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Transparency Perfected – Preferred Interpreter

Interpreters in every sector have a challenge that they can handle well or poorly:

How do I include everyone present in the conversation?

Very often one party will address the interpreter directly. The other parties in the room feel included or excluded depending on the interpreter’s skill in being transparent.

Being transparent requires very fast thinking on the part of the interpreter, as well as excellent diplomatic sense and knowledge of the protocol fitting of each situation. Comments directed to the interpreter are usually NOT intended for the third party to understand or respond to. However, interpreter ethics for healthcare and community interpreting require an immediate correction of this imbalance by opening the comment to the third party. Care is needed to do this in a thoughtful way so that the initial speaker does not feel betrayed. For example:

A doctor might say to the interpreter at the beginning of a patient visit: “I sure hope that this woman has brought her pill bottles with her today. It took too long to do the medication reconciliation last time.”

A teenager in a school behavioral plan meeting might say to the interpreter: “This teacher is always mean to me but nice to everyone else.”

The interpreter must let everyone in the room know the gist of the comment, however there is the opportunity to reset the moment by reminding everyone that communication will be transparent. That opportunity must be handled ethically AND diplomatically, so that the rest of the session can move forward with everyone knowing the rules.

The interpreter speaks in her own voice, which we call intervening:

interpreter to the patient: “The interpreter is being addressed by the doctor. The doctor is hoping that you have brought your pill bottles today, so that the time of the appointment is not taken just with reviewing what meds you are taking.”

Interpreter to the doctor: “The interpreter has just passed on your hope that the pill bottles have been brought. Of course, I will be interpreting everything.”

There is another type of situation in which transparency is just as critical, which is when the interpreter herself breaks into the interpreted conversation and intervenes using her own voice in order to clarify something. Or she might intervene to suggest that one party re-phrase something to express a comment more clearly or fully. This would never happen in a court hearing, but does happen frequently in healthcare and social service encounters.

An example of the interpreter intervening transparently in a healthcare interpretation:

Doctor: “Is the pain throbbing or pulsating or piercing?”

Interpreter to the doctor: “The interpreter requests that you please describe these different kinds of sensations as this language does not have specific pain descriptors to match what you asked.”

Interpreter to the patient: “The interpreter has asked the doctor to provide clarification regarding different kinds of pain so that you can tell her which type of pain you have.”

One of the most frequent complaints that professionals AND clients make about interpreters is that the interpreter has side conversations with the other party, which makes them feel left out and devalued.

The interpreter who always keeps everyone in the room included in the conversation is highly appreciated.

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Phone & Pager Etiquette – Preferred Interpreter

Interpreter Managers receive more complaints about interpreters related to their use of phones (and pagers) than they do about their ability to interpret accurately. Otherwise brilliant interpreters can be in the doghouse because of the way they managed, or failed to manage, their communication devices.

Phone & pager complaints usually involve the following situations:

The interpreter’s phone rang during the encounter, and it needed to be silenced.

The interpreter’s phone produced audible alerts to incoming text messages or email messages.

The interpreter was looking at his phone and interacting with it, rather than being attentive to the person(s) requiring the interpretation, before the encounter and during gaps of staff presence.

The interpreter was talking on the phone when summoned by staff to attend the person(s) requiring the interpretation.

The interpreter’s pager went off in audible mode during an encounter, and she had to reach for the pager and silence it.

The interpreter’s phone rang during the encounter, the interpreter looked at the caller ID, and the interpreter then quickly muttered into the phone that she was busy but would call the caller back soon.

The interpreter talked on the phone while waiting in the room before one of the parties came in or while one of the parties stepped out for a minute.

The interpreter talked about interpreter business on the phone in earshot of the one of the parties.

The interpreter was talking on the phone in the busy corridor, with staff trying to work around him.

The interpreter’s pager went off during the encounter, and she not only silenced it but read the display before putting it away.

Reports of these situations are usually accompanied by indignant characterizations of the interpreter as rude and unprofessional.

Now let’s talk honestly about the fact that these complaints can feel unfair!

Interpreters have a lot to juggle during the day, and their phones and pagers are essential tools to managing their daily schedule.

Given that healthcare interpreters might be being paged to an emergency, or freelance interpreters might be receiving the offer of a lucrative assignment, the temptation or even requirement for the interpreter to check the incoming message is strong.

Also given that interpreters want to be given high marks for professionalism, here are some tips.

