Tip of the Week
Get a rundown on the Twin Cities area growing Congolese population in the StarTribune story, Congolese find home in Minnesota.
Swept up in the armed conflicts of Central Africa that have driven millions from their homes, the local Congolese are part of the 13,000 refugees approved for resettlement in the US this year. Overall, the number of Minnesota-bound refugees has decreased under new restrictions imposed by the Trump administration, with 818 making the state their first stop in the US during 2018. Of those, 77 were from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2019, 145 Congolese have arrived in Minnesota. (See a 2018 county-by-county breakdown of primary refugee resettlement.)
The StarTribune story includes a brief description of the solace that churches have provided to the Congo community, and the cultural challenges Congolese face in moving from an African community-based culture to the more fragmented environment they confront here.
Consciousness of trauma and its effects on patients plays an increasing role in the health care environment. But what about the drain on providers who deal with difficult issues of emotional and physical abuse on a daily basis and suffer from burn-out and worse as a result?
Get an understanding of vicarious trauma in professions that support migrant families during a Catholic Charities-sponsored webinar, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout Risks, scheduled for 1-2 pm, Thursday, December 19. The session will offer strategies for managing stress in the workplace, and offer self-care practices to maintain health and deal with illness.
Yet another sign that the future is catching up with us fast: the availability of interpretation devices that fit in your ear and instantly render foreign languages into your own.
A recent article in the New York Times, The Latest in Translation Devices, describes two additions to what is likely to be a booming market — the WT2 Plus Ear to Ear AI Translator Earbuds from Timekettle, and the “Ambassador” from Wavery Labs. Both rely on a pair of wireless earpieces that are synced to a single smartphone connected to Wi-Fi or cellular data.
The Times article quotes Graham Neubig, an assistant professor at the Language Technologies Institute of Carnegie Mellon University and an expert in machine learning and natural language processing, who says, “These devices ‘bring us a bit closer to being able to travel to places in the world where people speak different languages and communicate smoothly with those who are living there.'” At the same time, the Times story makes it clear that human translators and interpreters will not be replaced by this generation of devices.
Care to geek out on the technology behind this leap in the processing and rendering of speech and writing? Check out a story in the New Yorker that delves into an explanation of machine learning while attempting to answer the question, Can a machine learn to write for the New Yorker? (The answer: not quite yet.)
Among life’s Tower-of-Babel puzzlements: why do so many words exist in different languages for the same thing? The website Open Culture answers one very narrow version of this question by taking on the reasons why tea is called something like tea in certain places, and something more like cha in many others.
In this case the answer relates to Silk Road trade routes established millennia ago, and more recent European trading dating to the 1500s. Find out more here.
Take a look at this New York Times story, A Steady Paycheck Is Good Medicine for Communities, to get another view on how the medical industry can help improve the health not only of individuals, but of entire communities.
The piece describes the work of Healthcare Anchor Network, a consortium of 41 medical systems spread across the US, plus four government providers. Locally, Fairview is a member. The group’s goal is to find more ways of doing business with local communities that these providers serve. They’re “investing in the notion that ample paychecks, stable housing and nutritious food are no less critical to well-being than doctors, medical equipment and pharmacies,” the Times’ reporter Peter S. Goodman observes.
The initiative has resulted in redirection of contracts from large national firms to locally-owned companies, housing programs that assure stability, job training, subsidized day care and more. “The basic goal among the participants in the Healthcare Anchor Network is to shift their spending to local companies, keeping the wealth close by,” Goodman writes.
The complete text is worth checking out for a close description of how health institutions can reach beyond their walls and into nearby central city communities where residents are often scrambling for a path toward decent housing and employment that pays better than peanuts.
Looking for a way to communicate the importance of hepatitis B immunizations? Check out the Hepatitis B Foundation‘s collection of videos that tell the stories of people touched by the disease.
Find the video gallery here. Among the collected pieces are versions in:
- Vietnamese/English (see the stories of Xuan, Dai, Kim, Michelle and MD),
- Khmer/English (Chenda’s story),
- Mongolian/English (Tuya’s story),
- Tagalog/English (Espi’s story),
- Arabic/English (Sura’s story),
- Mandarin/English (Kat, Jacki and Alan’s stories),
- Cantonese/English (Alice’s story),
- Twi/English (Bright’s story),
- Korean/English (Carolyn and Nancy’s stories).
The organization’s website also includes a number of written stories, plus background information on prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management, with links to support groups and other resources.
