintain confidentiality in tiny, tiny communities.  After all that hard work, there's few things more frustrating than finding yourself outbid by a flashy newcomer who has absolutely no training or skill.  It's not just that we lost the job, we know that someone is going to get hurt.  Most of us got into this profession because we care, and yet in this economy it's harder and harder to get organizations and providers to listen.

That's the challenge of our work: we're often the only ones in the room that knows exactly how well we did (if you understood everything, you wouldn't need us!).  For this reason, it's very hard to prove the importance of using--and paying extra--for skilled, trained practitioners.  Nevertheless, we know that if that you went in for a surgery, just having your aunt who is handy with a needle wouldn't be enough.  In fact, you might not even want to have your next door neighbor do it, even though he's a veterinarian.  No, for a surgery you want a trained specialist.  Would you expect any less of the person converting your words to the doctor for a diagnosis?

It's telling that both national certifications are being promoted by professional interpreter organizations.  The truth is, with the diversity of languages in this country, creating a national standard of measurement of quality interpretation isn't easy.  And yet we, more than anyone, see the damage created by untrained interpreters and we're working hard to fix the problem.  The National Board for Certification of Medical Interpreters has begun certifying Spanish interpreters, and will soon be rolling out five more languages, with 181 interpreters who have passed the exam.  The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, who just introduced their certification this year already has over 140 interpreters certified from across the country. Credentials are being screened, and standards of measurement are being created for even the lesser-dispersion languages.

With certification (and those lovely, lovely letters after our names) we get the recognition that it takes training to do what we do.  We have an independent body that has declared we're ready, a body of our peers that has weighed and evaluated our competency.  Certified Medical Interpreter. CMI.  Qualified Medical Interpreter.  QMI.  Credentialed Healthcare Interpreter. CHI.  Associate Health Care Interpreter.  AHI.  Whatever the letters, all are from recognized, reputable, professional organizations and all are indicators progress.  Pass the alphabet soup!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Training Announcement: Introduction to Cultural Brokering for the Medical Interpreter

"Introduction to Cultural Brokering for the Medical Interpreter"

Thursday, June 30, 9:30am-12:30pm

Catholic Charities Maine
250 Anderson Street Portland

Trainers: Malvina Gregory, Director - CCME Language Partners
Jessica Goldhirsch, MPH

Interpreting textbooks & trainings often state that interpreters need to notice when cultural differences arise, and intervene when necessary to make sure that communication is clear.  Unfortunately, very few models explain exactly how an interpreter is supposed to do that.  Just as not all bilingual people make for good interpreters because they lack training, likewise not all bi-cultural people make good cultural brokers.  It takes a special mix of skills and experience to identify cultural differences and explain the dynamics to an outsider.  The skills must be learned, and hopefully as our profession advances, they will be taught.

Next Thursday, June 30th, we at Catholic Charities Language Partners will start a discussion with Maine interpreters about how to do this complex part of their work.  We are offering this training in alongside the Interpreter Services program at Children's Hospital in Boston, MA, and our joint reflections on the training and lessons learned will be shared at the 2011 International Medical Interpreters Association conference this fall.  We hope that our training will lead the way for more discussions nationwide.  The truth is that without effective cultural brokering good health outcomes are much less likely to occur.  Doctors and patients will misunderstand each other.  For the sake of our patients, we need to start developing ways to teach our interpreters.

If you are an interpreter and interested in attending, you can call 523-2726 or e-mail  Registration is limited to 25 students.  Training will be free for all CCME interpreters. Registration fee for non-CCME interpreters: $50.00.  Interpreters must have already completed a 12hr Basic Interpreter Training to attend this course.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Resource Review: 10 Tips for Working with Language Interpreters

We just have to share one of the cutest provider tutorial videos we've ever seen: 

By the way, see the notebook in this video?  An interpreter with a notepad will jot down dosages so that numbers don't get confused in the translation process or annotate long statements so that they can allow speakers to speak in longer, more natural paragraphs.  Notepads are a sign of a trained, professional interpreter.

Thanks to the authors for creating such a fun, approachable teaching tool (and to the colleague who passed this along to me!).  This definitely beats our usual written list of "Tips for Using Interpreters".  We'll be sure to integrate this into some of our future trainings.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

World Refugee Day 2011

World Refugee Day is held every year on June 20. Refugees are amazing, resilient people who despite being forcibly displaced start over again and create new lives.  Every year we celebrate them and their contributions to communities worldwide.  Come join us!

