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American Annals of the Deaf

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New Approaches to Interpreter Education

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Interestingly, neither power differentials nor the differences that result from the various situated practices (i.e., settings such as a healthcare center) have constituted an integral part of the education of medical interpreters. HIE needs to account for the role of the interpreter, so that students understand the agency that they have, how it falls within a continuum of participation or visibility (Angelelli 2004a and b), and what duties and responsibilities emerge from this agency that cannot be denied.

The Specifics of the Medical Setting

The effect that a setting can have on interpreters’ behaviors and beliefs (Angelelli 2004b) has to be made explicit to students because, after all, interpreting is a situated practice. Students need to understand what it means for a practice to be situated. They have to learn about the research in the field that discusses the issues of this specific setting. This goes beyond medical terminology and content knowledge. It specifically means exposing students to medical discourse, to the ways of speaking between providers and patients in monolingual interactions, and then in bilingual interactions brokered by an interpreter. This will allow students to see the connection between setting, expectations, and actual performances. Students will benefit from learning about the research that illustrates crucial differences in the participatory role of interpreters and how these differences depend upon the nature of the interpreted communicative event (Hymes 1974; Angelelli 2000; Berk-Seligson 1990; Hale 2004; Metzger 1999; Roy 1989 and 2000; Wadensjö 1995 and 1998).

Additionally, both providers and patients have different expectations of medical interpreters (Bolden 2000; Davidson 1998, 2000, and 2001; Prince 1986). The physician sees the interpreter as a human instrument who helps keep the patient (and thus, the conversation) on track. However, the patient sees the interpreter as a co-conversationalist. These expectations on the performance of interpreters (that have been empirically proven) need to be discussed in HIE. Doing so will empower students and keep the teaching of healthcare interpreting aligned with the research in the field.

The Sociocultural Aspect of Healthcare Interpreting

Another important consideration is the historical and institutional context in which interpreters perform their job (Angelelli 2001 and 2004; Davidson 2000 and 2001). Therefore, either during planned explorations on role or setting (see above), or throughout the activities that they perform or observe, opportunities should exist to discuss the sociocultural aspect of the healthcare setting at length. While understanding ways of speaking and specific interaction rules that are typical of a setting help students become more efficient and proficient speakers in a community, reflecting on the influence of societal and institutional factors that get played out during a medical interview is also essential.

The interaction that interpreting students will help broker is constrained by social factors, such as gender, age, ethnicity, and the socioeconomic status of participants, to name a few, as well as the norms of the institution and the society where it takes place. Providers enact specific roles, as do patients. Students will benefit from an academic understanding of how people, as well as themselves, enact roles. Exploring questions such as

  • What happens when providers and patients do not have the same gender or ethnicity?
  • What happens when they belong to different socioeconomic classes?
  • What is the culture of a patient?
  • What is the culture of a healthcare provider?
  • What are their beliefs?
  • Are these beliefs aligned or do they clash?
  • Why are patients so frequently interrupted and cornered?
  • Why are providers under so much pressure?

allows interpreters to discover where they fit. Is the interpreter perceived by the provider as a team player, as a linguistic commodity, or as a patient’s ally? And, in terms of culture, what is the culture of the healthcare organization? Whose


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