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$71 million for one word misinterpreted
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:46
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 22, 2006

http://www.forbes.com/forbeslife/health/feeds/hscout/2006/07/19/hscout533896.html

Excerpt:
"...In another example, the mistranslation of a single word resulted in preventable quadriplegia. The patient, an 18-year-old Spanish male, said he felt "intoxicado," meaning "nauseated," before collapsing. A paramedic took the word to mean "intoxicated" and the patient spent more than 36 hours being worked up for a drug overdose. The delay resulted in the rupture of a brain aneurysm. The case was settled for $71 million...

And one Spanish-speaking woman told a hospital resident that her 2-year-old daughter had "hit herself" falling off her tricycle. The resident misinterpreted the statement to mean abuse and contacted the appropriate authorities, who had the mother sign over custody of both her children...."

http://www.forbes.com/forbeslife/health/feeds/hscout/2006/07/19/hscout533896.html


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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 09:46
French to Spanish
+ ...
Gee! Jul 22, 2006

1.- $71 million for one word misinterpreted;
2.- USD 0.08 -or less- for one good word translation.

Risky job, to be a translator!


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Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:46
Member (2006)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
how awful! Jul 22, 2006

TampaTranslator wrote:

http://www.forbes.com/forbeslife/health/feeds/hscout/2006/07/19/hscout533896.html

Excerpt:
"...In another example, the mistranslation of a single word resulted in preventable quadriplegia. The patient, an 18-year-old Spanish male, said he felt "intoxicado," meaning "nauseated," before collapsing. A paramedic took the word to mean "intoxicated" and the patient spent more than 36 hours being worked up for a drug overdose. The delay resulted in the rupture of a brain aneurysm. The case was settled for $71 million...

And one Spanish-speaking woman told a hospital resident that her 2-year-old daughter had "hit herself" falling off her tricycle. The resident misinterpreted the statement to mean abuse and contacted the appropriate authorities, who had the mother sign over custody of both her children...."

http://www.forbes.com/forbeslife/health/feeds/hscout/2006/07/19/hscout533896.html



The consequences in these incidences are most unfortunate.
I believe they could have been avoided, nonetheless, if responsible persons had requested a bit of clarification, as in any medical situation would be appropriate.

I must admit, I would have interpreted ¨intoxicado¨ as ¨intoxicated¨ as well, as it does translate directly, although, were I a medical service provider, I might have tried to clarify whether the patient was stating that they WERE intoxicated, or whether they were FEELING intoxicated, as might occur with nausea, dizziness or vertigo caused by other means. (náusea, vértigo o mareo en español).
Had the medical personnel in question attempted to clarify the matter, I would suspect that things would have occurred differently. I don´t believe the entire onus for this error can be placed on the interpreter in any way.

On the other incident, ¨la muchacha se golpó/o la muchacha ha se golpeado¨ could be interpreted both as ¨the child hit herself/had hit herself¨, or ¨the child was hit/had been hit¨. That could easily have been clarified as well, however, and as both a parent and a former public school teacher who has had to deal with the Dept. of Children and Families, I know how important it is to clarify such matters before running off and making accusations, which would, again, have been the responsiblity of the medical or administrative personnel involved.

As a legal interpreter, my job is to interpret, as directly as possible, what the subject says. If the court doesn´t understand, or finds need for clarification, it is their responsibility to rephrase their questions or request clarification.
My job is only to repeat what has been said.
Of course, often that does mean significatnly altering the grammatical sense of a phrase or even the wording (if a Frenchman says ¨J´ai tombé en les pommes¨, I don´t say ¨I fell in the potatoes¨, I say,¨I was falling-down drunk¨ or some such thing.)
I confess, at times, I do wish to explain, because I can see confusion arrising, and, in at least one case I did interject in a deposition to explain a Brazilian Portuguese saying that doesn´t translate easily (Ele puxe saco até bicarbonate/He pulls sack to bicarbonate, meaning, he annoys to the point of being nauseating, or, simply, he is very annoying). I was uncomfortable adding my $0.02, but the legal personnel expressed gratitude afterwards for the explanation. In general, I don´t give explanations unless they are requested, though. When they are requested of me, as sometimes does occur, I do give them gladly.

[Edited at 2006-07-22 17:39]


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:46
French to English
Interesting rates point Jul 22, 2006

The article says:
"One government report estimated that it would only cost, on average, $4.04 more per physician visit to provide all U.S. patients who need them with language services"

And only yesterday, I read the following in my local paper (North London, UK) in an article about "translation (sic) costs" (they mean interpreting):

"Although Barnet Hospital has an in-house interpreting service for some departments, when translators (sic) need to be drafted in, they charge £1.50* for every minute of their time."

