The role of the non-professional interpreter in medical conversation

Sione Twilt

1: Utrecht University, The Netherlands 2: Erasmus University MC Rotterdam, The Netherlands


While there is much written about the use of interpreters in medical care, very little is known about the actual communication patterns in this form of triadic medical interaction, especially in the case of ad hoc or informal (family members, friends) interpreters.

The aim of our study is to gain more insight into the quality of the communication of intercultural three party talk consultations in general practice, where an informal interpreter is involved. Which role does the interpreter play? In what way does the miscommunication may be observed? To what degree is miscommunication recognized by the participants and repaired?

Data of 16 transcripts of video-registered medical interviews of Turkish immigrant patients in Dutch general practices were analysed (8 interviews with good mutual understanding between patient and doctor, and 8 interviews with poor mutual understanding). Different strategies of discourse analysis were applied, focused on 1)information management; 2)miscommunication (well or not recognized; well or not commented on); 3)quality of the interpretation (e.g. reductions, omissions, revisions); 4) role taking behaviour of interpreter (perspective doctor, perspective patient or ‘neutral’).

Results show substantial differences between the two groups. In the case of poor mutual understanding, the number of misunderstandings far outreached that of the number of the ‘good mutual understanding’ group (more misunderstandings of all types; confusion about role behaviour, etc.). Interview fragments will illustrate the main findings. The practice implications for physicians, patients and interpreters will be discussed.

Session: Paper session
Language/medical 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 07