Interpreters can minimize the annoyance of everyone they deal with by following these guidelines religiously:

Make sure that no phone (or pager) is on audible ring once you are sharing space with the parties. Use the buzz alert. After putting the device on buzz alert, it can still disturb an encounter if it begins to buzz and jump around unless it is in a pocket. Carrying the device in a pocket or clipped to the belt is also helpful to reduce the temptation to look down at the device.

Create a habit of keeping your phone silenced at all times during the professional day, so that having it on audible ring is an exception to your rule. It should become reflexive to check that your phone is in silent mode before going into any assignment. If working as a legal interpreter, remember to turn-off or completely silence your phone while in the court room; any audible sounds or buzzes will result in the bailiff escorting you out of the court room.

If you are actually doing something related to your professional assignment on your phone, share that with the people in the room. “We were talking about traditional medicine for high blood pressure, so I am looking up some terms on the internet, for just a moment.”

When you absolutely need to speak on your phone during a conversational gap, leave the room if you can, and state that you need to respond to your agency or manager about a later assignment. Be quick, and don’t be caught then having personal conversation on the phone in the corridor.

Speaking on your phone in a foreign language loudly enough for other people to hear is annoying to people, for some reason. Keep it short and sweet. Never assume that no one else in the room speaks your language!

When interpreting in the healthcare setting, remember to silence your phone and put your pager on buzz whenever you put on full Personal Protective Equipment. Several types of Isolation for infectious disease require that no personal devices be brought out from under the gowns, otherwise they will have to undergo full decontamination before you can remove it from the room. In surgical areas where you wear a full jumpsuit, your personal effects should be under the jumpsuit. It is required for all doctors and staff in the room that their devices are silenced to prevent both distraction and contamination.

When your devices are not silenced, set the ring alert to ring quietly, on both pagers and phones. For your phone, choose a discreet and gentle ring tone. In the case that you are expecting a call for a professional reason while waiting in the waiting room, it is important for your phone to sound professional when it rings. People get very angry when their thought process is disturbed by a loud and intrusive ring tone.

Even a silent phone can be very annoying to clients, however, if you pay attention to it in their presence. They do not know what you are doing on your phone, so they will assume that it is not professional. If you were reading a magazine or book that might still make them upset, but it is easier to get the attention of a person reading a magazine than it is to get the attention of a person who is in the middle of juicy FaceBook post.

During conversation in an encounter, never touch or look at your phone or pager, even if it buzzes.

The best etiquette for looking at or speaking on your phone during conversational gaps is: Don’t.

If you have to look at your phone (or pager), but not speak, state this to those in the room and promise to be quick. “I have an alert on my pager and I need to let Base know that I received their message. This will take just a minute.”

While you are waiting by yourself it is still important to use good phone etiquette. People know that you are an interpreter because of your badge. It is important not to annoy other people in the waiting area. Use the lowest voice possible if speaking on the phone. Using ear buds makes most phone users speak much more loudly than they would if they were holding the phone to their ear, so don’t use them. Some conversations simply cannot be conducted professionally, so do not attempt to discipline your children, dispute your dental bill, or argue with your significant other.

Even for interpreters working remotely on the phone, pagers and phones in the background need to be silenced. For video interpreters, they must also manage their eyes and hands so that when their personal phone lights up on a nearby table they do not reflexively look at it and reach for it.

Good luck with all of these phone & pager constraints!

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Posted on Leave a comment

Customer Preferred & the Preferred Interpreter

Our end-user clients, consumers, or customers include the staff and licensed professionals of hospitals, courts, social service organizations, businesses, police departments, first responders, and schools. Our clients also include those members of the public who do not speak English or who are Deaf or deaf-blind and who rely on us to interpret for them.

After an encounter in which an interpreter was involved, what taste is left in the mouth of the various clients of that interpreter? What would they say about the customer service they received?

Particularly, was the interpreter perceived as friendly or unfriendly? Calm or into drama? Organized or disorganized? Helpful to all parties, not helpful to anyone, or helpful to some parties but not to other parties? Genuine or plastic? Collegial or arrogant? Socially polished or clumsy? Respectful or abrupt?

Did the interpreter make any unpleasant comments about the staff, the professionals, clients needing communication support, or other interpreters? How did the interpreter handle unpleasant comments made by staff, professionals, clients needing communication support, or other interpreters?

There is steep competition between interpreters in the major languages, and it is tempting to make negative comments about other interpreters and to promote oneself. This generally backfires and produces a poor customer service experience for the client. Clients prefer interpreters who sing the praises of other interpreters, because that raises the credibility of all interpreters in the clients’ eyes.

