How to Work with Interpreters and Translators

Henriette_Langdon  Langdon_WWIT  Terry_Saenz

By Henriette W. Langdon, Ed.D., FCCC-SLP and Terry I. Saenz, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, authors of Working with Interpreters and Translators: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists

Our world is increasingly heterogeneous. English is no longer the only language spoken in the United States, England, or Australia. French is not the only main language spoken in France and neither is German the only language spoken in Germany. Immigration caused by political and economical changes has dispersed many people to other countries in the world in search of better opportunities. Consequently, communication between these individuals and residents of the different countries is often disrupted due to the lack of a common language. This challenge has existed throughout humankind, but it seems that it has increased in the last century or so. There have always been people who knew two languages that needed bridging, but now this urgency is more pronounced. The need for professionally trained interpreters was first noted following the end of WWI when the Unites States was first involved in world peace talks alongside many nations with representatives who all spoke a variety of languages. This historical event eventually led the League of Nations to the foundation of the École d’Intèrpretes in Geneva, Switzerland in 1924. Since that time, many other schools that train bilingual interpreters to participate in international conferences have been established. The AIIC [Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (International Association of Conference Interpreters)] Interpreting Schools directory lists a total of 87 schools worldwide: http://aiic.net/directories/schools/georegions. The reader can gather information on which specific language pairs are emphasized in the various training schools; for example, Arabic-English; French-Spanish, Chinese-English, and so forth. Thus, interpreting for international conferences is a well-established profession today, offering specific training and certificates. However, interpreting is necessary not only for international conferences, but also to assist in bridging the communication in everyday contexts such as medical or health, judicial, educational (schools) and the community at large. Training and certification in areas such as medical and judicial have slowly emerged and are available to those who need them in various states throughout the United States. Legislation has been the primary force in the establishment of certificates in the areas of medical and legal interpreting. However, training in other areas where interpreting is needed such as education, and our professions, speech pathology and audiology, are notoriously lacking. There are some situations where medical interpreters can assist speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists in a hospital or rehabilitation center, but even those interpreters may not have the specific terminology and practice or procedures to work effectively with our professionals. Working with Interpreters and Translators: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists is a second revised and expanded edition on this topic that provides SLPs, audiologists, and interpreters who collaborate with them some concrete tools and strategies on how best to conduct interviews, conferences, and assessments when the client and/or family does not speak English fluently.  The proposed process is based on information gathered from other interpreting professions. The research, and some personal interviews with audiologists in particular that were conducted to assemble this information, indicate that the process is conducted haphazardly at best.  The literature available on the collaboration between SLPs and interpreters indicates that both parties are not secure about procedure and must learn how to work together by trial and error. Often the SLP does not trust the interpreter and the interpreter does not follow suggested procedures, such as failing to interpret all that is being said, conducting a side conversation with a parent during a meeting, and giving the child unnecessary cuing during testing (if tests are available in the child’s language, which is primarily Spanish). Literature on working effectively with audiologists is almost nonexistent; therefore, the first author resorted to several personal interviews with audiologists, a specialist of the deaf and hard of hearing, and professors of audiology throughout the country. Often individuals who perform the duties and responsibilities of the interpreter and who are hired to do this job are not fully bilingual; they may speak the two languages, but may not be able to read or write the language they are using to interpret. These interpreters are often not respected, are not treated as professionals, and their pay is very low.

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