* GBP 1.50 = USD 2.75 (roughly). Per minute, remember

[Edited to add that I realise that GBP 90 / hour is probably the rate that the agency charge. However, the contrast in costs between what my local paper claims and what the Forbes article says was my point. Altho' I note that Forbes doesn't say USD 4.04 per .....(time period). Maybe the "per minute" was left out ]

[Edited at 2006-07-22 17:49]


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 16:46
Member
Catalan to English
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Anyone for false friends..............?? Jul 22, 2006

"I must admit, I would have interpreted ¨intoxicado¨ as ¨intoxicated¨ as well, as it does translate directly, although, were I a medical service provider, I might have tried to clarify whether the patient was stating that they WERE intoxicated, or whether they were FEELING intoxicated, as might occur with nausea, dizziness or vertigo caused by other means. (náusea, vértigo o mareo en español)."

So I suppose you would also translate "intoxicación alimentaria" as "food intoxication" instead of "food poisoning".

In which case, Anthony, I'm exceedingly glad I can speak English and do not have to rely on someone who takes false friends at first sight.

I hate to think what you might recommend to a Spanish-speaker who tells you he's "constipado"

Andy


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 16:46
French to English
+ ...
It goes to show.... AN IMPORTANT CORRECTION Jul 22, 2006

Anthony Baldwin said : "Of course, often that does mean significatnly altering the grammatical sense of a phrase or even the wording (if a Frenchman says ¨J´ai tombé en les pommes¨, I don´t say ¨I fell in the potatoes¨, I say,¨I was falling-down drunk¨ or some such thing.)"

Sorry, Anthony but "Je suis tombé dans les pommes" (sic)means no more than "I fainted/I passed out". To infer that it was because of alcohol is a quantum leap in my mind.

So NEVER assume that if a French person talks about "falling in the apples", he is the worse for drink. There is every likelihood that the cause was something totally different


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:46
English to Spanish
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Artificial Situation Jul 22, 2006

Interpreting under such conditions can be such an artificial situation because it limits understanding and it is very confusing, especially for an uneducated, unsophisticated individual who may be under stress. In many cases it would seem to be preferable to allow the interpreter to interview the patient without the direct intervention of the other persons who do not know the language. That way the interpreter can establish a rapport and clarify anything that may be hazy then transmit it to the others.

I also would have interpreted "intoxicado" as "intoxicated" or perhaps "poisoned", although it could also mean "drunk" or just plain "dizzy" or "nauseated". In any case I would have clarified it before moving on by asking further questions to determine whether or not use of any substance might be involved. That is, of course, if the patient had been turned over to me. However, the persons who do not know the language, not being culturally sensitive, may just simply wish to move in another direction and not probe any more, which was apparently the case in the examples mentioned.

It reminds me of a time when I was interpreting for a man who was having a problem understanding a lawyer's questions that I was interpreting verbitim, in convoluted legalese. The lawyer was not getting very good replies and finally said, "it looks like something is being lost in translation". "No", I said, "if you will recall, at the beginning of this deposition this man stated that he had never gone to school. You need to ask straighforward questions, one thing at a time, and keep it simple".

This was a constant problem; it was a joy to work with people who were culturally sensitive, but infortunately it was very much the exception rather than the norm. On the other hand, when I myself was the investigator things always went much, much better because I knew what to follow up with.

There is not only a need for interpreters in healthcare, social services, law enforcement, etc. settings. There is a need for trained personnel in those areas who are also bilingual and bicultural. In the absence of the above, interpreters also need to be trained in the professional role involved and allowed to intervene directly rather than in an artificial interpreting situation directed by other people who may be clueless.

It would be interesting to still more reactions from other colleagues who have been involved in such situations.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:46
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Spanglish Jul 22, 2006

I agree that further investigation should have been done, especially since many Spanish false cognates quickly take on the English meaning especially here in Florida (voy a vacunar la carpeta, preservativos, ganga, etc.) and you never know until you ask.

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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 11:46
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...
Here's a link Jul 22, 2006

CMJ_Trans wrote:
Sorry, Anthony but "Je suis tombé dans les pommes" (sic)means no more than "I fainted/I passed out". To infer that it was because of alcohol is a quantum leap in my mind.

See http://www.mon-expression.info/index.php/tomber-dans-les-pommes

Nancy


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JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 11:46
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
And for those of us who don't read French very well... Jul 22, 2006

...could you give us a bottom line, Nancy? Now I'm curious about that expression!