Because the interpreter’s ONLY job is communication, interpreters are watched much more closely for their customer service skills than are other professionals. For example, the teacher is judged by parents for her success in teaching, and she is forgiven for customer service lapses like being demanding. The nurse is judged by her management of wounds and disease and technology, and is forgiven for not making eye contact or smiling. But the interpreter is watched at every part of the interaction and is judged to see if he or she is fully present, pleasant, positive, and helpful to everybody.

Even-handedness is a big deal. It is noticed immediately if the interpreter is cold or demanding with the receptionist or clerk, but friendly toward the doctor or lawyer or official. Non-English-speaking and Deaf clients notice when the interpreter treats them without warmth, while behaving as a friendly peer with the English-speaking professionals. Staff notice when the interpreter acts hostile toward them, while chatting in a friendly manner with their non-English speaking or Deaf client. Likewise, interpreters that provide the same level of customer service to all parties are perceived as being neutral and impartial.

When interpreting through remote mode, such as via telephone or video, these customer service skills remain highly important to how the interpreter is perceived. Many complaints from licensed professionals about a telephonic or video interpreter refer to the fact that he or she was rude, abrupt, demanding, or disrespectful to one of the parties. High marks are given to interpreters who politely greet the non-English-speaking or Deaf client as well as the service professional, and who are gentle and calm and positive throughout the conversation.

Interpreters from smaller language groups, even though they are in high demand and unlikely to lose their job, also leave a definite impression in the mind of each client. If the impression is positive, the client forms a positive impression about community members of that interpreter’s language group, about interpreters from that language group, and about interpreters in general! On the other side, if the interpreter’s poor customer service left a bad impression, that impression can be transferred to all the members of his language group and to interpreters in general.

Among and between interpreters, both inside language groups and between different language groups, there is a constant flow of information about who is respectful and helpful and collegial, and who is competitive against other interpreters, dismissive of staff, or anxious to buddy up with the officials and licensed professionals at the expense of the clients (customers or consumers) needing communication support. Some entire language groups of interpreters are considered by other language groups of interpreters to be non-collaborative.

What have you heard or seen in terms of interpreter customer service? Have you ever been negatively affected by bad customer service skills of other interpreters? Have your own clients complimented you on your good customer service skills? Please share your stories and observations in the comment section below.

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Our end-user clients, consumers, or customers include the staff and licensed professionals of hospitals, courts, social service organizations, businesses, police departments, first responders, and schools. Our clients also include those members of the public who do not speak English or who are Deaf or deaf-blind and who rely on us to interpret for them.

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Language Proficiency – Preferred Interpreter

Today’s inaugural post concerns language proficiency on both sides of the language pair. There are quite a few different components to this topic. A great way to approach language proficiency is to think about the end user of the interpreter’s product, which is his communication performance.

Any party listening to an interpreter needs to be able to comfortably understand what the interpreter is saying. Is the interpreter’s accent so strong that it is difficult to understand what s/he is saying? Is the interpreter cutting so many corners in grammar that it is jarring and distracting to listen to? To the English-speaking end-user, does the interpreter sound like a child or an uneducated person? To the individual with Limited English Proficiency, does the interpreter sound like someone who studied the foreign language in college, or who learned the foreign language from grandparents here in the United States?

Also, any party speaking TO an interpreter needs to have confidence that the interpreter is understanding what he is saying. Health care conversations, witness testimony, and many community level interactions include colloquial speech in both directions. Does the interpreter act as though s/he “gets” the point of what the speaker is saying? Does the interpreter smoothly move from listening to interpreting, or does s/he look at the speaker with a perplexed look on their face, trying to understand?

Each interpreter can assess their linguistic performance and then make plans to improve the areas that he needs improvement in. Reading patient education materials, legal rulings, or community outreach pamphlets in the language that the interpreter is weakest in, out loud, is very helpful in building clear pronunciation and good grammar habits. Building strong understanding of colloquial speech can be achieved by listening to radio talk shows or podcasts and by spending social time with friends who speak the language that is not native.

What other resources would be helpful to build linguistic competence on the way to becoming a Preferred Interpreter? Share your ideas in the comment section below.

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Interpreter Managers receive more complaints about interpreters related to their use of phones (and pagers) than they do about their ability to interpret accurately. Otherwise brilliant interpreters can be in the doghouse because of the way they managed, or failed to manage, their communication devices.

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