G2Local can test/evaluate your company’s bilingual representatives and/or test/evaluate any bilingual new hires. Over the past few years we have seen a growing demand for this service in corporate America as most companies seek to provide customer service in at least Spanish.
In addition, G2Local is also often asked about what standards we hold our interpreters too. We like to say, “the highest possible standards” but few outside of the interpreting/translation industry know what these standards are. This posting attempts to give the reader a brief overview on how we would evaluate your company’s employees as well as how we test and monitor our own interpreters.
First, one must understand that interpreting in healthcare and in business is an emerging and evolving field. The most recent interpreting standards demand that interpreters must not only be fluent in both the source and target languages, but must also have the skills and subject knowledge to be able to comprehend and re-express the message at the pace of normal speech.
The minimum qualifications for interpreters, updated in 2007, include excellent command of both languages, interpreting skills (e.g. attention, analytical thinking, memory, language transfer, note taking) and knowledge of the subject matter (e.g. medical terminology and constructs).
Additional considerations include clearly-delineated responsibilities between the organization employing interpreters and the clients for whom they provide services, technological requirements, and elements common to all interpretation events (e.g. mode of interpretation, onsite or remote interpretation, and time considerations). The most recent standards also contain more than two dozen terms related to interpretation, with which everyone who interprets or oversees interpreting in a health care setting should be familiar.
In 2001, the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) published A Guide to Initial Assessment of Interpreter Qualifications, echoing the need to assess the language proficiency of not only interpreters, but also bilingual health care staff and providers who communicate directly with patients. The guide supports the position that “…ideally, proficiency [should be] verified with formal testing.” Building on the pioneering work of state and regional organizations, specifically the California Standards of Practice for Healthcare Interpreters: Ethical Principles, Protocols, and Guidance on Roles & Intervention developed by the California Healthcare Interpreting Association (CHIA) and the IMIA standards mentioned earlier, NCIHC produced A National Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care in 2004 and proposed National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care in 2005.
The former document includes guidelines for making judgments about acceptable and desirable behavior in a given context or in a particular relationship, while the latter deals with the practical concerns of an interpreter’s duties. Neither address interpreter skills specifically, but these national and international efforts are part of a growing call for the development of national standards for interpreter services. In fact, NCIHC is now actively promoting a national certification process for interpreting in health settings, in collaboration with state and national associations representing working interpreters, field experts and language agencies.
practicing in a variety of settings and medical specialties. One of the key findings resulting from the survey of Latinos is that while interpreters made communication easier, many patients were concerned about using interpreters with poor or limited Spanish language skills.
Nearly everyone familiar with the field of interpreting and translation knows that a bilingual individual is NOT an interpreter. Being bilingual is a necessary part of the job but interpreters are professionals who study, practice, and develop their skills. Anyone who has seen a professional interpreter working will quickly understand that this profession takes a high degree of skill.
When G2Local is working with a company to recruit bilingual talent or when we are hiring our own interpreters, we classify bilingual adults into two classes at the beginner level. These levels consist of:
Native Speakers – People, who grow up speaking the language of their society, obtain most of their education there and conduct most of their life-work in that language. In essence, it is their dominant language and the one in which they feel most comfortable speaking and/or writing.
Heritage Speakers – People who learn their ethnic language at home as children but raised in a country that has a different dominant language (e.g., Children of Spanish-speaking immigrants who are born and raised in the U.S. and learn Spanish at home but are taught via English in school). Typically, heritage speakers have little or no formal education in their ethnic language. Often, their second language (e.g., English) becomes their dominant language, and they demonstrate variable degrees of language ability in their first, heritage language. Heritage speakers can range from English-dominant individuals with no reading and writing ability in the heritage language, to those with some limited reading and writing skills in their heritage language.
Knowing the type of bilingual speaker a staff person may be (native, non-native or heritage) and assessing their language proficiency are essential in determining the level of interpreting the person is capable of and the responsibility they can be assigned. Several language proficiency tests have been developed and validated for use as a screening tool for heritage speakers. They are most often used to determine admissions into interpreter training programs or prior to employment as an interpreter. The prevalence of specific types of language testing options is much greater today than five years ago.
When measuring language proficiency, the question of what should be assessed is extremely important. Not all jobs needed someone with a high degree of interpreting experience. For many of the clients we help, being bilingual with good customer service skills is enough. For these customers, we work to assess the candidate’s language skills and vocabulary.
ASTM International has defined the spectrum of speaking and language proficiency along a five-point scale, with 0 being the lowest (Survival Proficiency) and 5 being the highest (Educated Native Proficiency). Whether a staff person is functioning at a minimal level, a limited level, or a fully functional level is not as important as knowing whether or not this level of functioning is appropriate in light of his/her duties (e.g., an individual’s use of minimal skills for basic conversational interpreting versus using that same person to inform and guide a complex medical procedure requiring informed consent). In other words, functioning at a minimal level of proficiency may be enough for a staff person whose main duties involve greeting patients or scheduling appointments. On the contrary, a medical assistant who is proficient at the General Functional Proficiency level will be able to not only interpret patient-provider communication accurately, but also clarify points made, understand intended meaning, and make sense of any challenges presented.
A friendly question was asked of the G2Local office some weeks ago; a client of ours wanted to know what our interpreter base consisted of. What kind of demographics do we see within our interpreter database and how do our results compare to interpreters overall? Grace B, the President, asked me to do a bit of research and statistics. Here are the findings:
Although published data is lacking, estimates vary that anywhere from 44 – 60 percent of the bilinguals employed in hospitals, clinics and medical offices across the nation are heritage speakers. The average medical interpreter is a U.S.-born woman between the ages of 31 and 40 who has had a relatively short tenure as a health interpreter. Nearly three in four had worked as a health interpreter for five years or less. More than half reported having received no interpreter training, and nearly half reported learning their native language at home, not in school. Studies also showed that those working as interpreters were interested in being tested, and readily sought to know how well they were doing.
Interesting indeed! Our customers can rest easy knowing that G2Local does extensive assessments of their interpreters, old and new. We also do our own training combined with the training already out there to give our interpreters the widest range of experience available in the market today.
If your company is looking to recruit bilingual talent OR if you could use the help of interpreters for regular or part-time work, please call our office at (513) 526-5011. We will be happy to explain our processes and procedures to you in great detail.
*This article was written as part of a larger research project for G2Local and its clients. References available upon request. The services discussed in this posting are available for your company, please contact the G2Local office*