Discussion of Language Differences

Discussion of Language Differences

Author Jeanette Kibler

On April 17th, Interpreters of Languages of Lesser Diffusion joined our Japanese Interpreter colleagues for a workshop on interpreting at MPU appointments. We had a fascinating discussion as we quickly realized that Interpreters face different challenges depending on their culture.

One fun discussion was around the translation of the word “diabetes”.  One of the Somali Interpreters explained that in her language “diabetes” is translated as the equivalent of “sweet pee” and is diagnosed because ants gather around the patient’s urine. A Thai Interpreter chimed in and said it was also the equivalent of “sweet pee” in her language.  Then one of the Japanese Interpreters commented that in Japanese it is literally the characters for “sugar” and “urine” disease.

Orawan Wong, our Thai Interpreter wrote about her experience at the workshop:  The word “stomach” has a different meaning in other cultures, especially in Thai culture. It covers the area from underneath the chest down to the end of the body trunk. At the MPU, patients will be asked about their medical history. Medical terms for diseases are used by medical personnel. The patients might not understand the terms even though they are translated into their language. It can be helpful to ask the patients what problems they are having or have had inside their stomach. And then, we can go from there to explain which organs and what symptoms they have or had.

And this from one of our newest Interpreters in Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi: Thank you so much for letting me participate in such an engaging, informative and a well-organized workshop.  It was great to meet other colleagues and learn their perspectives from their cultural backgrounds. I thoroughly enjoyed the role play and learned how imperative it is as an Interpreter to not only be a conduit but at times also be a provider of clarity, a cultural broker, and an advocate. Also, it was wonderful to receive the forms that we can translate in our languages and be of further help to our patients. –Shanila Khan


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