World Refugee Day Celebration
Lewiston Public Library, 200 Lisbon Street
Friday, June 17, 2011
4:00 p.m. — FREE!
4:00 pm: Film “Welcome to Shelbyville” - Discussion Group to Follow
5:30 pm: International Performance - Malika Dance Group
6:30 pm: Refreshments Provided by Local Refugee Businesses

For more information, contact: Chelsey Everest, Catholic Charities Maine, phone:(207) 871-7437 or visit or

Join us as we recognize the positive impact of refugee businesses in Maine!  Come meet your neighbors! See you there!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Man vs. Machine

In Spanish: "The hand washes itself, don't whiten don't fall, lovely iron" 
via WTF? Microservios
We've recently heard some providers say that they no longer send translations out professional translation services because online tools such as GoogleTranslate have become so effective.  We thought in the interest of scientific discovery, we'd put this theory to the test.

This great website puts your simple phrase through a series of machine translations, back and forth to English so that you can see the linguistic distortions.  For more giggles, the program will allow you to run something through 30 or even 50 translations.  In no short time the simplest text goes awry: "How many apples did you buy?" in just 10 machine translations becomes "How Apple Store?". 

This is fun enough, but let's really illustrate the importance of a human interpreter and/or translator.  What happens when we do some medical and legal texts?  Even the simple "Take one pill in the morning and one in the evening" becomes "Morning and evening sleeping pills."  Very different!  The classic "You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law." becomes "You have the right to remain silent. You can say that in court." in just 10 iterations. 

All this is very relevant given that recently a murder case in Ohio was thrown out due to a human interpreter's error in interpreting the Miranda warning.  If humans can get it wrong sometimes, and we have yet to build a computer that can even come close to what the human brain does, imagine the danger in using machine translation for anything beyond the simplest of phrases. 

Our review: machine translations are useful in a pinch, and perhaps good for basic phrases (what time is the bus?), should never be used when someone's life or liberty is on the line.  For that, the old-fashioned human being is probably still your most reliable option.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hijabs, Ramadan, workplaces, oh my!

Our diversifying workplaces are challenging us to be more flexible when it comes to accomodations for religious requests.  Let's not kid ourselves--this issue has been around for a long time.  Maybe we made sure that there wasn't any pork in the potluck baked beans because Dave is Jewish, or maybe Sally just really would prefer to not work Saturdays because she's a Seventh Day Adventist.  Now with Muslim populations entering Maine's workforce, we also need to re-think things like dress codes, prayer breaks, and holiday time.  It's not unreasonable, and if we think about it's not that new of a concept.  It's also the law.  Many illustrious companies have been sued, such as American Airlines, Alamo Rent-A-CarAbercrombie & Fitch, and Disney (Aladdin and Princess Jasmine refused comment)--all for not making reasonable accomodations to staff's religiously based requests.

This week we applaud the Lewiston Chamber of Commerce for taking on the issue directly and proactively.  In a few weeks they will be hosting a brown bag luncheon and panel discussion to to increase the knowledge about certain religious practices, define what is a reasonable accommodation under the law, and identify work practices that create barriers as well as work practices and solutions that are recommended.  Date & Location: July 7th, 11:30a-1pm, Business Service Center at KeyBank Plaza, 415 Lisbon St., Lewiston, ME

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Twofer: February & March Interpreters of the Month

We are a little behind in posting our Interpreters of the Month.  If you haven't heard through other channels, we have a new website and as of a few weeks ago we also have a new office location in Portland.  Through all the changes, the interpreters have continued to be as awesome as ever, and it's time to celebrate two more of our hard-working staff.

Eva Chen: Queen Bee of Brevity
February Interpreter of the Month: Eva Chen

We've lovingly nominated her the "Queen-Bee of Brevity."  Eva is forever straight-forward and concise in her interactions.  We all agree that her cell phone message is probably the shortest we've ever heard.  She's quick and to-the-point.  Eva's insight is likewise reknowned.  She's quick to capture what needs to be done, and wastes no time in getting to it.  She's flexible, promptly calls back, and is amazingly reliable.  Eva also is amazing linguistically, approved to interpret in three languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, and her native Fujian.  There are some interpreters that we honor because they go above and beyond the call of duty one particular day.  In February we deicded to honor Eva because she consistently exceeds expectations every day and in all ways works to provide excellent service to our clients. Thanks Eva!

Halima doesn't care for her ID photo;
instead she shared this beautiful one
from a few years back.

March Interpreter of the Month: Halima Hersi

Halima is probably one of our most senior interpreters.  Over the years her interpreting earnings have put all her kids through college (she has 5--!).  She is incredibly hard-working, and sometimes will point to open days in her calendar with the question--"I'm not busy Tuesday; can you fix this??"  She's the person that we know we can call in the middle of the night when a baby is being born or an emergency happens.  She has worked with our Refugee & Immigration Services case managers at the airports to the wee hours of the morning, waiting for delayed flights bearing new arrivals.  More recently she has also been working hard on keeping track of her timesheets (not an easy thing to do after a 4am airport arrival or a last-minute visit with a case manager to a client's home) and getting that impressive stack to us more regularly.  We nominated Halima in March for being the most improved, and also for coming through for us with a last-minute urgent request more times than we could count.  Thanks Halima!