Bilingual Employees are not Interpreters

For some reasons there seems to be a common misunderstanding about people that can speak two languages or more. A lot of people assume that as soon as you can speak two languages you can interpret, however that is not the case. In this article, we would like to explain why it is not a good idea to ask your bilingual employees to interpret for you.

1. An Interpreter needs special Training

If someone learned to speak a foreign language that does not mean they also learned how to interpret. When learning a language you learn the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation etc. and this is enough for understanding and speaking the language. An interpreter, however, needs more than that. Interpreters have certain techniques they need to master. For example, for consecutive interpretation, note-taking and memorization techniques are essential as they sometimes need to interpret a chunk of dialogue that is several minutes long. As a simultaneous interpreter, you need to be able to listen and speak at the same time. Therefore, it is important to be able to anticipate what the speaker might say so that you can adjust the syntax structure accordingly. Simultaneous interpreters must be very resistant to stress and usually, only work for a few minutes because their job is so demanding.

You might be able to imagine that this is not possible without special training. A lot of universities offer courses in interpreting where the students study and practice these interpreting techniques for several years. In this article, we explain in more detail how to become an interpreter in Germany. 

2. Liability of Interpreters

As an interpreter, you have a certain responsibility because a mistake in interpreting can result in severe damages especially in certain fields, like medical interpretation. In a previous article, we discussed a case where a bilingual staff member of a hospital mistranslated a word, and a wrong treatment left a patient with lifelong damages.

This is, of course, an extreme example but in certain context, small mistakes can have a huge impact. A professional interpreter usually has insurance to cover for damages caused by their mistakes. If your bilingual employees make a mistake, it will be your responsibility to cover for damages.

3. Bilingual Doctors are not Interpreters

An anthropological study published earlier this year in Sage Journals suggested that in hospitals in the US Latina women are frequently asked to perform work as interpreters in addition to their primary job as doctors or nurses. When they explained that interpreting is not part of their job, their evaluation from coworkers would suffer.

Considering the fatal consequences, a mistake might have in the medical context it is only understandable that they refuse. A doctor would never do anything that could harm their patient. Also being a doctor already is stressful enough, so they surely do not need extra work on their plate.

We hope this article helped to clarify why a bilingual person is not an interpreter. Don’t be like the staff in American hospitals and look down on your coworkers when they do the right thing and reject tasks that they are not trained for. Be smart and hire a professional interpreter. For more information on our interpreting services, you can refer to this page.

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