Case Studies in the Translation and Interpretation Industry

Case Study 1

A professor of linguistics at the University of Minnesota, Downing, in his analysis of interpreted health encounters showed how in one example, an encounter between a nurse practitioner, a patient and the patient’s son, who was acting as an interpreter led to several kinds of miscommunication. In a conversation of only 25 exchanges, Professor Downing showed that:


Four (4) times the interpreter did not understand the nurse’s question but did not seek clarification

Four (4) times the interpreter interfered with the flow of the interview by asking for a paraphrase or explanation of particular words

Five (5) times the interpreter misinterpreted because of a lack of understanding of particular words or idioms

Six (6) times the interpreter responded to a question himself without any attempt to interpret the question or his English response to the patient

Five (5) times the interpreter volunteered his own opinions or information regarding the patient

Four (4) times the interpreter’s failure to interpret the question led the patient to try to guess what the question was and attempt an answer

Six (6) times the interpreter failed to interpret an answer offered by the patient

The interpreter seriously distorted the message in the process of interpreting it by adding information (2 times), omitting information (4 times), or changing the meaning (7 times)

Two (2) times the reply that the practitioner received from the patient was the answer to a different question than the one she asked, but did not know it.

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