Today we hosted a fantastic Talks on Tuesdays webinar on culture and cultural competence, presented by Cecily Rodriguez from the VA Dept of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. The webinar will be archived on our Talks on Tuesdays 1014 page soon if you missed it. Several questions related to working with language interpreters were asked during the webinar, so I thought I’d post some tips. Many of you have had a great deal of experience collaborating with families who speak foreign languages, so I’d love to get your suggestions too.
Here are a few tips from the webinar and from other resources to get us started:
Brief the interpreter on specific terms that will be used that might be unfamiliar to the family – Do this before the actual visit with the family. Words that are part of our early intervention lingo, like eligibility determination, cognition, developmental services, or even Individualized Family Service Plan should be discussed to prepare the interpreter to be able to provide accurate information.
Insist on exact translation – Ask the interpreter to translate exactly what you say and what the parent says. This way you don’t miss something important. This can also help avoid an interpretation that is tainted by the interpreter’s opinions, even when well-intentioned.
Look at the parent speaker, rather than the interpreter – I always found this to be difficult because my natural inclination was to look at the person whose language I could understand. Looking at the parent helps to establish your relationship and shows respect as well.
Avoid asking the interpreter to “tell” the parent something – Instead, talk to the parent as you would any other parent and pause for the interpretation. Starting your conversation with “Tell Mr. Silva…” is not respectful and gets in the way of direct communication.
Never use children as interpreters – Our presenter today emphasized this tip. She said that using children puts them in a very uncomfortable position. Children don’t have the knowledge base or maturity to interpret and may find themselves asking questions or saying things to their elders that are not appropriate in the family’s culture.
Be very careful with electronic translation systems – This was a new tip to me provided in our webinar today. Our presenter shared a powerful example of how an online translator only barely provided the gist of what was said because it couldn’t translate the meaning behind the words. Be very careful using these tools because they aren’t intended to be used for real communication with families.
Rather than asking the parent “Do you understand?,” ask “Is there anything I can explain better?” – I stole this tip from Kim Lephart, a PT in northern VA (one of our guest bloggers!) who shared this tip recently (Thanks Kim!). It’s a great way to reframe how we find out from families if they understood while avoiding embarrassing them if they did not. It also puts the onus on us rather than the family. In the end, it really is our responsibility to ensure that the family understands and can fully participate in the early intervention process.
What other tips do you use when working with interpreters? How do you find well-trained, qualified interpreters in your area?
If you participated in today’s cultural competence webinar, what is another tip that you learned?
For more information about cultural competence, visit the Cultural Competence topic page on our VA Early Intervention Professional Development Center site. Check out the Resource Landing Pad page too for landing pads on Cultural Competence (PDF, New Window) and Dual Language Learners (PDF, New Window)
If you have other good resources you use, please share them in the comments below!