Interpreter Decisions: How to Interpret Profanity

As healthcare interpreters, we are guided by ethics and standards of practice, and we always stay on the tracks.  But within those guidelines, we must frequently make decisions about how to manage situations that occur. We can lean a little to the left, or to the right, or stand firmly in the middle of the tracks. 

How to Interpret Profanity

Your patient is in the orthopedic inpatient unit. The doctor walks in and asks the patient, “How are you feeling today, sir?” 

The patient explodes with, “*Bleep* it, and *bleep* you, doctor! What do you mean, how am I feeling? I have been asking for more pain meds since yesterday! You *bleeping* people don’t even bother to come see me or order stronger pain meds for me!”

You are surprised and shocked by the emotion of the patient, worried about how to interpret. You know you have to achieve accuracy and completeness of his meaning and tone.

You quickly go over some choices. 

The doctor certainly understands the fact that the patient is angry about something, even though the doctor does not understand a single word the patient has said. Maybe you can leave out the swearing words and just interpret the rest, like this: “What do you mean, how am I feeling? I have been asking for more pain meds since yesterday! You doctors don’t even bother to come see me or order stronger pain meds for me!”

However, that still feels very offensive to say to a doctor. Maybe you should tone it down even more, like this: “You ask how I am feeling. I have been asking for more pain meds since yesterday! None of you doctors have come to see me or order stronger pain meds for me!”

So, let’s think about this. 

Our job is to interpret the authentic tone and the actual meaning of the words of each party because the primary relationship in healthcare is that between the patient and the care provider. 

What they say to each other needs to be authentically transmitted by the interpreter.

The doctor must receive the message and the anger of the patient, and the patient has not just used tone, but actual words, to indicate how angry he is. He used several swear words to accuse the doctor in the room, and doctors in general, of not taking the time to do their job.

So, to effectively convey what the patient is saying, using the first person, you convey the full message of words, “*Bleep* it, and *bleep* you, doctor! What do you mean, how am I feeling? I have been asking for more pain meds since yesterday! You *bleeping* people don’t even bother to come see me or order stronger pain meds for me!”

Because the doctor can hear the patient’s loud voice and see how angry he is, you do not have to reproduce the emotional tone to the same extent of the patient. Speak in a clear tone that carries well, face the doctor, but do not express the words with the patient’s rage.

If the doctor looks at you, surprised, redirect him toward the patient by yourself turning towards the patient.

Well done, interpreter!

For more training and tips on how to be a better interpreter, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out the courses available on the Institute .

About MasterWord

MasterWord Services, Inc., a woman-owned business established in 1993, is ranked in the Top 20 largest language service providers in North America by the market research firm, Common Sense Advisory. A top-quality provider of industry-specific language solutions, the company works with more than 300 clients in Fortune 500 companies. These include energy and engineering, healthcare, life sciences, government, technology, insurance, finance, education, and non-profit organizations with requirements in more than 250 languages and across four continents. MasterWord’s strength lies in understanding its clients’ unique challenges and tailoring custom solutions for success. The company delivers a broad spectrum of solutions for clients operating in a highly regulated, fast-paced, deadline-driven environment, always striving to exceed our clients’ expectations.

Your Cart

Your cart is currently empty.

Return to shop