Tip of the Week
Okay, this story about the interpreter who makes the declutter maven Marie Kondo understandable in English might seem a little off track. But here’s the redeeming feature that makes the piece relevant — it’s also full of nuanced description of what raises top-of-the-line interpretation above its hum-drum counterparts.
Interpreter Marie Iida explains the research and attention to detail that go into her work in Marie Kondo’s Brilliant Interpreter Is the Unsung Hero of the Konmari Phenomenon, published in the online magazine Quartzy.
Despite the advances in machine translation that have moved it from the ridiculous to the potentially useful, there remain glitches — particularly in the area of assigning gender, as pointed out in an article in Slator: Language Industry Intelligence.
A difficult trouble spot is in translations that go from English, which does not assign gender to nouns, to languages such as Spanish or French, which do.
Quoting a Dublin City University researcher, Eva Vanmassenhove, the Slator article reports, “In French and Spanish, for instance, ‘I am a nurse’ will still be given feminine translations while ‘I am a surgeon’ will result in masculine ones.
“Even more problematic is the following set of translations: ‘I am beautiful’ is translated into the male form in Spanish. However, ‘I am a beautiful surgeon’ is translated into a female form,” Vanmassenhove said.”
Read more about another complexity of the modern moment in “He Said, She Said: Addressing Gender in Neural Machine Translation.”
Should the arts be considered an essential ingredient in general well-being? And should therapeutic art or hobby-based treatment be prescribed as part of a treatment plan?
The answer is yes, according to United Kingdom Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has promoted a “social prescribing” initiative to the country’s doctors for maladies such as dementia, psychosis and mental illness, as well as ailments such as lung conditions.
Regarding the arts, Hancock says,
“They’re not just a right in their own terms as the search for truth and expression of the human condition. We shouldn’t only value them for the role they play in bringing meaning and dignity to our lives. We should value the arts and social activities because they’re essential to our health and wellbeing. And that’s not me as a former Culture Secretary saying it. It’s scientifically proven. Access to the arts and social activities improves people’s mental and physical health.”
How many miles of new wall has the Trump administration constructed along the 1954-mile border between Mexico and the United States over the past two years? Check out this graphic analysis by the New York Times for an answer.
Though Congress has approved funding for 124 miles of new funding, the current administration has added exactly zero miles of new barriers. Existing portions of wall and barriers stretch for 654 miles.
How many patients are capable of fully understanding the care instructions they’re given? The answer: barely one in ten.
A 2006 national survey found that 12 percent of patients fit the “proficient” health literacy category. Things get even more bleak for the elderly. For those 65 and older, only three percent qualify as proficient, while fewer than one in four can claim intermediate health literacy.
- Poorer health at higher cost,
- Higher hospitalization rates,
- Less use of preventative tests and immunizations.
According to an analysis in the New York Times, This Type of Illiteracy Could Hurt You, health care providers can’t view themselves as blameless. Says Rima Rudd, a Harvard University health literacy researcher, “We give people findings and tell them about risk and expect people to make decisions based on those concepts, but we don’t explain them very well. Are our forms readable? Are the directions after surgery written coherently? If it’s written in jargon, with confusing words and numbers, you won’t get the gist of it and you won’t get important information.”
With the Trump administration poised to deport a large group of legal Cambodian immigrants to the United States, among the questions that arise is, How will those booted from the US adapt to Cambodia, a country that in many cases they’ve never known?
Those at risk of deportation include members of families that fled the murderous Khmer Rouge regime and were declared refugees in the US. But those who failed to become citizens and were convicted of felony crimes are now at risk of deportation.
For a glimpse of what awaits them in Phnom Penh, check out this New York Times piece, “Deported and Sticking Out: ‘This Ain’t Home. America’s My Home.'”
For a more detailed look at the politics behind the Trump deportation order, see “Dozens More Cambodian Immigrant to Be Deported from US, Officials Say.” A more Minnesota-specific account of how this deportation plan has roiled the local Southeast Asian community — “Deportation proposal shakes Minnesota’s Southeast Asian refugee community” — appeared in the StarTribune.
According to a Macalester College tally, Minnesota has the sixth largest population of Cambodian refugees — 5,530 — in the United States.
