Cultural advocacy theory of interpreting..can someone describe it?
Thread poster: Sara Senft

Sara Senft  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jun 17, 2009

I am working on an application for an agency, and one question asks if I am familiar with the cultural advocacy theory of interpreting. I haven't heard of this directly, but I have an idea of what it means.

Is the basic idea that we need to consider cultural factors, conduct ourselves accordingly, and inform the relevant staff?


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:57
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
take a look here Jun 17, 2009

Hello

I am merely an interpreter, not a theorist, but you may be interested here:

http://209.85.229.132/search?q=cache:zr62yhit1tgJ:www.michaelbenis.com/index_files/Page1738.htm%20cultural%20advocacy%20of%20interpreting&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

I am in the camp of saying what is said by either party and remaining as impartial as I possibly can.

This opens up a whole can of worms which I have never become involved in - seriously
i.e. the issue of "cultural advocacy" [and I have interpreted for many, many Congolese people and others from Africa, but have never felt the need to intervene as a cultural advocate].

Good luck!
Liz Askew

[Edited at 2009-06-17 18:50 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-06-17 18:51 GMT]


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Sara Senft  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Cultural factors could easily come in to play Jun 17, 2009

You are right in saying that our job is simply to interpret what the involved people say and stay neutral. One of my points is that linguistic competence and accuracy is only part of what makes a good interpreter and successful interpreting experience.

One possible example: An interpreter might be interpreting for a patient who is fasting for religious reasons. If the doctor is going to prescribe a medicine that must be taken with food, something like this could interfere.

That brings me back to my main point. Linguistic skill isn't everything.


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:57
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
the patient has to tell the doctor Jun 18, 2009

I have been a medical interpreter for many, many years. The most important thing between a doctor and a patient is trust and confidence. A good doctor and interpreter will try their very best to create trust with the patient. An interpreter can do this just by talking to a patient in a waiting room. We don't have to be cultural advocates. Treat people with respect and you will get fantastic results.

I have never had to be a cultural advocate, nor do I intend to be one. I have been fortunate enough to interpret for English speaking professionals who have taken into account the so-called cultural dimensions of the patient/client he/she is dealing with. I trained to be an interpreter, not a cultural advocate. I think we are treading on dangerous ground when we start to make assumptions about other people's culture. Interpreters and other professionals have to remain neutral.

Liz Askew


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 13:57
English to Croatian
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Highly important Jun 20, 2009

Sara Senft wrote:

You are right in saying that our job is simply to interpret what the involved people say and stay neutral. One of my points is that linguistic competence and accuracy is only part of what makes a good interpreter and successful interpreting experience.

One possible example: An interpreter might be interpreting for a patient who is fasting for religious reasons. If the doctor is going to prescribe a medicine that must be taken with food, something like this could interfere.

That brings me back to my main point. Linguistic skill isn't everything.


Absolutely. We must learn about different cultural aspects: for example, non-verbal language, temperament, general national views/feelings, religion etc.

I find the non-verbal language very interesting and how it is actually different in different cultures. In fact, every language has its own non-verbal language structure ( just like the verbal languages differ). As an interpreter, you will be put in different situations in which you will have to know how to behave culturally : for example, hand shaking, smiling ( common in some cultures, while it's not in others). When I came to France for the first time, I found it very unusual that I had to kiss two times on the cheek with totally new people( practically strangers) I was introduced to for the first time, and that was a common trait. That's just one example.

I agree that in the professional context ( during the actual interpreting) we must remain professional and neutral, however, professional context is never fully void of the cultural elements ( quite the contrary).

Specifically, with medical interpreting, you surely must take cultural elements and differential cultural medical doctrines into consideration, just like in any other field.


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liviu roth
United States
Local time: 07:57
Romanian to English
+ ...
Cultural advocacy ? NOT IN A COURTROOM! Sep 10, 2009

Sara,
Try cultural advocacy during an interpreting job in a courtroom and you'll be surprised how fast you'll be dismissed and never allowed again in that courtroom !
I totally agree with liz. While it is important for us to be aware of the customs and different cultural aspects, IT IS NOT OUR JOB to explain them (unsolicited). An interpreter should never volunteer her/his opinion.


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TJC Global
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:57
Member (2004)
Cultural factors should always be considered. Sep 25, 2009

As a Translation and Interpreting company that has been around since 1981 we have learnt over the years the importance of having a broad understanding of culture and etiquette. We consider it a prerequisite of our translators and interpreters to have a wide knowledge of the culture and customs in order that they are able to not only communicate linguistically with our clients but also prevent any clashes or misunderstandings by knowing the local business etiquette, the interpretation of professional conduct and the corporate rules. Their familiarity with the subtle cultural nuances ensures smooth and meaningful communication between the negotiating parties, which in turn is essential to our clients’ success.
We have used our knowledge collated over the years to create several articles regarding culture in business for translation and interpreting.
You can access these on our website at:
http://www.tjc-oxford.com/resources/doing_business.php


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:57
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Interpreting and cultural advocacy Sep 27, 2009

Naturally, interpreters should have a wide knowledge of the culture and customs of the countries of both parties they interpret for, but it is one thing to help a client to familiarise themselves with it if they wish, in other words to be their cultural adviser, and another to be their interpreter.

I fully agree with Liz Askew and Lee Roth, you would be treading on dangerous territory and in breach of your role as an interpreter if you would offer unsolicited explanation, opinion or advice.

Sara’s example is quite appropriate:
If the doctor was going to prescribe medicine to be taken with food to a patient who is fasting for religious reasons, then the doctor would have to explain that the medicine will have to be taken with food, (and it is unlikely that the interpreter would be aware of that without the doctor’s explanation).
The interpreter’s duty is to relay what the doctor said. I cannot imagine a fasting patient not reacting to that, and it is the interpreter’s job to facilitate THEIR discussion by interpreting to the best of his ability, as precisely as possible, so they can iron out the problem for themselves. Anything else would be interference, and a professional interpreter should not interfere.

A third party’s opinion could influence things, not necessarily for the better.

By the way, I read the article on the tjc website on Hungary and it is condescending, full of strange ideas, and sometimes even confusing (see the white socks issue). I would not recommend introducing a culture or country this way. Let’s not forget, some of these strange foreigners happen to understand a certain amount of English, and for example they may not appreciate to be described as "isolated because of their Asian origin".


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