Grant to expand translation program

Amber Schadewald

In the past five years, almost 70,000 immigrants arrived in Minnesota, many of whom do not consider English their first language.

For immigrants, not speaking the same language as another person can make communicating difficult and sometimes frustrating. But when it comes to health, misunderstandings can be dangerous.

Medical interpreters have become a vital tool in closing the communication gap between doctors and patients, making sure patients are getting the care they need.

Saturday was International Translation Day, an annual event sponsored in part by the University’s Program for Translation

and Interpreting. The conference gave individuals and agencies around the country a chance to learn, participate and network with others in their field.

At the conference, program officials announced a new initiative to improve and expand language services in Minnesota.

The initiative, which will be a collaboration among the University, Century College and the Interpreting Stakeholder Group, was awarded a $236,000 grant from the Bush Foundation. Together they will develop a series of multimedia training materials for colleges and institutions around the state.

Veronica Newington works as professional intern for the University’s program. Newington is working on the multimedia initiative and said she thinks it will be an effective way to provide training for emerging languages in the state.

The grant awarded to the initiative does not include scholarship possibilities. Newington said the department plans to recruit more translating agencies that can sponsor individuals’ training costs.

Currently all courses in the program are filled; about 85 students are enrolled in the four classes that were offered this semester.

Students who enter the program must already be proficient in both English and another language; the program teaches specific translating skills, such as medical and courtroom translation.

Bruce Downing, director of the Program for Translation and Interpreting, said most of the students are Spanish interpreters.

Downing said they would like to have more languages represented in the program, especially Somali and Hmong, to accommodate the large immigrant populations specific to the Twin Cities.

Minnesota is a national leader in translator training and the Hennepin County Medical Center has the most translators on staff in the country, Downing said.

For the program, ensuring everyone is covered isn’t always easy.

“There are so many different languages and some are only spoken by a small number of people,” Downing said. “It’s good to have well-qualified interpreters for them all.”

At Boynton Health Service, patients can request translators when making an appointment, but the clinic does not have a full-time translator on staff because of the low demand for the service, said Dave Golden, Boynton’s public health and marketing director.

Newington said the cost of tuition is often the biggest barrier to diversifying the number of languages in their program.

She said many of the people who have the skills to enter the program are refugees or immigrants themselves and the money isn’t available.

To receive a certificate, students are required to take six three-credit courses.

Guadalupe Avendano is one of the program’s students who will graduate this spring, but said it has been a long process. She said because the classes have to be taken in order, scheduling was a hassle.

“They only offered the classes at certain times and I was forced to wait between semesters,” Avendano said. “I lost a lot of time.”

Avendano speaks Spanish and English and said she hopes to work as an interpreter in a children’s clinic. Since she was little, Avendano has been interpreting conversations between doctors and her mother. More recently, she decided to take a few interpreting jobs.

The training taught her things she said she had never even thought about before – everything from the way she sits to eye contact.

“I used to think that translating was just, whatever they say in English, I’ll say in Spanish,” Avendano said. “There’s an entire code of ethics I never knew about.”

Those ethics say translators must be neutral in the conversation and speak only in the first person.

They may also have to learn specific aspects of their language.

“A lot of times translators are required to talk about things they’ve never talked about before,” Downing said. “They’re translating for specialists in a particular field.”

Most hospitals and clinics have some type of translating staff, which in some

cases could even just be a

nurse or custodian. Downing hopes the program’s new initiative will inspire many more translators to undergo further training.