Monday, September 17, 2012

Battle Creek Emergency

Battle Creek, Michigan, is a typical American Midwest city. It's famous as the birthplace and headquarters of Kellogg's corn flakes. Like most typical American cities these days, it's home to a sizable community of Spanish-speaking Latinos, and hence there's language brokering. Here's part of a newspaper article that's just arrived from there.
“'Can you imagine?' said Flores, executive director of Voces, a nonprofit organization seeking to provide assistance to Latinos in the Battle Creek area.
“The memory still makes Kate Flores shudder.
“She recounts the story of a local Latino woman who was in the midst of a miscarriage, could not speak English and had no way to make herself understood at the hospital because there was no interpreter.
“So instead, she relied on her English-speaking 13-year-old son in the emergency room, the only person she trusted to make herself understood to doctors.
“It’s that story, and others too much like it, that convinced Flores and others concerned about the local Spanish-speaking community to get behind Voces, Spanish for 'voices'.
“Indeed, language was, and probably still is, the major barrier for immigrants coming to a new country. In this case, children educated in the American school system have a better of chance of communicating than their parents.
“In this story, Flores was amazed that a boy had to be involved in a situation so intimate and private because there was no other choice.
“‘Not only is it illegal, but it’s inappropriate,’ Flores said.
“In the perfect world, Flores hopes Voces will help make sure such a situation rarely happens again."
This is the kind of story that riles professional health care interpreters, of whom there are many in the USA. Of course the hospital ought to have had an interpreter available. But let’s do a different take on it.
  • There’s no suggestion that the boy involved couldn’t interpret or caused dangerous misunderstanding. 
  • Inappropriate perhaps, but that’s a matter of mores and the boy was “the only person she [the mother] trusted to make herself understood to doctors.” It was her choice.
  • "In the perfect world,..." says Flores. But it isn’t a perfect world. There will always be emergencies where an Expert, or even an Advanced Native Interpreter, isn’t available in time. If it can happen in Battle Creek, how much more is it likely to happen in less developed parts of the world?
Conclusion: Instead of having their ability ignored or underestimated, bilingual immigrant children and adolescents should be taught what to do and what to say if they’re called on to interpret in an emergency, and they should be given a basic ‘first aid’ bilingual vocabulary to learn. (Perhaps, in an ideal world, they would also carry a consent form from their parents.) Most children are proud to help. And thanks to TV and the internet, they're much more worldwise than children of their age used to be, which is also a great help for interpreting. But 'what to say' includes telling people they should call in 'a proper translator' if the interpreting is difficult or sensitive.
 Chuck Carlson. Voces establishes itself in B.C. Latino community. Battle Creek Enquirer, September 12, 2012. The article is here. The emphasis is mine.
For another incident where a bilingual boy helped out in an emergency, enter pre-dawn crash in the Search box on the right.


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  2. Just as you say, I believe that it is important not to convey to children that they are doing something wrong when, in fact, they are using a unique skill to help.

    Don't you think that there is a fear behind that children should be traumatized. We want to protect them, they are our children after all.

    Although I believe that we first and foremost should make use of professional interpreters, we must also acknowledge the skill these kids have, it's nothing they should hide or be ashamed of.

  3. Re spelling.
    It's possible I'm in too much of a hurry when I write these posts. I'll try to be more careful. I do use a proofreader for professional work.
    I ran THIS post through the Microsoft Works spelling checker and the only change it proposed was the initial capital in 'Midwest', which I've now changed though I don't think it matters. It didn't recognise 'worldwise'. I thought I'd compounded it myself out of 'worldly wise', but Google finds lots of examples

  4. Very nice blog post. Thanks for sharing such valuable information. Keep sharing and posting in future also.

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