If like me, you are living in the US and working as a medical interpreter (or planning to become one), you are surrounded by the English language – and the endless opportunities to improve your knowledge of all things medicine through watching TV, reading books and listening to podcasts. – or picking up brochures on various diseases and procedures every time you are in a medical office. Indeed, when I first started preparing for my interpreter exam, I realized that, despite being a native speaker of Russian, it was my Russian language I needed to work on more. After all, my husband and I speak English at home, the majority of my friends are English speakers and my work at the time (teaching English) involved, as you can guess, mostly speaking English. So I set about improving my Russian – in particular, medical terminology and language for speaking about healthcare in general. I used a wide variety of resources to help me in this endeavor. For example, there are medical dialogues and bilingual patient handouts that you can use to build up your terminology and interpreting skills (check out this post on general healthcare resources and this one on interpreting for cancer care). But because I believe that stimulating input is a key factor in learning, I also leaned heavily on books and podcasts, which I read and listen to when waiting in between interpreting assignments, doing housework, walking my dog, hiking etc. In this post, I`ll share a list of Russian-language books about doctors and medicine. In the following posts, I`ll share some recommendations for Russian-language podcasts and some other healthcare-related resources. I’ll also share some tips about making sure your Russian-language skills stay sharp.
Why are pre-sessions necessary?
Doctor: “Tell him to hop up on the exam table… Now, has he had these symptoms for a while? Ask him if he’s taken anything for it…” (Wait, why is the doctor talking to me and not the patient? What do I do now?)
Patient: “Oh dear, that doctor looks too young to be practicing medicine… Wait, did you just interpret this? Why would you do this?” (Oh no! Now the patient won’t trust me!)
If you are a professional medical interpreter, chances are that you have encountered similar situations. If you are only just starting out in the profession, somebody might have warned you about these things happening. Yes, on an ideal interpreting assignment, the doctor and patient speak in utterances of reasonable length and at a reasonable pace, not saying anything they wouldn’t want to be interpreted, all the while making eye contact and speaking directly to each other. In real life, things may not go so perfectly – and not because people involved don’t want us to do our jobs, but rather because they might not have worked with interpreters before and therefore might not know the best way to fully utilize the help of a professional interpreter. They might also have concerns about having another person present at a doctor’s appointment – one that is not wearing scrubs or a white coat and at first glance does not look like part of a healthcare team. As a result, patients might be reluctant to divulge sensitive information in the presence of an interpreter. The list goes on.
As interpreters going into a healthcare encounter, we can either hope that none of the above happens, or we can help ensure that conditions are created that enable us to interpret to the best of our abilities and allow us to do our job – that is, enable people to communicate as if they were speaking the same language. One way to make this happen is by having a pre-session.
Below are some links for websites that can be used to practice consecutive interpreting skills and sight translation skills. I am hoping these resources will be useful for healthcare interpreters with all levels of experience – those just starting out and preparing to take their exams or their first assignments, or those with years of experience wanting to brush up on a specific topic. This list is constantly updated as I find new resources and I welcome your suggestions – leave a comment below or get in touch using the Contact tab.
I also have a blog post with resources specific to interpreting in oncology (cancer care). You can find it here.
And you can find some less conventional resources in my other posts which describe using TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy as a resource for medical interpreters , and the ways books about doctors and medicine as well as podcasts about medicine and health can help medical interpreters not only to gain more knowledge but also to hone their interpreting skills.
Medical Dialogues and Scenarios
- Role-plays of clinical interviews for mental health and counseling from the YouTube channel of Dr. Todd Grande. He also has a vast amount of videos on various mental health issues.
- Medical Language Dialogues transcribed from https://gauchatranslations.com (English-English)
- A series of educational YouTube videos of doctor visits from the University College of London (since the videos are produced in the UK, some vocabulary will be different from that of the US – e.g. A&E (accident and emergency) vs the ER/ED (emergency room/emergency department)
- Animated medical dialogues from the englishmed.com website (there are also some exercises for medical vocabulary).
- A short sample of a medical dialogue from the National Center of Interpretation at the University of Arizona (The patient’s responses are in Spanish but if your language is not Spanish, you can just focus on doctor’s utterances)
- A series of role-plays of counseling sessions with medical social workers: here, here, here and here.
- An International Workbook of Activities and Role Plays for Medical, Educational and Social Services Interpreters
- Candidate Handbook and Sample Test Medical Interpreter Competency Examination (MICE) from the National Center for Interpretation University of Arizona (both English-English and Spanish)
- Study Booklets for Medical Interpreters from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services for Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. Includes transcribed medical dialogues and documents for sight interpretation and Audio Practice Samples for the same languages as the above
- Dialogues with Patients in Spanish
- Sample dictations for medical transcription with answer keys (you might have to pause since this is a monologue – or work on your long consecutive!)
- These videos on the Patient Healthcare Education YouTube channel are not dialogues but still great for practicing interpreting medical information delivered by doctors.
What inspired me to write about self-care for medical interpreters?
This weekend I went on my first road trip from Nashville, Tennessee to Birmingham, Alabama to attend ITAA’s Second Annual Conference for Professional Interpreters. ITAA stands for The Interpreters and Translators Association of Alabama and the conference they put on was one of the most wonderful conferences I’ve ever attended. The speakers were truly inspirational, the talks were relevant and informative and everything was extremely well-organized. Not to mention the fact that I attended the conference with my good friends from the medical interpreter training course, unexpectedly ran into our instructor Dennis Caffrey from the very same course, and met two new Russian colleagues – it can get a bit lonely for Russian interpreters here in Nashville!