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April 9

New Translations: Writing Patient Stories

I’ve been translating for my parents since I was a child. I thankfully had older siblings who could take one for the team and I was more of a default. I learned a few tricks over the years of translating. Keep sentences short, speak clearly, and be as simple as possible.

It’s a difficult rope to walk especially when you’re infatuated with the English language and are taught in school to use all the big words you’ve ever learned in your writing. This only got more difficult when I was in college. Academic writing and communications call for clear and concise writing but sound like a scholar. What a wonderful duality!

When I started writing patient stories for LCH the original rules I learned as a child reigned true. Keeping questions concise and simple always generated a response that left me in awe of the patients I was interviewing.

I’ve been interviewing English speakers and Spanish speakers with ease because I have the privilege of speaking both. When I came across interviewing an Italian patient, I fell into the common troupes that I’d seen done to my parents over the years.

Although I know speaking louder doesn’t make a difference, I was a culprit. I tried very hard to keep my questions as simple as possible and while doing so I couldn’t help but think about how healthcare providers manage this. How do others explain to someone they have high cholesterol and what that means in the simplest way possible?* Understanding your health is vital for everyone, but how do you do that when being healthy isn’t a universal language?

Writing this patient’s story and interviewing this patient was eye-opening to me. Not because I don’t know how to communicate effectively but because I know there are problems with translation in the world that I cannot fix. There’s a crucial need for health literacy and I’m happy that LCH does the best it can to care for people always.

*LCH is a bilingual organization that uses Patient Advocates for Spanish medical interpretation and CyraCom for translation, interpretation, and language services.