Here’s another item to stuff into your Brave New World file — a hand-held translation device that, according to Bloomberg News, is taking Japan by storm and is also now available in the US. (“Tourists are fueling a boom in personal translation devices”)
The $299 product can be worn around the neck, and is capable of translating phrases to and from 74 languages. With a tourist boom that brings 31 million visitors to Japan each year, shop owners looking for additional profit need a way to communicate with customers. The Pocketalk device allows store keepers to capture a spoken phrase from foreign customers, which it then translates into Japanese (or, for that matter, English or any of the other supported languages).
Does it work? Amazon.com reviews paint a mixed picture, with some users complaining that the device is too slow and cumbersome, while others describe it as hugely helpful. Machines aren’t ready to replace the subtle understanding and nuance that human interpreters bring to complex medical encounters. But if all you really want is a platter of sushi in Tokyo…?
Wondering how to say “How are you? Are you fine?” in Tamashek? Or, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” in Fulfulde? Here’s a chance to satisfy your curiosity.
Check out this interactive website on Google Earth that features 55 speakers of indigenous languages who share traditional greetings, sayings and songs. (Word of caution: you need the Chrome browser installed for this site to work properly.)
Get this glimpse of threatened languages while you can: according to the United Nations, of the world’s 7,000 tongues, 2,680 indigenous languages are at risk of disappearing.
Looking for ways to better serve refugee kids in your mentoring programs? Here’s a free webinar open to all refugee service providers, including those working at state agencies, resettlement agencies or other organizations.
Set for noon through 1 pm, Wednesday, July 31, this webinar is presented by Switchboard, a one-stop resource hub for US refugee service providers.
Participating in this session will give you information you need to:
- Describe key findings from the evidence-base for youth mentoring programs;
- Identify critical features of effective youth mentoring programs, particularly related to programs for older Office of Refugee Resettlement-eligible youth populations; and
- Incorporate features of effective mentoring programs into your youth mentoring program.
Facilitators include Ashmeet K. Oberoi, Ph.D., Director of the Community and Social Change Masters Program, at the University of Miami and Sara Rowbottom, Education & Youth Technical Advisor, International Rescue Committee, with other speakers to be determined.
Well, unlike the states of North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina and Colorado, it’s not German.
The US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey annually asks more than a million Americans questions about their lives, families, and backgrounds — including the language they primarily speak in their homes.
Here’s an inside look at a skilled interpreter’s complicated work. This video focuses on interpreting in a diplomatic environment as it explains the advantages and pitfalls in simultaneous and consecutive interpretation — but the lessons are broadly applicable to the medical world as well. Along the way you’ll learn the difference between chuchotage and décalage, and also find out why all too often telling a joke through an interpreter is a dumb idea.
The June 4 end of Ramadan is right around the corner, but it’s still worthwhile to take a look at a StarTribune story on health considerations for Muslims who adhere to the month-long period of fasting.
In the article, Minnesota medical providers work with patients to balance health with fasting during Ramadan, local providers explore their efforts to treat patients for chronic disease such as diabetes and manage medications during a time when followers of Islam fast during the daylight hours.
The flip side of daytime fasting is the tradition of breaking the fast with a heavy, and frequently high-fat, evening meal, according to Dr. Douglas Pryce, who has treated Somali-Americans at a Hennepin Healthcare clinic since 1995.
An additional concern addressed in this story: Somali providers whose energy wanes during a day of going without food or water.
Proving that language problems are everywhere, a Massachusetts school teacher recently undertook a translation project — creating a dictionary of youth slang to help him understand his students. When a TV reporter took the results to the streets, the Olds interviewed were most often baffled. See the results above.
When it comes to learning a new language, not all tongues are created equal. Some offer a much rockier path to fluency for native English speakers. Consider this analysis by the Foreign Service Institute on how tough it is for English speakers to learn various languages.
Want to make it easy on yourself? Try learning Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish. Figure on about 600 hours of study to achieve what the Institute declares “General Professional Proficiency in Speaking.”
Or maybe you’d rather descend into a pit of confusion? Sign up for classes in languages that are particularly difficult for native English speakers. For starters, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin or Korean occupy this category. For the particularly ambitious, there’s Japanese, which the Institute judges to be even more difficult for learners than the other toughest languages. Count on spending at least 2,200 hours of study in these languages to reach the General Professional Proficiency level.
The take home here? It’s another point of reflection regarding the difficulties immigrants and refugees encounter while building a new life. If it’s tough for an English speaker to learn Japanese, what’s it like for a Hmong immigrant to straighten out the many confusions offered up by English?