Want to be viewed more often as a liar? Try telling the truth in another language.
That, roughly speaking, is the conclusion of research conducted by University of Würzburg psychologists Kristina Suchotzki (photo, right) and Matthias Gamer.
In their experiment, the researchers asked participants to answer questions, sometimes honestly, sometimes not, in their native tongue and in a second language. Some questions had an emotional core; others involved a simple statement of fact. The results, as summarized by Medical Xpress:
- “It is not easy to tell when someone is lying. This is even more difficult when potential liars speak in a language other than their native tongue.
- “Most people don’t find it more difficult to lie in a foreign language than in their native tongue. However, things are different when telling the truth: This is clearly more difficult for many people in a foreign language than in their native one.”
Here’s another way to keep up with the myriad local events that open up a window to the greater world. Check out Global Twin Cities, a website that features an extensive calendar of cross cultural events, a listing of community organizations, plus news, notes on restaurants, artists and more.
In terms of variety of events and news alone, this site is well worth a look. For example, the calendar for December 8 features links to events as disparate as The Voice of Egyptian Dance: A Tribute to Um Kalthoum, the Swedish Hiking Club’s jaunt around Como Lake, and Fiesta Decembrina Venezolana 2018 (Venezuelan Holiday party).
Looking for a compendium of recent news and scholarly articles on immigration issues? Take a look at a special section of the online New York Times, Immigration and Emigration.
The most recent iteration includes news coverage of the clash at the US border between Central American caravaners and the border patrol, the Irish bid to restore birthright citizenship, Hillary Clinton’s perspective on European immigration, and the Trump administration’s latest move regarding Vietnamese emigres.
Here’s another note on the consequences of inadequate language services, this time from the St. Paul public school system.
Como Park high school student and Karen immigrant Lor Ler Kaw got placed in mainstream English and social studies classes with fluent English speakers, even though he read at a second grade level. He was caught up in a district policy to mainstream ELL and special-ed kids in regular classrooms.
Parents George Thawmoo and Mary Jane Sommerville suspected their child needed special education services. Eventually they took their complaint to the St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity, which found probable cause that the district discriminated against the students on the basis of national origin.
In a negotiation ordered by the US District Court, the school district awarded Lor Ler Kaw’s family $12,500, and agreed to substantial changes in its ELL policies.
Not that anyone needed it, but the case is more evidence of the downside to inadequate language services. Read the complete story here.
It’s tough enough to understand Twin Cities snow emergency rules for native speakers. Imagine trying to decode them if you’ve got a loose grip on English.
Here’s some help for limited-English speakers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Both cities offer translated versions of winter parking regs on their web sites.
In St. Paul, motorists can find snow emergency rules in
In Minneapolis, translations are available in
Looking for a cheap and easy way to learn how to say hello and exchange a pleasantry or two with recent immigrants? Check out the language lessons — many of them free — at the Open Culture website.
You’ll find introductions to 48 languages, ranging from Spanish, German and French, to Amharic, Bambara, Lao, Swahili, Vietnamese and more. Many of these courses are Foreign Service Institute book and audio packages intended to prep the diplomatic corps for a new assignment.
There’s much more to this wide-ranging website, including in-depth interviews with literary luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, Jorge Luis Borges, Roland Barthes and Toni Morrison, plus some oddball diversions, such as how to make, wear and fight in medieval armor.
Here’s a twist on a communication problem that has bedeviled Minnesota’s emergency management departments. How do you let non-English speakers know about imminent hazards if your audience doesn’t speak English, or isn’t familiar with the nature of the hazard itself? Consider, for example, the prospect of a blizzard from the perspective of a just-arrived Somali.
While not exactly analogous, here’s an interesting twist on emergency communication from the Indonesian island of Simeulue. When a tsunami roared through Indonensia in 2014, more than 150,000 Indonesians perished. On Simeulue, just seven died.
Why the disparity? The answer is linked to a well-known song that allowed islanders to recognize the signs that predict a tsunami, and warned them of the steps necessary to save themselves.
Read more in this Foreign Policy article, Indonesia’s Indigenous Languages Hold the Secrets of Surviving Disaster
A thousand words or a picture? Here are a pair of recent videos from the New York Times and Washington Post that offer a street-side view of the migrant caravan now making its way from Honduras, toward the United States.
