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Working with an Interpreter

Chicago is a very diverse city whose population is a mixture of various ethnic groups and cultures. A healthcare provider is very likely to work with patients that do not speak English. Interpreters may help with the language barrier between the healthcare provider and patient; but only when the healthcare provider knows how to use the interpreter effectively.

Linda S. is a SLP who utilizes interpreters often while working with a primarily Hispanic population. As this interview shows, despite challenges with patients whose English skills are limited, the opportunity to learn and experience another culture makes the rewards even greater.

What do you like most about working with the Hispanic population?

— Early intervention necessitates that I go into the kids’ homes and know their communities. This full immersion into their lives and neighborhoods makes me feel like I am traveling in South America, but have the benefit of a cultural and linguistic liaison through my interpreters.

What is most challenging working with patients who do not understand English?

— It is more challenging to communicate through interpreters when it comes to counseling them about sensitive issues. For example, the interpreter must be able to convey the same tone of voice AND be as careful with word choices as the therapist when counseling distraught parents after their child’s new diagnosis of autism.

 What tricks of the trade or advice can you recommend to therapists who are starting to work with non-English speaking patients?

— I would emphasize that we must remember that they not only speak a different language, but also come from a very different cultural background. A good interpreter would help you navigate that.

How do you use interpreter most effectively?

— Talk with the interpreter before entering a session to discuss how each of you likes to work. For example, interpreters are technically supposed to be a fly on the wall and repeat your speech in first person just as you said it. However, this sometimes confuses the children when I work on pronouns and following directions, so I ask the interpreter to switch to third person at those times.

I have found that in conversation, pausing after every two or three sentences or ideas is not too many for the interpreter to remember everything yet not too few to affect the flow. If you and your interpreter sit near each other, the Spanish speaker/listener would have an easier time conversing with you without having to look back and forth. Finally, it helps to know a little of the language so that you can monitor the accuracy of your interpreter.

Check out the  following websites for more information on how to effectively use an interpreter and/or understand barriers that minority populations often encounter.

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