Interpreters keep kids' health from being lost in translation
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 23, 2006

Betty Reid

When school nurse Virginia Madrid finds herself in a bind to accurately interpret a student's illness to a parent, she reaches for Language Line Services.

Students whose home language is other than the English continue to enroll at Valley schools. A large number of them are Spanish-dominant, but other languages pop up and befuddle school nurses such as Madrid at Palomino School II, in the Paradise Valley School District. For example, a family that spoke Siberian needed help understanding a child's health records. Madrid called the Language Line, which is based in Monterey, Calif.

Complicated translations are reserved for Language Line because it is critical that a child's health issue is interpreted correctly, Madrid said.

Many districts, such as Paradise Valley, are set up with well-trained interpreters as their districts become more diverse. For instance, the district turns to a mother-daughter team to write Spanish versions of potentially sensitive school memos or letters such as those dealing with sex education.

School districts have discretion about how to treat new languages that show up, said Arizona Department of Education officials.

Some districts rely on employees for translations. Some schools have bilingual nurses fluent in Spanish and English that fit a school's demographics. Isaac Elementary District's Marty Martinez, a nurse at P.T. Coe School, is a good example.

P.T. Coe Principal Armando Chavez, however, has been hearing other languages like Swahili or Arabic recently. Sometimes the principal seeks interpretation help from Valley refugee centers that often help families relocate to America.

Chavez will enlist Language Line Services in February because he notices more children from South Africa are enrolling at the school, where Spanish is the dominate language of many children.

Exactly how many districts use Language Line Services in Arizona is unknown. Health care and government officials are chief clients of the 20-year-old company, which also serves banks, courts, police and schools with 157 languages.

Dale Hansman, with Language Line Services public relations, said it much of the demand for translations is attributed to immigration and a federal law that requires federally funded institutions like schools to provide translations. The cost depends on the number of times a client uses the services.