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American Annals of the Deaf

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New Approaches to Interpreter Education

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The Role of the Medical Interpreter

In the multilingual and diverse society we live in, healthcare interpreters broker communication across major gulfs of class and culture. Interpreters are key players in linguistic minorities gaining access to services or in perpetuating instances of gate-keeping. If student interpreters have enough information processing skills and language but are not aware of their agency, of what a visible and active co-participant they could be during an interpreted communicative event, they are not fully equipped to succeed in their workplace. Students need to understand the power they have, the consequences and responsibilities that derive from such power (Angelelli 2004a and b). Students have to understand that their willingness to help others does not come without consequences.

In this course, students will explore the consequences of the various models they can adopt (the continuum of visibility). By looking at transcripts of authentic interactions, they can reflect on the role of the interpreter without taking risks. They can discuss the consequences of interpreters’ behaviors. Then, during classroom activities such as role plays (Appendix A), students could reflect on their own performances as they pay close attention to their role. Students will benefit from this course in several ways. They will understand that their acts do not come without consequences, they will explore the options they have, and they will gain practice in ethical decision-making of exercising one’s own judgment, especially if they seek to interpret for disadvantaged minority group members.

Practicum in Medical Interpreting (with or without a Service-Learning Component)

The purpose of this course is to bring together all the skills that the students will have acquired in the previous courses. In the basic course, students will have gained exposure to the principles of interpreting. In the second course, they will have enhanced their languages to what is expected at a professional level. In The Role of the Medical Interpreter, students will have had opportunities to explore the consequences of their agency. In this course, they will carry out real interpretations between English and their home language.

Students will benefit in a variety of ways from this practicum. First, it will help them enhance their interpretation skills within the boundaries of the classroom. This can be extremely helpful for students as they gain practice in situated interpreted events that may differ from the ones they are used to doing (e.g., classroom exercises). In this way, students will be better prepared for future assignments when they must really interpret during these new situations. Second, students will be able to benefit from teacher’s and mentor’s feedback, which generally is not possible during real interpreted events. Third, they will transfer the skills learned in this practicum to the various interpreting situations at school and in real life, which call upon their skills to help themselves and others.

If a service-learning component is added, students will benefit greatly and enhance their skills in several ways. By having to act as supervised interpreters in community agencies, for example, students will continue to develop a sense of responsibility as communication brokers that will go beyond the limits of the classroom. Then, they will come back and use the classroom as a forum for reflection and discussion about their work done in the field.


In this chapter, we have briefly discussed the development of healthcare professional interpreters within the framework of education. We have explored the consequences of divorcing “training” from research and theory and the benefits of aligning HIE with both. We have also discussed some basic principles in which HIE can be based and suggested guidelines for curriculum design and course sequencing. Broadening our views on healthcare interpreter education will contribute to the development of well rounded-professionals who will be able to broker communication more responsibly and respectfully for all individuals in society.

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