Friday, April 9, 2010

Interpreter vs Translator

Work was steady and at times frenetic today. Fridays can be eerily quiet but most of the time, I find Friday's busier than expected. I saw two patients in clinic today accompanied by interpreters. One was a Russian interpreter, the other Vietnamese. Both were excellent and I complemented and thanked them for their help.

A while back I made the mistake of saying to a patient, "Oh, you've brought a translator. Great!". It Certainly makes my job easier although the office visits are longer as we wait for the words on both sides of the communication coin to be presented in a language we understand.

In this case, the interpreter(I think he was Russian) was quick to correct me...."Doctor, I'm an interpreter, not a translator." I remember being a little annoyed, thinking to myself.....who cares? Let's just get the job done. But I kept my mouth shut.

He was correct and probably most everyone knows this but I didn't until I looked it up. I like the way Kirk Mahoney explains this in his blog Better Communication for Smart People.

The noun “interpreter” should be used when one specifically is referring to something spoken.

The primary definition of the noun “translator” is someone who translates written text from one language to another. The primary definition of the noun “interpreter” is someone who provides an oral interpretation between speakers who speak different languages. In other words, “translator” is for written language, whereas “interpreter” is for spoken language."

OK. I get it now. An interpreter can make or break an encounter with a patient who speaks a language different than mine. I never quite know if what I've advised is conveyed accurately or if I'm really "hearing" my patient's complaints and concerns. Just another challenge for the day, I guess.

So, now I know; these good people who facilitate communication in the exam room are not not translators, they are interpreters.

1 comment:

  1. As a translator (translating written documents from German to English) I am often faced with this misunderstanding. When I tell people I am a translator, they often envision the more "glamorous" profession of the simultaneous interpreter. Actually, I have never done interpreting, though I had wanted to try it out, but it requires a different set of skills. In any case, a conference interpreter certainly is well-paid, while a translator usually has to eke her way through freelance work.... (Tina)


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