Selecting a translation service
According to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 35 million adults in the United States are native speakers of a language other than English, and this number is projected to steadily increase. As we’ve written about in a past e-newsletter, the importance of multicultural and multilingual resources in health care is hardly a secret.But what about implementation? How does a health care organization go about selecting translators and translation services to help effectively communicate with non-English speaking patients and their families?

We’ve compiled a few tips from around the Web for your consideration …

  1. Reach out to bilingual staff members. According to additional statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 55 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. We live in a truly bilingual culture and it’s quite possible that your staff members know this best. Ask for their input and suggestions using in-person questions to in-depth surveys and questionnaires. Regardless of the method, entice staff to participate with a drawing or other reward. Prizes could range from fun SWAG items like T-shirts and fleece blankets to big ticket items.
  2. Develop a language strategy and define the scope of work. Based on feedback from staff and volunteers, determine which materials—both in print and online—require translation and what is the order of priority for having each document or website/page translated. Then, decide which languages are required to best serve your patients. Typically, the “gold standard” is to use a translator who works in his/her native language. This will help create a framework for what is to be achieved and how that can be used to solicit quotes from various vendors.
  3. Do your research and ask for references. Research translators and translation services in your area. Seek recommendations from departments that have previously worked with translation services or translators, as well as community resources such as your local literacy or English Language Learners (ELL) groups. Internet searches work well for preliminary research, too. As you compile a short list, seek quotes and request references from current or past clients. Keep in mind that not all services structure pricing the same way—some charge per word translated, while others charge hourly rates.
  4. Request “dynamic equivalency.” Meaning, have the translator focus on conveying the same meaning as the original work, not just a literal translation of the words. Experienced translators go beyond a word for word translation by producing re-writes or adaptations of the original.
  5. Know about font technology. Depending on your organization’s language needs, you may need to consider fonts when seeking translation services. Languages like Arabic or Chinese obviously require special characters beyond the capabilities of most standard keyboards or word processing programs. Does the firm have the necessary foreign language font technology for the language that’s needed? Do they have graphics expertise? These are important questions to ask up front.
  6. Determine how translated materials will be provided. Will it be a WORD document, a PDF, or something else? Like the font issue, this is especially important when the language contains non-Roman characters, like Japanese or Turkish. The best plan is to discuss this with the contracting translator or agency’s communications or graphics staff to determine the agency’s capabilities for reproducing the translated text. For large file transfers, equip translators or translation agencies with USB drives to ensure the files are stored centrally and can be easily exchanged.
  7. Beware of computer translation services. Raw computer-generated translations aren’t suitable for most projects, mainly in that there is a risk of appearing inarticulate, or worse. Computer-generated translations can be edited by human translators, but many insist that it is faster (hence cheaper) to start from scratch. Some translation providers have proprietary software for specific language pairs and topics. While these will give better results, they aren’t free and will still need human revision.
  8. Establish a review process. Some larger translation services have internal review and editing processes in place to ensure accuracy. However, it never hurts to bring in a local volunteer to review the documents before proliferating your marketing toolbox with inaccurate translations. Go back to your original group of volunteers and request their help one more time. After all of their help, be sure to thank them with a token of appreciation, like a thank you pen or a thank you coffee mug.

Don’t leave your non-English speaking audiences and patients confused and frustrated—take steps to offer resources in their language today. Hopefully, these tips will help!

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