Not lost in translation: Many options for language interpretation on P.E.I.

Interpretation services are becoming more and more important on the Island as numbers of newcomers increase.

Translation services have become essential with increasing newcomer population

Using family members as interpreters when using medical services isn't recommended. (Brian Goldman)

Lu Xinghai is translating from Mandarin to English, helping a Chinese client of the PEI Association of Newcomers to Canada who is confused by seeing apartments with no furnishings.

"In China, apartments come with all the furniture," he said, explaining her confusion.  

Lu moved to P.E.I. in 2013 through the PNP program and helps out at the PEIANC when he's not working at his store. 

With more and more immigrants and refugees moving to the Island, options for translation are growing. 

'Clients are new and need respect'

At the offices of the PEIANC, you will hear several languages as employees, volunteers and clients go about their business. 

"We have interpreters that we train and pay who speak a variety of languages and they help with basic settlement issues like health cards, SIN number, driver's licence," said Craig Mackie executive director of the PEIANC. 

Xinghai Lu helps newcomers with translation at the PEI Association for Newcomers. (Karen Mair/CBC)

He says the association runs one-day training courses for newcomers with a good grasp of English as well as their mother tongue.

"We emphasize that clients are new and need respect. Obviously they're hearing personal stuff so it's confidential and never gets repeated or shared." 

Health services

Many health service providers are wary of family members or friends interpreting symptoms and doctors' questions as they can make mistakes or not properly convey what the doctor says.   

Instead, Health PEI has a contract with a 24-hour phone service that can immediately have a trained interpreter on the line.

Under the new immigration programs that the province is running the language levels required to come into P.E.I. are much, much higher.- Craig Mackie, PEIANC

Health PEI services and facilities including hospitals, primary care, public health nursing, long-term care and 811 telehealth nurses all have access to the phone-based service that supports more than 100 languages.

The addition of a language preference listed on new health cards is also making the work of front-line staff easier.

"The language preference information ... is making it easier for staff to recognize language of preference of the patient so translation services can be engaged immediately," Health PEI said in an email. 

Crossroads Clinic is the only hospital-based refugee clinic in Toronto and has already helped many refugees receive care with the help of a telephone interpreter service. The Clinic uses Remote Interpretation Ontario - (RIO) - a phone line they can dial to access an interpreter, 24/7. 1:00

Police services

The RCMP and Charlottetown police also use a phone translating service, and on occasion call upon the PEIANC.

Lu himself has been called by police to help translate.

We're seeing people who don't need interpreters, people from India for example where English is the second language for everybody in that country.- Craig Mackie, PEIANC

"One time a Chinese man's car was broken into. He chased the offender, as he would back in China," Lu said.

"I went to the police station and told the man what they said in Mandarin, that he's not to chase a crook himself, but call police."

Lu said most of his work entails not only translating language but also cultural differences. 

Over at the courthouse there hasn't been a lot of need for translation, according to court services manager Kerrilee MacConnell.

"For criminal matters we provide a translator for the accused," MacConnell said. 

"For civil matters it's the responsibility of the parties involved. We refer them to PEIANC."  

Going beyond conversation

Translating isn't just about conversation but also the written word. 

"There's a lot of documentation involved. We refer people to a company where they can get certified support like Latin Access on the Island," Mackie said. 

"It's important for legal documents like purchasing a car and we can't offer that ... and there's a handy Newcomer Guide to P.E.I. and Canada in seven languages available on the PEIANC website."  

Craig Mackie, executive director of the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers, says newcomers with a good grasp of English can take a one-day training course to become an interpreter. (CBC)

He's noticing that the demand for interpretation has dropped off as expectations for immigrants to the Island become more stringent.

"Under the new immigration programs that the province is running the language levels required to come into P.E.I. are much, much higher," Mackie said.

"So we're seeing people who don't need interpreters, people from India for example where English is the second language for everybody in that country." 

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About the Author

Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.