The need grows for interpreters, especially in health care settings and the courts

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:00 am

Some people dread the start of a workweek, but not Vladimir Bazan.

The 32-year-old native of Lima, Peru, has worked several odd jobs over the years — in a milling plant that made cake mixes; on a crew installing roofs; in the drive-through at a McDonald's; and at a bindery where magazines and books are made, among other jobs. But about nine years ago, a back problem led him to consider a new career.

Bazan, who is fluent in English and Spanish and lives in Lincoln, has been interpreting for those nine years for various businesses, including LanguageLinc in Lincoln. He now works as a certified district court interpreter in Nebraska and as an interpreter in the Creighton Medical Center emergency room overnight on the weekends. And he loves his job.

“I never liked doing anything else like I like interpreting,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and I'm happy to go to work.”

Nebraska is seeing a growing need for interpreters, especially in legal and medical settings.

Wednesday at the Children's Physicians office in the Nebraska Medical Center's Durham Outpatient Center, Jose Castillo, who is employed by the center, was helping Jaide Santos seek treatment for 4-year-old son Wilmer Fuentes' swollen eye. Physician's assistant Ann Thompson relied on Castillo to communicate with Santos as she figured out the issue: most likely a bug bite, which could be treated with an antihistamine.

In the state's courts, interpreters in 2012 assisted 20,590 district court users with interpreting services, and about 18,000 of them spoke Spanish. The state hired two coordinators in November to mentor court interpreters and assist in scheduling and finding interpreters for less commonly used languages.

Many area employers, including the Nebraska Medical Center and the Alegent Creighton Health system, also employ their own interpreters (used for the spoken word) and translators (for the written word) to assist patients.

The Nebraska Medical Center employs seven full-time and two part-time Spanish interpreters who help Spanish-speaking patients communicate and understand their medical documents. For other languages, the medical center relies on CyraCom, a remote medical interpreting service that allows medical staff to tap interpreters across the country who speak more than 150 different languages, lead interpreter Flower Nunez said.

Alegent Creighton Health also employs about 60 interpreters — some full time, some part time and others who are subcontracted. The system began employing its own interpreters in 2000, said Language Access operations directer Kathleen Valle. She said the health system has seen increases in need for interpreters who speak Karen, Burmese and Nepali.

Many times, though, the service is provided by independent contractors who build up a network of agencies, individuals and businesses that use their services.

The Nebraska Association for Translators and Interpreters will host its annual conference in Omaha at Bellevue University Aug. 1 through Aug. 3. There, interpreters and translators will meet to learn and network.

Association vice president Marsha Conroy, who is a French interpreter and a translator, said one goal this year is to diversify the languages represented at the conference.

“We're always looking for people who know languages that think, eh, I'm not needed, but yeah, you are,” Conroy said.

While Spanish interpreters are still in the highest demand, the state is seeing a growing need for interpreters who speak other languages because of growing immigrant and refugee communities. In-demand languages include Arabic, Nuer, Karen and Vietnamese.

LanguageLinc, where Bazan still works as a translator, certifies interpreters and connects them with businesses and agencies that need their services. The business has more than 50 interpreters who speak more than 30 languages. It opened in 2006 and now works with doctor's offices, attorneys, police, jails, libraries and other state agencies and businesses.

Most interpreters operate out of their homes, working with the courts, individuals who need documents translated or for attorneys with clients who don't speak English. Conroy, for example, has worked as an interpreter in an outpatient surgical center, churches, schools and with police, on top of her experience in the courts.

The courts are required to use certified court interpreters who have passed a specific exam when available, said trial court services director Sheryl Connolly. Certified interpreters are paid $50 per hour and noncertified interpreters $35 per hour, with a two-hour minimum. The state also reimburses interpreters for travel time and mileage.

Connolly said payment must be competitive because many interpreters also work full-time jobs.

Such is the case for Matyas Cserhati, who speaks fluent English, German, Dutch and Hungarian and can read Norwegian and Swedish. Cserhati said he primarily offers translation services for businesses, researchers and individuals. A recent job involved translating a business contract into English for a German company. Translating is just a hobby for Cserhati, he said, and business fluctuates — some months he is busy translating every weekend and others pass by with no jobs.

Sarah El Kassaby speaks Arabic, her native language, French, Spanish and English. She performs translation and interpreting services for an Omaha law firm that often deals with immigration court users, and is trying to obtain certification to become a district court interpreter. She said interpreters are often warned that court interpreting is on-call and may not turn into a full-time job.

For Vladimir Bazan, interpreting is a full-time career.

Bazan was already interpreting for his non-English-speaking friends during phone calls and appointments when he realized: “If I keep doing construction, by the end of my life I'm going to be in pain all day.”

He started out interpreting and translating about two hours per week, but through experience and networking has built up enough clients that it's his sole job.

He said interpreting in a medical setting can be more relaxed than the courts, especially in the ER. “In the ER you need to know what's going on ... so I'll just jump in to get the info as soon as possible,” he said. Bazan has interpreted for women giving birth, for victims of sexual abuse and for stabbing and shooting victims. “You have to have a lot of skill to deal with those situations,” he said.

In court, however, Bazan must formally ask the judge to repeat something for a clarification, and must repeat everything exactly as it is said. He said he also performs simultaneous interpreting in the courts, meaning he must interpret as the judge, attorney or court user is speaking.

Interpreter exhaustion in all-day trials or hearings is real, Bazan said, and if he is needed all day, he's joined by another interpreter and the pair switch off about every 30 mintues.

However, the basics of the two different types of interpreting are the same: preserve the message.

Bazan's next step is completing his associate's degree in criminal justice, eventually obtaining a bachelor's degree in the same field and maybe attending law school one day. His ultimate goal is to become a federal court interpreter in Nebraska.

“There are two federal interpreters in Nebraska right now, so hopefully I'll be number four or five.”

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