in Translation

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of people in the world do not speak English.  Even in the United States, one in five people speak a language other than English at home, according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies. That doesn’t mean to say that 20 percent of the US population can’t speak English, but it shows that other languages play a more prominent role in the country than previously assumed.

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The healthcare industry, for example, has seen the need for medical interpreters grow by leaps and bounds. Too often, the task of interpreting falls to non-professionals—often family members and children—and the lack of adequate interpretive services could result in serious injury or death. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, nearly 9% of the US population is at risk for an adverse event because of language barriers. In order to minimize medication errors and avoid misdiagnosis, hospitals need to employ trained interpreters who are familiar with medical terminology.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, ID, is one of many hospitals in the US that provides interpretive services. Besides hiring outside contractors, the hospital uses a video translation service called MARTTI (My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter) to assist non-English-speaking patients in the emergency room. Many hospitals prefer to use the service via video because it allows interpreters to pick up on nonverbal cues and to help hearing-impaired patients using sign language.

As the US population becomes more diverse, the demand for interpreters is likely to grow, not only in the healthcare industry, but also in the business, government, legal and tourism sectors. Preparing to meet that increasing demand, Microsoft has recently unveiled a Star Trek-like universal translator, a Skype service that can interpret voice conversation in “near real-time.”  The machine may widen our circle of friends by breaking language barriers, but translation industry experts doubt that it can ever serve as a reliable interpreter.

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Technology can greatly speed up the translation process, but looking at the future of interpretation, when the smallest interpreting error could result in deadly consequences, Skype Translator might not be the best choice. No matter how advanced the technology becomes, Nataly Kelly, author of Found In Translation, said, as quoted by The Guardian, “No translation will ever be as good as understanding the language for yourself. There is simply no replacement for learning a foreign language.”

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