June 24, 2020

Q&A with Emiliano Zucchi

Emiliano Zucchi, Director of our Transcultural and Language Services (TALS) and Narrun Wilip-giin Aboriginal Support Unit, has co-authored a chapter in a book titled ‘Interpreting in Legal and Healthcare Settings: Perspectives on research and training’.

The book is said to address, ‘issues arising from interpreting in legal and healthcare settings by presenting cutting-edge research findings in interpreting and interpreter education in a number of countries around the world.’

We sat down with Emiliano to talk about his contribution to this book.

Firstly, tell us what the significance of this book is to our current times:

The book seeks to establish language services as a discipline within both the health and legal settings. In our own health context, the book presents fairly compelling evidence about the impact interpreting and translation services – as well as transcultural training and research activities- have on the health outcomes of patients with limited English proficiency.
It is demonstrated that when a professional interpreter or translator is part of a multidisciplinary team looking after the patient, the health outcomes for that patient are considerably better; as a result when we engage interpreters, we improve access to services for all patients regardless of their cultural background or their English proficiency.
In the process we not only safeguard basic rights, but we also contain costs considerably. While I am not an expert on the legal context, I suspect it is the same for court interpreters: justice will be better served when professional interpreters are engaged.

Tell us now of your contribution to this book:

I contributed a chapter together with a colleague at Monash University, and a former TALS employee. The chapter addresses the paucity of interpreter-focused studies in mental health interpreting and looks at use of language, and, in lay terms, at what happens when patients mix English and their mother tongue during their interaction with the clinician.
How do we make sure messages are transferred accurately and in a language patients understand? What type of preparation is required? What type of set up and follow-up? How do we empower the patient to become an active contributor in addressing their health issue? The chapter attempts to answer these questions, while also grappling with more theoretical notions.

What is the significance of interpreting in the context of mental health?

Interpreting in the mental health context is more complex than other contexts. It is essential for interpreters to be briefed prior to the consultation starting, and after. While this is important for all interpreting consultations, in mental health especially there has to be a synergy between clinician and interpreter so that best results may be reached. Ideally the interpreter working in this context already has a good understanding of mental health and the strategies used by clinicians to treat patients.

Given that a number of countries have contributed to this book, what are some of the common issues in interpreter and interpreter education worldwide?

Yes, there are common issues. As the world moves towards a recognition that societies are multicultural rather than mono-cultural, they have to overcome language barriers. In Australia, and in particular in Melbourne, we are at the forefront of language services, other countries have some catching up to do. The main issue in professional contexts such as the health or legal context, is language proficiency, a gap which should be bridged only by engaging professional interpreters. One of the most common mistakes made across the world is thinking that being bilingual makes one an interpreter. I’m afraid not! Professional interpreters have to have advanced language skills, and strictly adhere to a code of ethics which guarantees impartiality and confidentiality are maintained at all times.

Here at Northern Health, we endeavour to provide the same quality of service for all patients and their families regardless of ethnicity and the ability to speak English.  How does the TALS team help in delivering that?

We are very lucky at Northern Health. Our health service has always strongly invested in language services. When I started in 2007, we had four in-house interpreters, we now have over 40 covering the top 15 languages. Almost a quarter of all our appointments have an interpreter, as far as I know there is no other heath service with such a high number of interpreter mediated occasions of service.