You know what you’re saying to patients, but what are patients hearing? The truth is, nine out of ten adults struggle to understand and use health information when it’s unfamiliar, complex or jargon-filled. Limited health literacy costs the healthcare system money and results in higher morbidity and mortality.
Get a boost in your ability to assess patients’ health literacy and to respond accordingly by taking this free online class offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Effective Communication for Healthcare Teams: Addressing Health Literacy, Limited English Proficiency and Cultural Differences, will help you:
- Identify at least three factors that influence a patient’s health literacy
- Describe at least one example of how health literacy, cultural competence and limited English proficiency each affect health communication
- Identify at least one tool or resource to assess a patient’s health literacy level and language assistance needs
- Describe at least one method of communication that will improve understanding in patients with limited health literacy
- Identify at least one factor that influences communication.
Continuing education credit is available when you complete the course.
It’s all about diet, says University of Zurich researcher Balthasar Bickel, in a study reported recently in the journal, Science.
Bickel’s contention is that the move from a meat-heavy diet — and all the tearing, ripping and hard chewing that entailed — changed the configuration of adults’ jaws. Hunter/gatherers tend to have upper and lower teeth that close on top of each other. People with a diet heavier on cooked porridges, cheeses and yoghurts — all products of an agrarian society that includes cooked and stored foods — typically have an overbite. Their front teeth protrude in relation to the lower teeth.
That change also influences speech sounds, making it easier to pronounce “f” and “y.” (Try this one out by positioning your upper front teeth directly over your lower front teeth, then attempting to say the words “victor” or “forest.”)
Read more about this research here. And then try to imagine what you’d sound like were you still hunched in front of a cave, lunching on mastodon.
Here’s a conversation starter that will most likely lead to some interesting laughs with your organization’s interpreters and translators. Check out the bi-lingual translation site, Tr-ex, which provides translations for phrases you enter, then shows their use in a sentence. Tr-ex offers translations between English and Russian, French, Spanish, Czech and Indonesian.
You could while away a lunch hour with an interpreter while typing in phrases that convey a complicated thought in English — for example, “a stitch in time;” or “a monkey on my back” — and then discuss how much (or how little) the translation provides when stripped from its cultural context.
It’s another fascinating exercise in demonstrating both how far online resources have come, and the immensity of the work that remains to duplicate the complex understanding behind top-drawer human interpretation.
Check out a collaboration between renowned Hmong shaman Wa Leng Lee and artist Sieng Lee, in an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The installation explores the story of Siv Yis, the first Hmong shaman. Along the way, Sieng Lee also asks what people give up to assimilate into American culture.
This free exhibition is part of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, located in the U.S. Bank Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis. The show is up until June 23.
The Center for Victims of Torture has just released a free, downloadable toolkit for providers who work with refugee patients.
Based on CVT’s clinical work with Karen refugees, Improving Well Being for Refugees in Primary Care: A Toolkit for Providers gives clinicians the tools to improve treatment plans for patients who have lived through traumatic experiences.
The manual depicts scenarios between a provider and patient to illustrate how asking questions in a more culturally-appropriate way can yield richer information to address a patient’s health issues. It includes concrete examples and recommendations for medical providers to incorporate into their practice.
Check out this video in Somali (with English subtitles) on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. The video was produced by Allina Health and WellShare International, with assistance from Somali WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, and financial support from the Allina Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Health.
Here’s a moving essay about a college student’s effort to understand more about the escape her grandmother made from the Philippines to the United States. Seeing My Heritage through My Grandmother’s Eyes is another of those stories that point out the immense gulf between the current moment and the world as it existed during and immediately after World War II.
Essayist Isabel Guarco’s orphaned grandmother, born in Manila in 1923, lived under Japanese occupation through the war years. Shortly after the armistice she fled to this country on a war bride ship. Guarco recounts her own trip to Manila to try to trace her grandmother’s life in the city. Except for a ledger line in an orphanage’s records, she finds, that world has largely disappeared.
It’s a story that reveals, again, the difficult path undertaken by so many immigrants and refugees, and how quickly the circumstance that provoked their exodus disappears in the mist of history.
If you’re trying to arrange interpreter services for patients, it may seem that the world already has too many languages. But here’s the other side of that coin: the number of languages that are at risk of disappearing entirely.
A recent Philadelphia Inquirer story reports on the Wikitongues project to record a significant portion of the world’s 7,097 languages. The project founder, Daniel Bogre Udell, figures that every two weeks, a language dies. Another 500, he estimates, are seriously at risk.
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.
