I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble and this week on WORDMASTER: we
look at the growing need for interpreters in American hospitals and
RS: And how technology is addressing shortages.
AA: We start with health care. Faith Lapidus has our report.
For more than a quarter of a century, Language Line Services -- LLS --
has provided trained interpreters to help doctors and caregivers
communicate with non-English speaking patients. Company president Louis
Provenzano says the demand for interpreting services is on the rise.
PROVENZANO: "A typical urban hospital, they may treat patients who
speak forty to sixty different language. So it's almost impossible to
staff internally. Some hospitals provide professional interpreters.
Others rely on family members or even janitorial staff. But because
their knowledge of medical terminology has not been verified by any
regulating authority, the quality of communication can differ
dramatically. And in the case of diagnosis and treatment decisions, it
could have a tragic consequences."
FL: LLS recently launched the International Registry of Certified Medical Interpreters.
PROVENZANO: "It's the first industry resource of its kind to give
health care organizations a free online resource for identifying those
professionals, medical interpreters, and reviewing their language
skills and credentials."
SUSAN AVILA: "This is Susan, Spanish interpreter four-nine-two-one."
FL: Certified Spanish interpreter Susan Avila provides over-the-phone medical translations.
AVILA: "It could be anywhere from a little child getting his shots
updated, to something very elaborate as the explanation of a surgery.
Perhaps a mother is having contractions and we have to calm her down
and give her the instructions on how she is supposed to breath."
According to LLS President Louis Provenzano, regulating medical
interpreting services is essential to improving the health care system
and ensuring equal opportunity for all patients.
PROVENZANO: "I think a number of interpreter associations, a number of
different organizations like Language Line Services are really pushing
Congress and legislators to put various, different regulations on a
FL: Provenzano says he hopes that will allow
health care professionals to focus on the medical services, without
worrying about important bits of information getting lost in
translation. I'm Faith Lapidus.
AA: Now, we shift from the emergency room to the courtroom, where many U.S. states are also facing interpreter shortages.
RS: Reporter Steve Mort has that story.
A Spanish-speaking defendant, who understands no English, appears
before an Orlando, Florida, judge. Ody Arias-Luciano interprets. She
leads the court interpreting program for this part of Florida.
ARIAS LUCIANO: "We do have a need for Creole interpreters, for
Portuguese, for Russian, for Vietnamese, for every language."
The government says U.S. federal courtrooms needed interpreters in a
hundred and fifteen languages in two thousand seven. In District
courts, there were nearly a quarter of a million cases that required
interpreters. In both cases, the numbers are up.
uses her skills in Haitian Creole to guide this defendant through the
legal process. Castillo is one of only three Creole interpreters in
Orlando. She runs an agency which provides interpreters to courts, and
can cite cases where she has struggled to find an interpreter demanded
by a court.
JESSY CASTILLO: "They were looking for Burmese and
that was quite difficult. We could not retain anyone here that spoke
Some officials in Orlando hope technology could ease the interpreter
shortage. This system allows an interpreter in another city or state to
use monitors to see the activity in court. An interpreter could
translate courtroom discussion from anyplace with this specially
Agustin de la Mora trains court interpreters. He helped develop the remote technology used here.
DE LA MORA: "It's silly to believe that you're going to find a good
interpreter that is trained for every language in every corner of the
United States. So more and more, I'm advocating the use of interpreters
that are trained that can do a good job at a distance, using
SM: But Public Defender Robert Wesley, whose staff
represent defendants in court, is skeptical. He does not feel
comfortable using an interpreter who is in a different location.
WESLEY: "Because we don't know if that interpreter is also cooking a
pot of beans or knitting a sweater or doing something different while
she is working to interpret on the phone."
outside the courtroom, Wesley says he often communicates with his
clients through a telephone interpreting service.
courts offer an online list of certified interpreters. And around the
country, many of the states are working individually and collectively
to ease the shortage, so that defendants who speak no English can have
their day in court.
RS: That was Steve Mort, reporting for VOA. And that's WORDMASTER for this week.
AA: With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.