By Eve Olson
Because interpreters may be required for any situation, they often find themselves in very sensitive situations. Hence, it is vital that interpreters have a thorough understanding of what is expected of them and how they can be efficient and accurate without sacrificing integrity. The International Medical Interpreters Association outlines the most important tenets of ethics which must be followed by interpreters:
Interpreters have a duty to keep everything they learn during assignments to themselves. This is especially important for situations that are private or secretive, such as government, medical, and judicial cases. Confidentiality is necessary in every assignment, though, regardless of how trivial it may seem.
Confidentiality can be broken when all involved parties have given permission, if required by law, or if an involved individual is in danger of harming himself or someone else.
Interpreters should use the language and interpretation method that will most effectively convey the meaning of the original message.
It is the responsibility of the interpreter to determine which method of interpretation is most appropriate for the situation at hand. Whether that be sight translation, consecutive interpretation, or simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter should choose a method with which they feel comfortable and which will allow clear communication between parties.
An important part of interpretation is ensuring that each party’s message, intention, and tone is conveyed accurately to the other. Choosing appropriate language, tone, and expressions is a vital skill for those who work in language services.
An interpreter’s role is to interpret everything that is said, even if it is offensive or something spoken within one party. They should encourage parties to address and speak directly to one another (not through the interpreter). While interpreters should clarify that each party understands completely, their job is not to be a mediator.
Interpreters should only accept assignments within their ability and training.
It is important that interpreters not accept an assignment that exceeds their abilities, whether it be because of terminology, a foreign dialect, or a subject outside of their expertise. If an interpreter is only certified in medical interpretation, they should defer from interpreting in a court case, even if the patient or doctor with whom they worked asks them to interpret in court. It is preferable to bring in another interpreter with the appropriate skills, knowledge, and certification to do the work.
Interpreters should not accept assignments in which they have personal investment, nor should they express their personal opinions.
It is important that interpreters remain completely unbiased while working so that both parties’ message and meaning can be conveyed accurately. This means interpreters should never express their own opinion, alter the speaker’s message to either promote or discourage it, or argue for one side’s case. An interpreter’s role is simply to communicate what is said from one party to another. Interpreters also should not feel a need to make sure both parties agree on everything. If there are disagreements or arguments, it is the job of the interpreter to assure the parties can communicate, not to be a mediator.
To remain impartial, interpreters should avoid accepting certain assignments. It is very difficult to remain impartial and to avoid giving an opinion in cases in which one’s family or friends are involved. Furthermore, if the interpreter has extremely strong political opinions and were asked to interpret for an opposing party’s conference, it would not be wise to accept this assignment as it will be very difficult to maintain a completely neutral composure.
- Use Advocacy and Cultural Interface Roles Appropriately
Interpreters should only engage in “client advocacy and cultural interface roles” when it is necessary for clear communication.
According to the Medical Interpreting Standards of Practice, cultural interface is a responsibility of interpreters along with verbatim interpretation. For an interpreter to achieve cultural interface, they must be sensitive and aware of cultural behavior and beliefs. If appropriate, the interpreter should address cultural differences in order to ensure comprehensive communication. This can include verbally communicating nonverbal cues such as body language that have different meanings in different cultures, explaining “untranslatable” concepts, and asking a client for clarification on their cultural beliefs and values.
Interpreters should only engage in cultural interpretation if they deem it a necessity for breaking through a communication barrier.
Another responsibility of interpreters is educating patients on their rights. For example, medical patients with Limited English Proficiency are entitled to being notified of their rights and receiving information in a language they understand, orally and in writing. It is the responsibility of the interpreter to ensure the patient understands their right to free interpretation services, how to request these services, and the possibility of both in-person and telephone interpretation.
- Professional Development
Interpreters must continue to pursue professional development.
Interpreters must remain knowledgeable of changing language and technology. They must continue to study and improve the vocabulary of their field in order to keep up with constant changes and improving technology. Whenever possible, interpreters should also take part in continuing education programs. There is always more to learn, and participating in educational programs, workshops, and training programs will keep interpreters tuned in their field and can also help them expand to other areas. Finally, interpreters should maintain connections with accredited professional organizations. Interpreters who are members of specialized programs and organizations have more credibility and are held to a higher caliber of work.