“On the Autism Spectrum: Families Find Help and Hope,” is a series of five short films produced by the Minnesota Department of Human Services that raise awareness and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and services available to Minnesota families. The videos are aimed at specific communities, including:
The films provide support for families experiencing ASD within communities that have historically underutilized available resources. Each 15-20 minute film features interviews with parents, advocates, medical professionals, educators, and community leaders speaking in the language of the target community, with subtitles in English.
Here’s a thought-provoking article from Psychology Today that explores how language can affect memory and behavior. Author Viorica Marian, Ph.D., psycholinguist at Northwestern University, describes how memories of multilingual people are linked to the language used while the event occurred. “Memories,” she observes, “will often be more emotional when there is a match between the language spoken when the experience took place and the language spoken when remembering it.”
Among the results:
- multilingual speakers may experience more stress when taboo words are spoken in their native language;
- but they may be less biased and more consistent in their non-native language;
- and their assessment of risk may be altered depending on the power and variety of examples that come to mind — which, again, may depend on the language spoken when previous examples presented themselves.
Where’s the significance for health care providers? This is how Marian sees it: “How risky something feels affects the choices that we make for everything from medical decisions to national security. For example, in the United States, over 25% of doctors are foreign-born and many of their patients speak another language as well. It is important to be aware of how the language being spoken may be influencing the decisions we and others around us make.”
What if it was widely understood that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had said, “We will outlast you,” instead of “We will bury you,” in 1956 at the height of the Cold War?
What if, days before the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japanese prime minister Kantaro Suzuki had been correctly understood to tell a US emissary, “No comment. We need more time,” instead of being thought to convey an attitude of “silent contempt”?
The perils of sketchy translation and interpretation are explored in a New York Times opinion piece, “Why Mistranslation Matters” by Mark Polizzotti. Pilizzotti, author of the recent book, Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto, lays out a series of translation- and interpretation-inspired misconceptions, starting with the so-called apple tree in the Garden of Eden.
Looking for a compendium of resources on cross-cultural communication and language access? Here’s a web page loaded with tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the links you’ll find here:
- a language access portal available via the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities,
- help on how to address the National Cultural and Linguistically Appropriate Service (CLAS0 standards,
- the Guide to Providing Effective Communication and Language Assistance Services from the Office of Minority Health,
- plus more.
For anyone with children (or really, anyone at all) the news about Central American immigrant kids being separated from their parents is heart-rending. But that’s not to say that American history is free of numerous other similar examples.
Get some historical perspective in this piece by CNN: Actually, the US Has a Long History of Separating Families. The story is a brief reminder that African-American slaves, native people, Mexican immigrants in the 1930s and Japanese-Americans during World War II all experienced family separation.
CNN’s final analysis: “Critics say the policy… is not emblematic of who we are as a nation. Others say it runs counter to the America they know and love. But history shows policies like this have been implemented time and time again since the nation began.”
The topic in this short video isn’t health care — it’s about a new version of The Odyssey rendered by Classicist Dr. Emily Wilson. As the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English, she discovered that many men before her added sexist or misogynist terms that never existed in the original Greek.
Though interesting in itself, it also raises perplexing questions for health care providers. What cultural notes are being added or subtracted by interpreters during a patient/provider encounter?
Here’s another dimension of the move toward outcome-based pay for providers. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Dhruv Khullar, a NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital doctor and researcher at the Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, reflects on the difficulty in reaching similar outcomes for patients with radically different incomes and lifestyles.
“Value-based payment models try to measure quality, outcomes and costs — and reward or penalize providers based on their performance,” Khullar observes. “They generally adjust for patients’ medical problems, but not social ones.”
His experience as a resident with a load of impoverished patients showed him the flaw in buried within an unadjusted value-based payment system. “What strained our abilities,” Khullar writes, “was not our patients’ medical complexity, but their social problems: They were poorer, less educated, more isolated, from rougher neighborhoods. We quickly learned that while it’s hard to dose insulin, it’s harder still for a patient who speaks no English, has no refrigerator and regularly has his medications stolen.”
Of course you’ve been wondering, What are the top ten movies of all time that feature interpreters? Well, wonder no more. That list has now been assembled by the United Kingdom blog, Kwintessential. Take a look here.
The top ten includes familiar titles such as Lost in Translation, Zero Dark Thirty and Amistad. Then there’s the film, Desert Flower, that lays out the problems with non-professional medical interpretation.
But there’s also a touch of the screwball, such as the entry, The Mummy. This 1999 film features an Egyptologist, who, thanks to her knowledge of ancient Egyptian, stops a 3,000-year old mummy from destroying the world. Luckily.