//Every interpreter is bilingual… but not every bilingual is an interpreter! – Part 2

For the most part, bilingual people are believed to be able to act as interpreters in multiple situations. Generally speaking, there is nothing more important than setting goals in life, especially if these goals can give us a future. However, it is equally important to pursue such goals with realistic structure and wisdom.

Truly, bilingual people are the perfect raw material to make interpreters. Nevertheless, many bilingual people acting as such are unaware, in the beginning, of what it really takes to be an interpreter, partially because when “introduced” to the role, they are introduced to it in ways where being the interpreter is not the primary focus. Some people are caught interpreting for family members, some are pulled away from their full-time job at the work place because of their ethnicity or because it seems practical. Interestingly enough, few people actually explore their limitations before deciding whether or not they are fit for the job and without even realizing it, some acquire the title of “interpreters.”

Today, this topic has become more relevant than ever before, as we consider the new requirements given to hospitals and other healthcare facilities to ensure that patients with ethnic backgrounds and language barriers receive the same standard of care as those who speak English. Specifically, the current push from important credentialing institutions like The Joint Commission are making more people pay close attention to some of the most important factors in the communication process between LEP individuals and healthcare providers. In one of the new Joint Commission Standards for Patient-Centered communication, standard HR.01.02.01, instructs hospitals and healthcare organizations to define and confirm staff qualifications. In essence, these institutions are now expected to show documented proof of the language proficiency of those working as interpreters at their facilities.

As this and other expectations begin to take form, many hospitals and healthcare facilities have finally began to ponder about the qualifications of those well intended people that, until now, have been permitted to serve as acting interpreters because it was the easy thing to do. In addition, the time has finally come when the convenient and practical services of “bilingual staff” will be relinquished until proper assessments are conducted. And, best of all, this is the time, when the opportune yet dangerous use of patients’ relatives as bridges in the communication with the non-English speakers would be questioned… THIS is the time.

Now, it is understandable why a reality like the previously described may appear quite surprising to many, particularly to long term healthcare providers used to a certain way of doing things.  However, these events have been long awaited by those who understand the importance of qualified, non-biased, interpreting services for the Limited English Proficiency Individual. For years, our society has failed to be more attuned to the challenges that ineffective communication among members of our multilingual communities have faced. In the United States, for example, we know that interpreters are every day more and more in demand. However, the need I emphasize actually calls for interpreters, and not just for bilingual people – a challenge indeed… but a must nonetheless.