Death and Dying, Lost in Translation

Language barriers top the list of challenges doctors face with end-of-life conversations with patients from different ethnic backgrounds.

It’s never easy for doctors to talk to their patients about death, but it’s especially hard when they don’t speak the same language. In fact, language differences top the list of barriers doctors encounter when discussing end-of-life issues with patients, according to a study published today in the journal PLoS One. Read more

Sign-Language Interpreter for Mayor de Blasio Is a Web Hit

Even amid the grim news of doomsday forecasts and subway closings, New Yorkers who tuned in to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s televised storm briefings found themselves distracted by the unusual activity on one side of the screen.

That would be Jonathan Lamberton, the mayor’s sign-language interpreter, whose arsenal of rapid gesticulations, vigorous frowns and mime-like smiles — a stark contrast to the mayor’s sober mien — raced around social media this week, earning equal parts awe and amusement. Read more

The Science Behind Language and Translation

By Geoff Watts, World Economic Forum Blog

One morning this summer I paid a visit to the sole United Nations agency in London. The headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) sit on the southern bank of the Thames, a short distance upstream from the Houses of Parliament. As I approached, I saw that a ship’s prow, sculpted in metal, was grafted like a nose to the ground floor of this otherwise bland building. Inside I met a dozen or so mostly female IMO translators. They were cheerful and chatty and better dressed than you might imagine for people who are often heard but rarely seen.

I walked upstairs to a glass-fronted booth, where I prepared to witness something both absolutely remarkable and utterly routine. The booth was about the size of a garden shed, and well lit but stuffy. Below us were the gently curving desks of the delegate hall, which was about half-full, occupied mostly by men in suits. I sat down between two interpreters named Marisa Pinkney and Carmen Soliño, and soon the first delegate started talking. Pinkney switched on her microphone. She paused briefly, and then began translating the delegate’s English sentences into Spanish.

Let’s unpick what she did that morning and itemise its components. Read more

How the Nuremberg Trials Changed Interpretation Forever

Lynn Visson was a UN interpreter during the height of the Cold War. She can still rattle off grandiose Soviet titles like it was yesterday.

“General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party — you had that practically memorized,” Visson recalls.

After 23 years, she’s still at it, interpreting from French and Russian into English. She’s witnessed — and spoken for — some pretty heavy hitters. “I remember Castro spoke for all of eight minutes, but the charisma was incredible,” Visson says. “The electricity the man generated — Bill Clinton could do that, too, Gorbachev could do that. Some other delegates were great speakers, but they didn’t light that spark.”

These days, we’re long used to seeing diplomats at the UN plugged into earphones, listening to speeches that are instantaneously translated into one of the six official UN lanugages — English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and Russian, but simultaneous interpretation is actually a rather recent invention, developed in 1945 for a very different global event: the Nuremberg Trials. Read more

Global Group Helps Deaf Muslims Embrace Their Faith

For years Nashiru Abdulai sat on the sidelines of his faith.

Unlike his non-Muslim classmates at a school for the deaf, his local mosque didn’t offer interpretation services or other accommodations to help him participate in Islamic worship.

He gave up trying to access the mosque for a time. “Every time I’d go to a mosque, I’d sit there and I’d just watch the speaker and I couldn’t understand a word that person was saying,” Abdulai said through an interpreter.

But the 38-year old Ghanaian-born Virginian, who has been deaf since contracting meningitis at the age of 10, also made a promise to other young Ghanaians before moving to America at age 19 that he would establish an organization for deaf Muslims. Read more

Colorado courts cope with language explosion

Donna Bryson, Associated Press

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Prosecutors had nearly wrapped up their case against a man accused of robbing six Iraqi immigrants in Aurora when the judge announced that the pair of Arabic interpreters assigned to the case was needed in another courtroom. Without an interpreter, the sixth Iraqi would not get to tell his story.

“It was just absurd to me that that was a possibility in this case,” Deputy District Attorney Kyle McCarthy said. “Luckily, in large part thanks to the interpreters realizing that this was an important trial for them to be at, they rearranged their schedule.” Read more