Interpreting practices in a psychiatric hospital : interpreters' experiences and accuracy of interpreting of key psychiatric terms

Kilian, Sanja (2007-12)

Thesis (MA (Psychology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


The main objective of this study was to investigate interpreting practices within the psychiatric hospital San Marco1, in the Western Cape. More specifically, the aim was to determine what factors might lead to the obstruction of accuracy by asking employees that act as official and unofficial interpreters to report on certain issues relating to interpreting practices. The second objective of the study was to gain some understanding of what interpreters experience when doing interpreting especially since unofficial interpreters (nurses, cleaners and administrative staff) are often used to act as interpreters within South Africa’s public health services and this may not only have implications for accuracy but also for interpreters’ own mental health. A cross-sectional qualitative interview design was used. The research participants consisted of eight employees of San Marco, (including two administrative clerks/ interpreters, two bilingual security guards, and four bilingual nurses), and two bilingual psychiatrists, who, though not being employees of San Marco, yet have experience in interpreting while working as psychiatrists within psychiatric institutions in South Africa. Participants were asked to respond to semi-structured questions. In addition, participants took part in a structured task in which they were asked to translate and back-translate commonly-used diagnostic questions. Content analysis was used to analyse data collected from semi-structured interviews and participants’ translations and back-translations were checked for inaccuracies. The analysis of interviews revealed the following information: • not all of the participants who act as interpreters are in fact functionally bilingual in the context with which they work • none of the interpreters are trained in interpreting; and • a clear distinction could be drawn between interpreters who have training in mental health compared to those who lack training in mental health or psychiatry. Furthermore participants’ translations of the nine questions were approximately right. Participants’ translations conveyed more or less the same messages as what was intended with the original English questions. In fact the translations were fairly accurate for untrained interpreters. However, participants were not always specific as to what they were asking about. Interpreters need to translate questions in such a way that it is diagnostically specific in order for the clinician to make an accurate diagnosis. It is crucial that patients have a clear understanding about what the interpreter are asking them and this was not always evident in participants’ translations. The abovementioned results may for obvious reasons lead to the obstruction of accurate interpretation however it should not be attributed to a lack of competence on the interpreters part but should rather be attributed to challenges in a health system which has inherited a history of discrimination and continues to discriminate against certain patients, even when clinicians and interpreters alike may be doing their best not to discriminate. The problem is structural rather than individual, and needs to be addressed as such, and in the context of competing demands in public health care. Although the interviews did reveal valuable information regarding the obstruction of accuracy it should be kept in mind that an analysis of actual recorded interpreting sessions between the clinician, patient and interpreter is necessary for a more in depth understanding of the obstruction of accuracy as investigated in this study and such a study is currently in the planning phase.

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