1. Peter Piers

    Excellent and insightful article, very well written. A question: when you say that institutions should “optimize reporting of language-related errors” do you mean in situations with or without an interpreter? And who would you say should report those errors?

    Because in a situation between an english-speaking provider and a LEP, theoretically, the only person who has the competency to determine whether a language-related error has occurred is an interpreter. Naturally the interpreter and/or their agency is/are considered to be competent and professional, but they must have their own means of reporting language errors which are separate from the hospital’s perceived language errors – partly because what the hospital perceives as a language error may be due to an interpreting event where some things were misunderstood and then not clarified or confirmed. A silly but relevant example is date of birth: an american would write April 1st, 1994, as 4/1/94, but many other countries would write 1/4/94. If everyone just says a number and no one says a month name, the mistake will go unnoticed. A competent interpreter, aware of this, would confirm the month, so this issue is unlikely to actually happen, but what about issues where more medical considerations have to be taken, and other types of assumptions are made by hospital staff unknown to the interpreter? Is it a language error if the message was delivered correctly by the interpreter but misunderstood due to certain assumptions and then not clarified?

    This is especially important in remote interpreting, where it’s extraordinarily important for the interpreter to hear clients and LEPs clearly – and technical issues, sometimes as simple as the volume of the device, conspire against that.

    It is vital, indeed, for there to be a system to report errors. But it must be clear which entity identifies the errors, and the errors must be identified closely. The institution must work closely with the interpreter or their agency to resolve those errors. There may be a tendency to blame the interpreter for certain language-related errors, which on the face of it seems the natural thing to do, but very often the real problem is that there was not enough clarification. The question of “who gets to decide whether a certain error was language-based when an interpreter was used”, or even “whether a certain language-based error in a situation when an interpreter was used did, in fact, occur due to the language issue or was it more closely related to something else” is a very good question, but it needs a careful answer.


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