My 2 cents: I've never, in Puerto Rico, heard "intoxicado" to mean "drunk." I would probably have said that the patient thinks he may have food poisoning and then would have asked him to be more specific about his symptoms.


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 11:46
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...
It means to faint Jul 22, 2006

or to lose consciousness.

Just to be sure, I checked my trusty Dictionnaire des expressions québécoises (merci Martine!) for both "tomber dans les pommes" and "tomber dans les patates", and they mean to faint, lose consciousness, become disoriented.

Not one reference I checked mentioned drunkeness, but I have to admit I did not check every reference everywhere.

Nancy


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Luis Arri Cibils  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:46
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Awareness of cultural assumptions Jul 23, 2006

Henry Hinds wrote:

I also would have interpreted "intoxicado" as "intoxicated" or perhaps "poisoned", although it could also mean "drunk" or just plain "dizzy" or "nauseated". In any case I would have clarified it before moving on by asking further questions to determine whether or not use of any substance might be involved. That is, of course, if the patient had been turned over to me. However, the persons who do not know the language, not being culturally sensitive, may just simply wish to move in another direction and not probe any more, which was apparently the case in the examples mentioned.


I hope I would have done the same, if facing the same circumstances. "Cultural assumptions" are unavoidable and to be expected. We "all know" that Hispanics are likely to be "intoxicated". Don't we?

I know of one ProZ colleague (She, English-speaking, hubby a Latin American) who lost one teenage daughter, who had had a car accident, because the doc assumed that the child overdosed (Our colleague wasn't there). We all know that Hispanic kids consume drugs, don't we?

We, interpreters and translators, must be aware of those "cultural assumptions", and act accordingly.

Respectfully, yet a little furiouosly,

Luis

[Edited at 2006-07-23 00:12]


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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:46
I could not agree more... Jul 23, 2006

Anthony Baldwin wrote:

I don´t believe the entire onus for this error can be placed on the interpreter in any way.

As a legal interpreter, my job is to interpret, as directly as possible, what the subject says. If the court doesn´t understand, or finds need for clarification, it is their responsibility to rephrase their questions or request clarification.


Since when doctors believe straighforward in what a patient is able tu utter, especially in emergency rooms? They are supposed to check for evidence of whatever the patient explains, but also to look for other possibilities, depending on the symptoms. IMHO, blaming the translator, or the paramedic in the first case is a poor excuse for medical malpractice in the emergency room.

The second case is pretty much the same. It seems the resident jumped to conclusions and followed an errroneus path from there on. In this case, they apparently did not even used the services of a translator.


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Luis Arri Cibils  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:46
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
+ ...
More on awareness of cultural assumptions Jul 23, 2006

Dear colleagues:

Immediately after posting my previous message, I wrote to our colleague, apologizing for having betray a confidence, with a betrayal that I thought was justified. She wrote to me: “I think you know me well enough to know that i am entirely fine with it. I totally trust your judgment, no apology needed. And well worth sharing. Many people might not even imagine that such policies exist." At the time of the “incident” the hopital's written protocol was: "Hispanic-surnamed teenager admitted semi-conscious: assume drug overdose and pump stomach."

Many years after that “incident”, I was living in Dallas. A couple of miles from my home, a heinous crime (a murder) was committed. The accused was an Argentine citizen, living in that city of Texas. A couple of years later, after I moved to Houston, the Argentine Consul, whom I personally knew, wrote an email to me, asking whether I knew any good lawyer specializing in Criminal law. The accused had been sentenced to the death penalty. The so-called expert witness, over the objections of the defense attorney, had testified that Hispanics are prone to violence and that the accused would likely, because he was Hispanic, repeat the crime. The accused had been sentenced to death. I sent my recommendations to the Consul. I learned later that the U.S. Supreme Court had granted cert in the case. I don’t know how the case ended. I do know, though, of the "cultural assumptions." I do want to warn my colleagues about them, and advise them to act accordingly. The case was heinous, perhaps as much as the "cultural assumptions".

Still respectful, still furious,

Luis


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:46
French to English
+ ...
Rather Difficult to Believe Jul 23, 2006

Luis Arri Cibils wrote:

Dear colleagues:

The so-called expert witness, over the objections of the defense attorney, had testified that Hispanics are prone to violence and that the accused would likely, because he was Hispanic, repeat the crime.


While expert witnesses certainly say all sorts of things, I find it extremely difficult to believe that a court would allow such a blatantly racist statement to be offered into evidence in this day and age without there being any outcry by the media or Hispanic groups. Kindly provide evidence of your claim (e.g. case number).


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