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Interpreter training in healthcare settings:
A co-constructive approach

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Without professional interpretation in healthcare settings, linguistic barriers can limit a non-native speakers’ access to medical care, and lead to inappropriate treatment or misdiagnosis. To ensure interpreters have the necessary skills to facilitate effective, professional and reliable medical interpretation, Dr Demi Krystallidou from Ghent University (Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication), says a new set of parameters should be added to traditional interpreter training. The innovative training method she suggests takes a joint effort approach: training doctor-minded interpreters and interpreter-minded doctors.

Until now, Dr Krystallidou says interpreter training has remained primarily interpreter-centred, focusing on “what interpreters do, shall or may never do”, and not always taking into account the primary participants’ communicative goals.

“Interpreter training has been focusing on the accurate and complete rendition of the primary participants' utterances into the target language. Although one would expect that the guiding principles of ‘accuracy’ and ‘completeness’ would be enough to guarantee the delivery of appropriate translations by the interpreter and therefore serve the purpose of the actual interaction well, we have evidence that suggests the opposite,” Dr Krystallidou says.

“The concepts of ‘accuracy’ and ‘completeness’, although they appear to be solid enough and unambiguous, are susceptible to multiple interpretations, as opinions might differ among interpreters as to the extent to which a translation is accurate and complete.”


Communicative goals

It is for this reason that Dr Krystallidou argues that an additional set of parameters should be added to traditional interpreter training in healthcare settings, namely awareness and knowledge of the doctors' and patients' communicative goals in the consultation. She says, knowing what doctors are striving for at each phase of the consultation allows an interpreter to:

  1. better understand the meaning and the importance of the doctors' utterances and their impact on the interaction;

  2. better situate the primary participants' utterances and their own renditions in a specific communicative context within the consultation;

  3. be able to make informed decisions about their own interventions.

“Although it is difficult to map the patients' communicative goals based on their lived experience, it is far more feasible to become acquainted with the doctors' communicative goals at the different stages of the consultation based on a widely employed model of professional discourse,” Dr Krystallidou says.

“I believe that knowledge of the doctors' communicative goals at the different stages of the medical consultation allows interpreters to revisit the concepts of accuracy and completeness, both in terms of interactional complexity, as well as in terms of their impact on communication outcomes.”


Joint practice between medical and interpreting students

Against this backdrop, Ghent University has introduced a series of joint practice sessions between medical students and student interpreters. The sessions provide an opportunity to practice in a more authentic setting, allowing student interpreters to acquaint themselves with the complexities of doctors’ communicative goals, and for medical students to become familiar with the complexities of interpreter-mediated consultations.

The sessions, which involve simulated consultations in seven different languages, have been well received by both student groups. Students are faced with challenges they will experience in real-life settings and, as the joint practice sessions are video recorded, are then used for further research. Dr Krystallidou says evaluations of the trainings have been “very positive.”

In addition to these sessions, Dr Krystallidou has been giving a set of lectures which highlight the specific communicative goals attached to each stage of the consultation.

“Usually I provide short transcribed excerpts from medical consultations and by relying on aspects of Conversation Analysis, I invite students to identify the communicative goals that are at stake, describe the co-constructive process among all participants toward the attainment of these goals and reflect on the participants' moves and their impact on reaching these goals.”

You can hear more about the methods and outcomes of the Ghent University’s joint approach to interpreter training from Dr Demi Krystallidou at InDialog 2015, taking place in Berlin on 20 – 21 November.


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