How to Avoid Medical Interpreting Mistakes with Medical Interpreter Training

How to Avoid Mistakes in Medical Interpreting

An interpreter can have a wealth of trainings and vocabulary memorization, but often it's the small things that pop up in a consultation that can throw the interpreter off his or her course for the rest of the session.

Just like other professions, medical interpreters can make mistakes too. Besides adhering to NCIHC's National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care, medical interpreters should constantly revise terminologies and stay up to date with new emerging medical trends. A variety of factors influence interpreting quality, for instance technology and tools, the client’s delivery, the interpreter’s proficiency, and so forth. However, errors in medical interpreting must be avoided as much as possible since so much can be at stake. Errors in medical interpretation not only make you look unprofessional, but some are also deal breakers---misinterpretation can make or break your career! Read more about 5 common medical interpreting mistakes (and stay ahead of the game by enrolling in medical interpreter training programs that’ll help you avoid them)!

Medical Interpreter Training Help Avoid 5 Common Medical Interpreting Mistakes


Avoid Medical Interpreting Mistakes Mistake #1 - Failure to acknowledge your mistakes.

Failing to acknowledge and address your errors is perhaps the worst mistake an interpreter could make, as it could lead to serious consequences. Remember, the field of interpreting is guided by ethical principles just like all professions. It’s part of your duty to inform clients if you make an error!

How to avoid it: If you omit an important word or misinterpret a sentence, correct your mistake as soon as possible. It’s perfectly fine to say, “Sorry, I meant…” or “It should be…” during interpretation. Use a notebook to write down details such as numbers and names if needed. Be accountable for your mistakes and address them properly with your clients. Afterwards, be open to receive feedback about your mistakes and be willing to make changes to avoid recurrences. Practice with a sample medical interpreter test, record your interpretation, and go over what you did. Taking medical interpreter courses will provide opportunities to practice with a professional that will point out your mistakes and give advice.

Mistake #2 - Negligence in reviewing documents and briefing.

Before any interpreting assignment, language service providers like Language Connections will provide plenty of preparatory materials and presentations for the interpreter. A mistake many interpreters make is not reviewing them thoroughly beforehand


How to avoid it: Remember that the more prepared you are, the better your interpretation will be. You can never be overprepared! It’s important to go over all documents so you know who you will be interpreting for, the purpose of the interpretation, and what the assignment entails. In fact, asking for pre-conference briefing is one of the criteria for passing the medical interpreting certification exam at the end of medical interpreter certificate programs. If you need more information or clarification, reach out to the client to ask for additional material.


Mistake #3 -  Choosing not to interpret side remarks.

Medical InterpretingTrained medical interpreters, especially those with an interpreting certificate, know that they need to inform clients that all speech will be interpreted. During interpretation, it may be easy to let small talk or seemingly irrelevant information slip by. But the doctor’s casual remark to you about the weather, when interpreted, could change the atmosphere of the entire consultation. Similarly, a patient’s comment about how they forgot to take medication in the morning, could impact the doctor’s treatment and prescription.


How to avoid it: Interpreting helps alleviate language barriers and aid the process of creating a trusting relationship between the patient and caregiver. Therefore, the exchange of clear communication is very important. Remember to inform all parties involved that everything will be interpreted before doing the actual interpreting. If they don’t want something to be relayed, they should inform you, or not say it at all.


Mistake #4 - Focusing too much on verbatim interpretation.

Interpreting everything is certainly important, but you must also not neglect the main idea of the message. Sometimes patients can talk in circles, and focusing on word-for-word translation can cause you to forget the gist of what they’re saying.


How to avoid it: Never provide a confusing or unclear interpretation. Carefully follow what your client is saying and be aware of the general idea of what is being expressed. Ask your clients if you need them to repeat any sentences, or to speak slower or in shorter sentences.


Mistake #5 - Taking assignments you are not trained for thematically or linguistically.

medical interpreting certificationMedical interpreters do not have to be a doctor or a nurse to do medical interpreting, but they should have knowledge of the medical field. Medical interpretation could cover a wide range of topics, such as HIV/AIDS, Pediatrics, Diabetes, Mental Health, Emergency Medicine, Oncology, and more.


How to avoid it: If you don’t have some basic knowledge of a certain medical field, you should avoid accepting the assignment. Don’t accept assignments unless you are confident that you’ll be able to execute them professionally. Pursuing interpreting training and a medical interpretation certificate by joining medical interpreting programs will help lay the foundation of medical interpreting.


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Yana Fisher

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