Although most would agree that translation services are important, many of us wouldn’t immediately categorise interpretation and translation as lifesaving resources. However, two stories featured in the news last month illustrate just how vital translation and interpretation can be.
The Guardian reports that a British woman detained in Egypt on drug smuggling charges had her trial postponed after her plea was mistakenly interpreted. Laura Plummer pled ‘not guilty’ in her trial at the Red Sea Criminal Court at the end of December 2017, but this plea was wrongly translated to the judge as a ‘guilty’ plea. Mistranslation of a plea is clearly a very serious issue in all cases, but Laura Plummer’s case is especially troubling given that the crime for which she is accused is punishable by up to 25 years in prison or even death.
It is clear then that accurate translation and interpretation can quite literally be a life or death issue with no margin for error. Although in this case the mistranslation was noticed and rectified by the postponement of the trial, there have been devastating instances where there simply wasn’t time to pick up on translation issues before irreversible damage had been done.
An article published last month for Slate Magazine discusses the severe problems of translation in US hospitals and the damage this causes. The article notes that in 1996 it was found that 76% of Spanish-speaking patients went without an interpreter in the emergency department. Although research on the issue has been scarce, judging by anecdotal evidence it would seem this has not improved to any significant degree in the intervening years. Despite it actually being a legal requirement for hospitals to provide interpreters, this is hardly ever implemented, with friends or relatives of the patient often being asked to translate.
Professional interpreters not being available for non-English speaking patients can have devastating consequences. For example, as Slate Magazine states, there is the case of Willie Ramirez, a teenage boy in Florida, who received the wrong care after staff mistranslated ‘intoxicado’ (the Spanish for ‘poisoned’) as meaning ‘drunk’. Willie Ramirez ended up paralysed (quadriplegic) as a result of this single word being mistranslated. Similarly, a woman in Oregon, Elidiana Valdez-Lemus, died after 911 misinterpreted her address, diverting her ambulance to the wrong street. It was 26 minutes before emergency aid reached her, by which point she had sadly passed away.
It is clear then, that accurate interpretation and translation services are an absolute necessity, especially in legal and medical fields where the stakes are so incredibly high. If you need medical or legal documents translating, please use only certified translators, which you can find by clicking below.