Communication resources ?
November 10, 2022 6:25 AM   Subscribe

At my work I need to communicate with people who are a. new to the US b. do not speak english c. do not read or write in their native languages. I need help getting them the information they need.

I'm a school nurse. We get at least one new student every two weeks who is new to the country/school and the parent(s) generally do not read/write and do not speak english.

We have a good multicultural intake center where they are bombarded with information by an interpreter when they first arrive. However, the interpreters are BUSY and I can't call them ad lib to make phone calls.

I have access to a "language line" phone service which is TERRIBLE because they generally use parisian french/brazillian or european portuguese and the people I'm talking to are from DRC. I also have access to a translated message system which is great EXCEPT when parents can't read in their language.

Usually I type my message into google translate and called the parents, play the message. Not really great because I can't understand what they say back to me.

These messages aren't urgent - more like "your kid has a cavity, can you take them to the dental clinic this week, here is the number"; "your kid needs an inhalor to keep at school", stuff like that.

Any ideas?????
posted by pintapicasso to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Google translate has a conversation mode. Not sure how well that would work over the phone. Any way to obtain a better language line service?
posted by jmsta at 6:30 AM on November 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Have you tried specifically requesting a DRC French interpreter etc or are you just telling them “French”?
posted by music for skeletons at 7:04 AM on November 10, 2022

Best answer: You can run Google translate via Google Meet, which might give visual cues as well, however, since this is health-related, you really, really want to get it right, and AI, while better than nothing, can goof in undetectable ways. Double-down on getting better translation services.

On the more creative end, some student teachers or paid nurse interns may have the language skills that support effective communication. International college students have to pass the TOEFOL at a certain level before attempting college-level courses-so including a language or two in the nice-to-have skills might help more than your area at school.

Are there resources within the local community-people who have picked up English who can help the parent be understood? Also, your school is not unique with this challenge-have you run this through your school’s national professional networks? My hunch is that teachers and administration are facing a similar challenge and there may be solutions shared via a professional network or listserv.
posted by childofTethys at 7:10 AM on November 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Usually I type my message into google translate and called the parents, play the message. Not really great because I can't understand what they say back to me.

I'm thinking of an old school sound board here. Could you get a DRC interpreter, even just for a day, and record various sentences to later playback over the phone? "This is a recording" "You have an appointment at" "If you have any questions call this number and leave a message"

It's not great but it'd be better than Google (I assume?) and then gets you a recording you could take to an interpreter?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:11 AM on November 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

Might their own children be able to help? I know it's not ideal (both logistically and policy-wise) and there may be some instances when you can't reliably trust the children to translate accurately, but perhaps at least in such neutral situations as communicating appointment times, the kids would be able to help.
posted by MiraK at 7:19 AM on November 10, 2022

Any chance the language line has Lingala, Swahili or Congo interpreters? Can the kids speak English at all? In addition to the phone call could you print out a small sheet with the message in English and French (and or other languages) from Google translate? That way at least they have more options with someone helping them with the message?

Are you allowed to use WhatsApp or text messages? Then you could record a voice message for them, and even if they send you something back at least you could try playing it a couple of times.

Are the Multicultural intake interpreters supposed to be translating for you? Is it possible to make a list of calls to make with follow up questions and send them over each lunch and end of day for them to batch call?

For what it’s worth, usually has more nuanced translations that google translate does
posted by raccoon409 at 7:35 AM on November 10, 2022

I’m thinking your translator doesn’t necessarily have to be local - especially if you can send them material and they can send a translation back to you. Might be good if each recording or doc had the message in all of the relevant languages - including English means you can be extra certain that you’re providing the correct message to specific parents in given circumstances.

Maybe you could advertise for volunteer translators online - maybe there are relevant FB groups or subreddits.

Also you can’t be the only person with this need - once you have the materials you could make the available to other teachers.
posted by bunderful at 7:38 AM on November 10, 2022

Best answer: I like Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug's idea. Maybe you could book a translator for a block of time each week and go over phrases you need them to record and then have them listen to your voicemails to translate them for you. In the end, you'd basically end up with a database of phrases that you could use. The only difference between that and using google would be that you have the exact phrases that you need and you know they say what you want them to say.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:39 AM on November 10, 2022

Best answer: I'm wondering if it might help to supplement verbal communication with picture/icon-based notes. In the cavity example, "Tooth - Sad - Doctor - Phone" would at least establish broadly what you're talking about and help bridge gaps in translation, and might be enough for some of the children to help fill in "look it's this tooth the nurse is talking about, it needs something" even if they don't fully understand English either.
posted by teremala at 7:51 AM on November 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Search telephone language interpreter, but there will be charges.

Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, serves a large immigrant/ refugee population, and was sued for not providing interpreting & translation, subsequently provides lots of translated information and interpreters. I'd contact them and see if they have resources they could share. If you're serving people who are refugees, there should be an agency doing the management of helping them transition; they should be able to help, though they're probably wildly underfunded and over-tasked. Lots of agencies must have this issue, and you might not need to reinvent this wheel.

Thanks for taking on this challenge; it's incredibly important.
posted by theora55 at 8:11 AM on November 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

There is a glossary available on the Translators Without Borders website specifically relating to the DRC:

Description of the glossary:
"This glossary will help anyone working on the humanitarian response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to communicate more effectively. The glossary contains health, nutrition, and bereavement terminology in French, Congolese Swahili, Lingala, Nande Mongo, Ngombe, Tshiluba, and English. It is an evolving resource that we will expand over time to include more terms and languages."

It might help you prepare notes in advance for the most common situations you encounter.
posted by delphic at 9:08 AM on November 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you're looking at pointing-at-things, there's the Kwikpoint translator.
posted by Superilla at 10:22 AM on November 10, 2022

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