Why is there an article on idioms in a blog for medical interpreters? Wouldn’t your time be better spent studying up on medical terminology or learning about medical procedures?
My answer to these questions is this: yes and no. Undoubtedly, fluency in medical terminology, as well as continuing education to keep up with new developments in medicine, are a must for healthcare interpreters. However, interpreting encounters in healthcare settings are not all dense medical jargon. And sometimes, it’s not the name of a new advanced treatment (monoclonal antibodies, anyone?) that will give you pause, but an idiomatic expression.
Idioms are an indelible part of any language. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines idioms as a group of words in a fixed order that have a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own. Some examples of idioms are: it’s raining cats and dogs (=raining heavily), to spill the beans (=to reveal secret information), to kick the bucket (=to die, very informal). Doctors, like all people, use idioms all the time. The thing about idioms though is that, while some are easy to figure out from the context, a great many others are tougher. For me, the hardest idioms are the ones that come from the world of sport since I`m not very familiar with American sports (What is a slam dunk??? Just kidding, I know what it is. Which is a good thing, because I recently heard it used by a doctor, as in: this procedure is a slam dunk). Since it would be impossible to write a blog post listing every idiom there is (according to Wikipedia, 25,000 idiomatic expressions are estimated to be in the English language), this post aims to raise interpreters’ awareness of idioms and suggest some strategies for dealing with idioms during interpreting encounters, offer some ideas for learning idioms, and provide a practical translation exercise with real-life example sentences containing idioms.
Whether you are someone thinking of becoming a medical interpreter, are about to take your medical interpreter exams or are a seasoned interpreter wishing to expand your knowledge of all things medicine, you will need resources – to help you learn more, to bolster your knowledge of medical terminology, and to practice interpreting skills. One way to access such resources is to take a training course – and in fact, both organizations certifying medical interpreters on the national level require interpreters to take at least 40 hours of training. Outside of prerequisite training, there are hundreds of opportunities to get those CEUs (continuing education units) that are required for re-certification. There are training opportunities that are free or paid, online or in person, lasting from 2 hours to 3 days. In fact, I`m teaching one such seminar this month. But what if you want to access resources outside those formal training sessions? Something you can do as part of your leisure time, or maybe on the go while you’re commuting to work? Something that is free?
In my previous two posts, I wrote about using TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy as a resource for medical interpreters and described the ways books about doctors and medicine can help medical interpreters not only to gain more knowledge, but also to hone their interpreting skills. In this post, I`m going to talk about a third source of information and skills practice – podcasts. For those of you who are new to this concept, I will explain what podcasts are and where to find them, and I will also provide a list of podcasts about health and medicine as well as a list of episodes centered on the topic of medicine from podcasts that are not medical in nature.
Reading is life! I am an unapologetic bookworm and I attribute my success in learning English to my insatiable appetite for reading. In addition, by reading books about doctors and medicine, I have gained insight into the medical world and have learned a myriad of new words and expressions that helped me do my job of a medical interpreter.
As I wrote in this post, where I recommend that medical interpreters watch TV shows in order to improve their medical vocabulary and get some interpreting practice, stimulating input is a key factor in learning. And chances are, if you are a medical interpreter (or are thinking about becoming one), you are interested in medicine. This is where books about medicine come in! Please note that the books I`m talking about are not medical textbooks on anatomy and such, and neither are they novels set in hospitals. I’m talking about books about medicine and medical providers, often written in the form of memoirs. Such books are a perfect source of the following:
general insight into the world of medicine and medical training
information on diseases, symptoms, treatments, complications and outcomes
medical vocabulary, which can be general or specialized depending on the book
interpreting skills practice (see the section on audiobooks below for more details on how to practice).
This is a blog post where I finally get to talk about how great Grey’s Anatomy is and nobody can stop me! On the serious side, this blog post will describe a possibly unconventional resource for medical interpreters which can be used to add to their medical glossaries and contribute to their overall knowledge of medicine and healthcare: medical TV shows. You can find a list of more conventional resources in my blog post here.
About 5 years ago, when I was living in Novosibirsk, Russia, I got to interpret at a lecture on totally thoracoscopic radiofrequency ablation of atrial fibrillation. The lecture was given at one of the leading medical institutions in Russia by a visiting professor. It was decided that I would interpret consecutively by standing next to the professor and speaking into my own microphone. As far as arrangements for preparations went, it couldn’t have been more perfect – I was given the lecture presentation slides in advance and allowed to meet with a cardio surgeon from the institute so that I could go over the terminology that I had questions about and run some translation choices by him. The lecture itself went smoothly and afterwards, when the visiting professor thanked me for my help, he asked me if I’d had any medical training. I told him about my extensive preparations but also said I learned a lot from watching Grey’s Anatomy. The professor started laughing until he saw that I wasn’t joking. I’m not sure what he made of that but I stand by my opinion: watching medical TV shows can be a valuable tool for medical interpreters.
Doctor: “Tell him to hop up on the exam table… Now, has he had these symptoms for a while? Ask him if he’s taken anything for it…” (Wait, why is the doctor talking to me and not the patient? What do I do now?)
Patient: “Oh dear, that doctor looks too young to be practicing medicine… Wait, did you just interpret this? Why would you do this?” (Oh no! Now the patient won’t trust me!)
If you are a professional medical interpreter, chances are that you have encountered similar situations. If you are only just starting out in the profession, somebody might have warned you about these things happening. Yes, on an ideal interpreting assignment, the doctor and patient speak in utterances of reasonable length and at a reasonable pace, not saying anything they wouldn’t want to be interpreted, all the while making eye contact and speaking directly to each other. In real life, things may not go so perfectly – and not because people involved don’t want us to do our jobs, but rather because they might not have worked with interpreters before and therefore might not know the best way to fully utilize the help of a professional interpreter. They might also have concerns about having another person present at a doctor’s appointment – one that is not wearing scrubs or a white coat and at first glance does not look like part of a healthcare team. As a result, patients might be reluctant to divulge sensitive information in the presence of an interpreter. The list goes on.
As interpreters going into a healthcare encounter, we can either hope that none of the above happens, or we can help ensure that conditions are created that enable us to interpret to the best of our abilities and allow us to do our job – that is, enable people to communicate as if they were speaking the same language. One way to make this happen is by having a pre-session.
Below are some links for websites that can be used to practice consecutive interpreting skills and sight translation skills. I am also planning to upload some audio recordings of dialogues that can be used to practice/hone your consecutive interpreting skills.
A series of educational YouTube videos of doctor visits from the University College of London (since the videos are produced in the UK, some vocabulary will be different from that of the US – e.g. A&E (accident and emergency) vs the ER/ED (emergency room/emergency department)
A short sample of a medical dialogue from the National Center of Interpretation at the University of Arizona (The patient’s responses are in Spanish but if your language is not Spanish, you can just focus on doctor’s utterances)
What inspired me to write about self-care for medical interpreters?
This weekend I went on my first road trip from Nashville, Tennessee to Birmingham, Alabama to attend ITAA’s Second Annual Conference for Professional Interpreters. ITAA stands for The Interpreters and Translators Association of Alabama and the conference they put on was one of the most wonderful conferences I’ve ever attended. The speakers were truly inspirational, the talks were relevant and informative and everything was extremely well-organized. Not to mention the fact that I attended the conference with my good friends from the medical interpreter training course, unexpectedly ran into our instructor Dennis Caffrey from the very same course, and met two new Russian colleagues – it can get a bit lonely for Russian interpreters here in Nashville!