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New Approaches to Interpreter Education

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Existing Programs for Healthcare Interpreters

As I mentioned, existing programs vary significantly in what they offer students, from a quick overview of healthcare interpreting ethics, to medical terminology, to exposure to a few interpreting exercises in the form of scenarios, to a full-fledged graduate program on healthcare interpreting at the master level. According to Jacobson (in Kennen 2005, 30), “[P]rograms available vary widely from 240-plus-hour classes complete with role playing and practicum to six-hour crash courses of dubious value.” Admission requirements also vary accordingly, from none (not even the assessment of linguistic proficiency) in the most advertised forty-hour programs like Bridging the Gap or Connecting Worlds, to the normal academic requirements such as undergraduate degrees, a statement of goals specifically addressing the applicant’s interest and potential in healthcare interpreting, demonstrated language proficiency, two years of related interpreting experience, and letters of recommendation (Kennen 2005, 31).

Some of the academic programs are standalone, while others are a concentration area within a program. At the University of North Texas, for example, the Health Interpreting Health Applied Linguistics concentration (known as HIHAL) is embedded in the Master of Public Health program. This means that students take eighteen units of core courses in Public Health (such as Introduction to Epidemiology), nine units in the HIHAL concentration (such as Healthcare Interpreting), nine units from the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences (such as Disparities in Health, Medical Anthropology), a 200-hour supervised interpreting practicum at local healthcare sites, and six units of thesis on original research that focuses on investigating language in a healthcare setting (Jacobson in Kennen 2005).

As we can see from this quick overview, in most well-rounded programs, several of the six areas I discussed previously are generally present. Most programs include at least cognitive processing, professional, and linguistic; and in very specialized programs like HIHAL, content and setting-specific are also central. In the next section, I explore in more detail those areas that generally are not an integral part of existing programs of healthcare interpreting. Those areas are the interpersonal, setting-specific, and sociocultural ones.

Pushing Boundaries: Expanding Options in HIE

In this section, I provide general guidelines for the specific areas which currently are not an integral part of HIE.

The Interpersonal Area: The Role of the Healthcare Interpreter

The role of the healthcare interpreter is complex, and education about the role should be a core component of HIE. Traditionally, the main focus of interpreter programs (and professional organizations) has been the prescription of how that role should be enacted, rather than an attempt to understand the complexity of such a role. These prescriptions are limited to the production of accurate renditions of a message, regardless of the constraints of the communicative event (i.e., with no consideration of who the interlocutors are, where they are interacting, the purposes of the interaction, etc.). This narrow approach limits the opportunities for students to understand, observe, and explore the multifaceted and complex role that interpreters play in the healthcare setting. The different contexts in which interpreters work, as well as the interlocutors for whom they interpret, impose different constraints and needs on the interpreted communicative events they facilitate. Thus, their performance and their role undergo constant changes so as to meet those needs and accommodate those constraints. This is a part of the practice of interpreting that should not be overlooked in HIE so that, as Brown reminded us at the beginning of the chapter, teaching continues to be enlightened. Various empirical studies conducted on interpreted medical discourse (Angelelli 2003 and 2004; Bolden 2000; Cambridge 1999; Davidson 1998, 2000, and 2001; Kaufert and Putsch 1997; Metzger 1999; and Wadensjö 1995 and 1998) illustrate the participatory role of interpreters. Healthcare interpreters, like interpreters in general, are co-participants who share responsibility in the talk (Wadensjö 1998). This responsibility needs to be made explicit to students.


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