Now residing in the beautiful Rio Grande Valley area of Texas, dedicated primarily to OPI (Over the Phone Interpreting), and Face to Face Interpreting as requested.

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We Are Not the Same, and Yet We Think We Are.

Spanish David


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“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” -Gertrude Stein, 1913, Sacred Emily. This famous sentence is frequently interpreted to mean that no matter what you call it, a rose would still be a rose. Too often interpreters think the same. An interpreter is an interpreter is an interpreter. Wrong!

One thing, besides interpreting, that interpreters like to do is debate. There are several forums where we interpreters like to gather to ask questions, give advice and argue over who is right and who is wrong. Some of these discussions can be, politely put, explosive. Sometimes I wonder if these were face to face, who would throw the first punch. Interestingly, during all of the interpreter conferences I have attended, I have never witnessed any aggressive behavior among my colleagues. There are, as with all professions, the snobs who I admit I would like to slap once or twice just for fun but overall, I don’t think one could meet a more fabulous group of people. I have found the majority to be helpful, caring and downright friendly.

Why, then, do tempers seem to fly within the interpreter forums? We could debate the psychology of Social Media and how we are affected by the faceless communication which allows us to be a complete jerk, but I won’t go there since I have done the same. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Those physical cues –facial expressions, the tone of voice and so on are missing, and sometimes we incorrectly react.

One reason, in this writer’s opinion, for arguments (aside from the fact that some people are complete assholes), is the misunderstanding among the interpreter divisions. Interpreters, in general, can be divided into Legal Interpreters, Medical, Conference and Guide (also known as Escort Interpreters). During discussions, each interpreter’s point of view is according to which of the professional divisions they belong.

Another cause of debate is related to our Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, which in many ways are very similar throughout the interpreter divisions. We all adhere to the practice of interpreting everything without adding, subtracting or embellishing. On the surface, this standard sounds easy to follow. It isn’t, and if ‘interpreted’ incorrectly can cause problems, i.e., arguments.

A Legal Interpreter, for example, will interpret the hesitations of the speaker. When the LEP (Limited English Proficient) speaker goes ‘uh, um, uh’ the legal interpreter is going to do the same. Why? Because it is what the interpreter says that is recorded into the official record. Those ‘uh’s, um’s and uh’s’ are important as it may show truthfulness or the lack thereof, someone that is not sure of what they are saying, and on and on we could go.

Should a Medical Interpreter also repeat those same hesitations? Well, if we follow the same standard of interpreting ‘everything’ then yes. Does it, however, make sense for a Medical Interpreter to restate the obvious? Some will say yes because that is what the ‘standard of practice’ says to do –interpreter everything, and thus the arguments begin.

In a strict Medical setting (there are quasi-legal/medical interpreting sessions) what purpose does repeating the um’s accomplish? The Provider (doctor, nurse, dietician, and so on) is talking to a patient, and the patient is responding. A doctor can hear the hesitation coming from the patient. It isn’t necessary, in my humble opinion, to repeat the obvious. Still, there are arguments that everything ‘must’ be interpreted. This is a just one example where what is critical in one area of interpreting, legal in this case, is ridiculous to do in another, in this case medical.

Another area where there appears to be confusion among the divisions of interpreting is fees. How much to charge? A further complication to this ongoing debate deals with geographical differences. A Medical Interpreter from Kentucky, for example purposes only, will ask if $30/Hr is a reasonable rate? The screaming, insults and rattle shaking begin.

An interpreter from New York responds with one of those, ‘are you out of your mind?’ comments. No way is $30/hr acceptable. Of course, it isn’t established that the interpreter from New York is a Federally Certified Legal Interpreter so now the interpreter from Kentucky is thinking they are getting screwed. Opposite of this, an interpreter living in Peru is thinking, wow!, I will take $30/hr. That would be awesome. On and on this goes until at some point a moderator steps in and asks everyone to play nice.

Although we are all under that big, beautiful umbrella title of ‘Professional Interpreter’ we are different. We are not better, nor are we inferior to each other. We represent different areas, and we each deserve professional compensation for our service. Should legal be paid higher than medical? What about Conference Interpreters, should they be paid higher than legal interpreters? This debate may never resolve itself, and I am certainly not going to try here.

Some interpreters will argue that they wear multiple hats being a Legal Interpreter as well as a Medical Interpreter, and sometimes even a Conference Interpreter. There is no argument from me. They are correct as many interpreters hold multiple certifications and work within the different interpreter divisions. At the same time, each division is separate and whichever hat the interpreter is wearing at the time should dictate how they perform their interpreter role. It is not a one size fits all scenario.

To put this into perspective, all medical doctors fall under the Healthcare umbrella. There are, however, many distinct specialties. If you had a headache, you probably wouldn’t ask to see a Proctologist –at least I hope not. It is the same with interpreting. There are specialists in the world of interpreting and each one is distinct. A rose may be a rose by any other name, but an interpreter is not just an interpreter.

_____David Martin Tucker, Certified Spanish Healthcare Interpreter, CHI™, or “Spanish David” as he is known, is a certified healthcare interpreter dedicated exclusively to OPI (over the phone interpreting) whose passion for Latin American culture and language is second only to his desire to become a voice for his Spanish speaking clients. Conveying more than words, David’s continuous thirst for knowledge thrusts him into the culture of his clients.

David is an honor’s graduate from the Southern California School of Interpreting’s Medical Interpreter Program and holds bachelor degrees in both Modern Languages (Spanish) and Business from Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of Southern Indiana respectively.

A founding member of the El Puente Bilingual Toastmasters in Denver, David is also a contributor to the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), and is a member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Health Care Patient Advisory Board.

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Certified Spanish Healthcare Interpreter
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