Using a Medical Interpreting Certificate to Clear Up Miscommunications

Medical Interpreting Certificate Can Help Clear Up Miscommunications

In the US, patients with Limited English proficiency have a right to receive equal healthcare to their counterparts who are fluent in English.  This right is protected by a few sources, including an executive order from Bill Clinton about Title VI in 2000, as well as the findings for Lau v. Nicols in 1974.  Even so, a shocking number of patients are forced to go without a graduate of medical interpreter courses when they’re at the hospital or doctor’s office.  (This is especially egregious considering how many great medical interpretation training programs and medical translator programs there are out there.)  Many times, going without a professional interpreter can be dangerous, if not life-threatening.  Even when you do get a certified medical interpreter, there are always bound to be some misunderstandings and mispronunciations.  These are no big deal when they’re caught right away by a professional medical interpreter, and sometimes they’re actually pretty funny.  Read on for some examples.


A Medical Interpreting Certifícate and ‘Peanut Butter Balls’ 

Some words or phrases are notorious for being mispronounced or totally misunderstood by patients.  This often happens for a few reasons.  Firstly, patients may have little or no exposure to Western medical knowledge.  With such a void in information, it’s understandable for an LEP patient to make up a term or mispronounce one.  Another reason for these little gaps in understanding is that a patient might also be under severe duress-- or at least a little stress.  It’s harder for anybody to communicate perfectly when they’re stressed—never mind in their second (or third, fourth, etc) language.  Luckily, these miscommunications and mispronunciations are easily discernible if you have a medical interpreting certificate because you know what is and isn’t real medical terminology.  Here are a few examples that medical interpreters might hear.


  • Medical interpretingAspirin is sometimes called ‘Assburn’ by an LEP patient.
  • A medical interpretation program graduate may hear their patient talk about their stomach, or abdominal pain as ‘abominable pain.’ (And of course, stomach aches always are!)
  • Medical professionals find that LEP patients will sometimes get confused and refer to the Chicken Pox as ‘Chicken Pops,’ a far more delicious sounding summer treat.
  • Speaking of treats, hospital staff with a medical interpreter certificate may need to let their patients know that they’re not about to receive ‘peanut butter balls.’ In fact, they’re about to get a dose of phenobarbital.
  • Pregnant patients may assume their OBGYN’s think they’re especially happy as they’re getting ready to give birth. To some LEP patients, ‘dilated’ sounds awfully close to ‘delighted.’
  • A sick LEP patient may wonder if their doctor thinks they’ve been spending too much time with dogs when they’re diagnosed with ‘Woofing Cough.’
  • Medical interpreter certification programs prep their graduates to discern between a patient’s eye issues, i.e. ‘cataracts,’ and their cars, or ‘Cadillacs.’
  • Older female patients might be surprised when their OBGYN’s tell them they’ve entered ‘many paws,’ (i.e. menopause) -- even if they’ve still only got their four limbs.


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Yana Fisher

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