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Coalition breaks through language, culture barriers

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - They call themselves the Culture and Language Access Service Partners (CLASP), and they're a newly formed coalition hoping to breakthrough culture and language barriers.

"It's a very new group except that our efforts are not very new," said Mariles Benavente. With the Judiciary of Guam taking the lead, UOG CEDDERS' Benavente says today's forum allows service providers and interpreters to team up for a common goal - to keep residents from getting lost in translation.

"We've all been in isolated arenas working to provide training and support for interpreters and more information on how to do this but we finally decided somehow that we need to work together to maximize our resources so that we could address the issues," she added.

Witnessing the disparities first-hand, retired judge Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson said, "It's been a real serious issue. I was a trial judge for 14 years and the need for interpreters in all our languages, all our FAS, FSM, and Asian languages was critical for due process for the defendant. Cases were continued, due process was not up to par. If the defendant who comes in cannot speak the language, then there's no justice. There's no access to justice."

To date, the Judiciary has trained 50 interpreters with 38 still at the court representing 18 languages. Interpreters, who work as independent contractors, were present at today's forum and able to network with different agencies who may also be in need of their services, including public health service providers who too often, see young children or relatives translating for family members.

UOG interim director of the School of Nursing Dr. Margaret Hattori-Uchima said, "There is research that shows if you use a family member there is a higher rate of non compliance or not adhering to the treatment plan that the physician has prescribed but also greater risk of non-compliance with medications."

Even simple things like reading directions for prescription drugs are obstacles for non-English speaking residents. "In Spanish, that's 11. But O-N-C-E is once a day so the patient took 11 pills rather than one. That's a simple example but very shocking," she said.

And service providers are advised to avoid using jargon or idioms without literal meanings. After all, it could set up the patient for misunderstanding and ultimately, not trusting their healthcare provider, noting, "We have all the good intentions but it's our language sometimes that can sometimes cause problems and miscommunication."

Meanwhile, the Guam Community College will be doing their part to grow the interpreter field. After all, it takes more than speaking a second language to become an interpreter.

"An interpreter has to understand the skills of interpreting. Has to understand the standards of confidentiality," she said.

Barrett-Anderson adds that the court continues to need interpreters for Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai. 

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