Jan 17, 2022

Using Bilingual Employees vs Professional Interpreters

4 min read
Using Professional Translators vs Multilingual Employees

Our blog offers advice to people in the workers’ compensation industry, from solving accessibility issues to building better client relationships. Through all of it, there’s a recurring theme: making sure you can communicate with the growing number of LEP clients (those with limited English proficiency).
Translating documents and interpreting speech play a critical role in attracting LEP businesses owners and helping injured LEP workers.
But if you have considered using translation and interpretation to your advantage, there’s a high chance you also considered using a bilingual employee’s talents instead of hiring a professional.
We don’t blame you for thinking about it—it looks like an opportunity to save money.
Unfortunately, using a bilingual employee poses several problems that a professional interpreter protects against. Interpreters would be out of a job if it were that easy.
And though interpreters receive little praise, being a good interpreter means going unnoticed. When attention is brought to a translation, it’s because a mistake was made, and a bilingual employee is much more likely to draw attention.

It’s Not Enough to Speak the Language

Speaking two languages doesn’t always mean being able to render messages between the two or having the mental agility to alternate between the two instantly.
Professional interpreters are practiced enough to convey exact meanings, even when exact translations don’t exist. This exactness is vital, especially when handling legal and medical information.
Meanwhile, bilingual individuals are typically stronger in one language than the other, and if they were raised with the language, they might not be able to speak both slang and formal versions.

Time Is of the Essence

Professionals train extensively to interpret fast enough to keep up with the speed of a regular or urgent conversation. This requires hearing the speaker and instantly selecting the perfect words to convey their message.
An unpracticed employee will take longer to process and interpret what is said. This is doubly so for translating documents that require understanding grammar requirements across languages.
Time is valuable for turnaround and in-person discussions, and you pay your employees for their time. Time translating is also time taken from their actual job, and studies show that it takes 23 minutes on average to return to work after a distraction. So, depending on how often you need them, the time they are distracted increases.
Ultimately, you probably don’t save as much as you expect.

Subject Expertise Matters

Your employees may understand your business because they work for you; they don’t necessarily understand the intricacies of every niche.
Most of the time, professional interpreters become subject matter experts that specialize in one subject. You don’t see medical translators taking on legal work and vice versa because the level of specialization required for one subject is enough for a lifetime career. This is further proof that speaking a language isn’t enough to provide accurate translations in a field.
Ask yourself if you can trust your employee to know all modern practices and terminology. If a claim requires translating the nitty-gritty details of legal and medical information, can they do both perfectly?

Language ≠ Cultural Understanding

A large part of an interpreter’s schooling is learning about and keeping up with the cultures they represent. Speaking a language doesn’t guarantee cultural understanding, and a bilingual employee who speaks another language may not know the culture well enough to interpret it.
Imagine a person born and raised in the US whose parents spoke their native language at home. This person may lack knowledge of traditional cultural beliefs and practices or ever-changing pop culture.
Mutual understanding, and therefore translation, is difficult to achieve without cultural knowledge. An employee might not realize the cultural connotations of a word are different, even when exactly translated. They may not recognize that a gesture is offensive in another culture or may be unable to discuss political, social or geographical topics.
Hiring a professional is the best way to guarantee accuracy in communication and intention when representing your business and getting the information you need from a client.

Interpreters Follow Particular Protocols

Interpreters are trained to interpret in a non-disruptive way that allows a conversation to flow naturally. It helps LEP individuals feel comfortable and ensures that information isn’t lost in the process.
In particular, interpreters always speak in the first person and never interrupt.
Speaking in the first person helps keep the conversation natural and allows the interpreter to embody the speaker. It also clarifies that nothing they say is their thoughts or opinion—only the speaker’s.
A professional interpreter will also wait for the speaker to pause or finish before translating. Sometimes this means memorizing multiple sentences at a time, and it requires a trained sense for conversational flow.
An employee without practice following these protocols may interrupt a speaker, whether to ask for clarification or because they can’t remember so much at once. As a result, the speaker may forget parts of what they were saying. Even worse, holding side conversations that a client can’t understand often results in discomfort and distrust.

Employees Create Privacy Concerns

Privacy is a big deal, particularly in workers’ comp.
When it comes to medical documentation and discussion, laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guarantee a patient’s privacy. HIPAA doesn’t permit unauthorized sharing of medical records.
Bringing in bilingual employees to interpret or translate private information can result in a HIPAA violation. Even employees who know about the act may accidentally leak information because they don’t have the same experience, processes and technologies that trained interpreters have.
It’s another reason professional interpreters matter and why it’s important to ensure your interpreters are compliant.

HR Could Face Legal Action

Companies that use professional interpreters prevent potential translation mistakes, privacy leaks and HR mispractice.
Human resource professionals are familiar with the Equal Pay Act: an act that prevents pay discrimination between sexes. While “different responsibilities” can justify pay differences, past cases have set a precedent that “more” responsibilities don’t always equate to “different” responsibilities under the act.
Therefore, if other employees share the chosen employee’s job description or you have a translator that the employee substitutes for on occasion, pay differences among these employees can cause trouble under the Equal Pay Act.

You hired your employees for a specific job because they’re great at it. So, let them stick to what they’re great at. Chances are, interpretation isn’t a part of their skillset.
Interpretation is a career for a reason, and hiring professional services for your communication needs will ensure accuracy, efficiency and compliance. If you’re willing to take your business to the next level by offering accessible services with better results, a trained interpreter is a must.