The Department of Translation and Interpreting

The Department of Translation and Interpreting

Translators for new immigrants/foreigners at hospitals 


Prof. Miriam Shlesinger of The Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies founded a general course titled "Translation in the Community", in which any student who is fluent in Hebrew and in another language (Arabic, Russian or Amharic), can acquire basic translation skills and volunteer as a translator in the community.


The objective of the course is to meet a dire need in the community: aiding minorities (such as new immigrants, religious/ethnic minorities, work immigrants and tourists) in sensitive situations, where a lack of proper communication may be a matter of health or even life and death – in encounters with health professionals in hospitals and clinics.  If the doctor cannot receive the patient's complete medical history, the diagnosis might be wrong, followed by the wrong medical treatment.  


A patient who does not understand the doctor, might also misunderstand the latter's instructions and prescriptions.  The responsibility of any translator, especially one servicing health professionals, is immense.  Nowadays, unfortunately, a child, a cleaning staffer or even a passerby are being used as occasional translators.  Consequently, in addition to the invasion of patient privacy and the risk of inaccurate translation by an unqualified "translator", there is also the issue of accuracy and using the proper medical terms in both languages. 


Prof. Shlesinger conducts researches examining the communication between doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and between patients who do not speak Hebrew or any other common language.  Prof. Shlesinger has also founded an international annual conference at Bar-Ilan University, focusing on providing health services to lingual minorities, and finding ways to bridge the communication and cultural gaps within the health service system.


Some graduates of the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies who remained in academia, are focusing their research on translation in the community. Neri Sévenier-Gabriel has dedicated her thesis to studying the translation services given in courts in Israel, whereas Dr. Michal Schuster focused her doctoral dissertation on the establishment of Amharic translation services via telephone.  


Both Prof. Shlesinger and Dr. Schuster, along with other faculty members from the Department, have lead a project for one of Israel HMO's (Maccabi Health Services) to train over-the-phone medical translators in Russian and Arabic.  And so, when a patient who only speaks Amharic or Russian or Arabic arrives at a clinic assigned professional translation services, the medical professional can immediately call the translator assigned, and start communicating with the patient in their own language.


The discussion over medical and community translation services, whether they be professional or volunteer-based, also raises questions regarding the innate boundaries of the position: should the translator be responsible for conveying bad news to the patients and their families? Should he/she be the one to provide information that was lacking due to cultural and social gaps? There is no unequivocal answer to such questions, however just discussing them can contribute to a better understanding of the intricate role of bridging between cultures, languages and people from different backgrounds.  


Last modified: 14/03/2012