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Community interpreting - what’s at stake?
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Section: Why is there a need for change?
This article talks about what’s at stake if nothing changes in the Translating and Interpreting industry.
Translators and Interpreters perform a vital service and contribute their expert skills in a diverse range of settings. Community Interpreting is interpreting in health, welfare and legal contexts as opposed to interpreting in a business context.
In a very real sense, ensuring the values of equal treatment and protection from discrimination are upheld in community settings relies on ensuring:
• high-quality Translating and Interpreting services;
The cases below reveal what's at stake when one or all of these are compromised. A critical question is raised:
To what extent have quality and professionalism been lost through the process of outsourcing and the erosion of budgets for Translating and Interpreting, and can the loss be justified in terms of savings and efficiencies?
All examples have been written up from reports received from practising Translators and Interpreters.
• A dental clinic openly encourages patients to bring friends or relatives to interpret.
• Some doctors call community organisations to ask if any of the staff can interpret over the phone to "help with this patient, it's only five minutes".
• The Transport Accident Commission uses a husband to interpret for the wife. The husband and wife have a serious relationship problem and end up fighting for custody of their children. The husband deliberately misinterprets what she is saying and the wife does not dispute or complain.
• A nurse in a Victorian hospital spends much of her time running around various departments "interpreting" for patients. She tells hospital management her language skills are not good enough but they insist that her level of skill is good enough.
• Inside a Victorian Government agency, after the interview, when the non-English speaker has gone, the government official asks the Interpreter: "So. What do you think? Is he telling the truth?" He insists on getting the Interpreter's opinion, even after the Interpreter has said she could not possibly comment.
• Inside a Victorian public hospital, the doctor explains to the patient the risks of laparoscopy. This is the first time the female patient has heard of the procedure and she asks the Interpreter directly what she should do. The Interpreter replies that she can't give any advice and then the Interpreter tells the doctor what their brief exchange was about (which is what Interpreters are meant to do i.e. report all exchanges that may occur during an interpreting session). The doctor replies "What do you mean you can't give her advice? Surely you have an opinion about it? There's nothing wrong with telling her what you think." Throughout the rest of the consultation the doctor tries to get the Interpreter to convince the patient she should have a laparoscopy.
• At the end of a medical appointment with an Italian patient (who was courteous and as helpful as he could be, but obviously had limited English), the doctor was writing up his notes and muttered to the Interpreter that "you might as well be working with animals". The Interpreter was so stunned all she could say was "I beg your pardon?" but told the agency employing her about the incident and said she would not work again with that doctor and thought he should be reported.
• A Victorian pain management clinic routinely sends notes in English to all non English-speaking clients to ensure that they bring a family member or a friend for their next appointment, as the hospital does not fund Interpreters.
• The doctor says to the client: "How long have you been living in Australia?" She says that she's been here 15 years, to which the doctor replies: "I don't think you need an Interpreter. Your English seems perfect to me". He nevertheless allows the Interpreter to do her work. Half-way through the appointment the patient is asked to go to another room and change. The Interpreter is asked to go with her to "help her get undressed and stay there in case she needs any help".
• "I once did a job involving an Indonesian woman who was having a dispute with her ex-husband over visitation rights with their child. I had done several jobs previously involving this woman, with sympathetic agencies who took the time to see that everything was interpreted fully. However, when I did the job at the Family Court, the whole thing was so rushed that I had grave concerns, which I expressed to the judge, as to the client's opportunity to have the proceedings fully interpreted and to understand what was happening. The judge rambled on and on and did not allow sufficient opportunity for her ramblings to be interpreted, although she did allow the husband to dominate the proceedings. I decided then that I would no longer be a party to such flawed and unjust proceedings. I no longer take jobs at the Family Court."
• "I was talking to a Chinese lawyer the other day in court. He told me that he has always translated all his clients' Chinese documents although he is not an accredited translator. He would then ask his clients to sign a document stating they were accurate translations of the original. Bi-lingual lawyers who are not accredited Interpreters interpret for their clients in courts and magistrates allow this to happen."
• In the Supreme Court a judge tells the defence lawyer: "Your client doesn't need a professional Interpreter. He can get a friend or a family member to help him next time'"
• A dispute about an alleged mistaken translation of the Indonesian word ''push'' caused a criminal trial to be aborted costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. The problem occurred as an accused Indonesian people smuggler gave evidence in the District Court in October 2011. The problems with translation were raised by a juror who spoke Indonesian and alerted the Judge to ''discrepancies in the translation'' of questions put to the accused. The trial will be run again in 2012.
• An investigator for an insurance company interviewed a claimant about a reported stolen vehicle. He took down the client's statement and later quizzed the Interpreter about whether the client had been telling the truth or not and was quite insistent about knowing what the Interpreter thought.
From a local newspaper in Ryde, NSW
• "Gladesville police are seeking volunteers who speak fluent English and another language to develop a register of local residents willing to assist in dealing with victims of crime. Police often deal with people who do not speak English and need to exchange information in a prompt manner. Once established, police may call upon a volunteer on the register by phone to help in translating information to victims of crime. All languages are sought after, however translators in immediate need include Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese speakers. Call the Gladesville Police on 9879 9699 for further information."
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