New York Times: Anything is better than returning:
Washington Post: The Biggest Caravan in the History of Caravans
And, because words are still worth something, here is a set of short interviews from the New York Times with migrants en route — Voices from the Caravan: Why These Honduran Migrants Are Headed North. “We’re not going because we want fancy things,” says one young mother marching north.
One frequently cited observation in the world of cross-cultural care is that patients feel more comfortable dealing with providers who look like them.
How to get there? Here’s an example from the Minneapolis StarTribune. The article, Ladder program helps youngsters step up to health care careers, describes a north Minneapolis-based mentorship and training program aimed at turning more people of color into doctors, nurses and dentists.
The Ladder program took off six years ago, when Dr. Renee Chrichlow of the University of Minnesota’s Broadway Family Medicine Clinic, founded the non-profit organization. Kids can start in the program at age nine, but they can hang on to mentorship opportunities throughout high school, college, and medical or nursing school.
The annual Many Faces of Community Health conference is set for Thursday-Friday, October 25 and 26, at the Hyatt Regency Bloomington, at 3200 E 81st St, in Bloomington, with registration open now.
Conference sessions are aimed at improving care and reducing health disparities in underserved populations and among those living in poverty. With a focus on safety net providers, conference presenters will explore community care innovations, health care delivery models, and reform initiatives that promote health equity, prevent and manage chronic diseases, and ensure access for all.
Immigrants’ lives will become that much harder as the Trump administration imposes new rules on those who legally use public benefits such as food stamps, Part D Medicare drug coverage, or Section 8 housing vouchers. They could be denied green cards that allow them to live and work in the United States as the government aims at barring people it views as an economic drain.
The rule change could affect about 382,000 people a year, and is part of what the New York Times calls “the latest in a series of aggressive crackdowns by President Trump and his hard-line aides on legal and illegal immigration.”
Find a detailed examination of the issue in this Times piece, “U.S. to Place Stricter Limits on Immigrants.”
Here’s a interpreting/translation-related lawsuit that could have a major impact on your organization. The case started in 2015 when Houston resident Song Xie was sent home from the hospital with discharge instructions in English that his caretaker son couldn’t read. Song Xie later suffered a stroke. His family now wants to hold the hospital liable.
The resulting lawsuit alleges that the hospital violated a clause of the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on national origin discrimination by failing to translate discharge instructions into a language the son could understand.
A detailed story from Bloomberg News — Hospitals: Patients Who Don’t Speak English Have Rights Too — explains that the ACA’s Section 1557 allows patients to sue providers when language barriers aren’t effectively addressed. Fines and damage awards, warns Bloomberg, could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars under this new twist on the law.
Let’s take a break this week from wondering how to help English language learners, and stop to think why most people in Minnesota only speak English. For some fresh perspective on how weak this is in comparison to the other end of the scale — that of the world’s premier polyglots — take a look at this recent story in the New Yorker magazine: The Mystery of People Who Speak Dozens of Languages: What can hyperpolyglots teach the rest of us?
Among the hyperpolyglots who appear in the piece is Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia. Author Judith Thurman observes that Rojas-Berscia has “command of twenty-two living languages (Spanish, Italian, Piedmontese, English, Mandarin, French, Esperanto, Portuguese, Romanian, Quechua, Shawi, Aymara, German, Dutch, Catalan, Russian, Hakka Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Guarani, Farsi, and Serbian), thirteen of which he speaks fluently. He also knows six classical or endangered languages: Latin, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Shiwilu, Muniche, and Selk’nam, an indigenous tongue of Tierra del Fuego, which was the subject of his master’s thesis.”
How does he do it? What can you learn from him and others with amazing language abilities? You’ll have to read the story to find out. Check it out here.
In case you doubted that it’s a hard language to master, here’s a video that demonstrates the quagmire through which English learners must wade. In this short film, Aaron Alon shows what happens when you apply consistent vowel-sound rules to English. The result is something that sounds like a version of Old English — sort of familiar, but often difficult to decode. Run through the video once and you’ll gain a new appreciation of the tough work that English learners take on.