Found in Translation

by Translation Guy on September 24, 2012

It is, as the Japanese say, 一石二鳥, one stone, two birds (Look closely at those characters…now you can read Japanese!) Regular readers already know that I never met a tired old cliché that I didn’t like, and the idea of killing two birds with one stone is particularly appealing to me, given my twin prime drivers of greed and sloth.

So I was excited when I read about  “Found in Translation,” a Boston-based non-profit that has organized a program  to pitch stones at the glass ceiling that roofs US immigrant employment, and at the language barriers faced by patients of limited English proficiency in the US medical system. Found in Translation was established last year to train homeless and low-income women as medical interpreters so that they can find employment and help patients of limited English proficiency receive better health care.

“Women, minorities, and especially minority women are disproportionately affected by poverty and homelessness, and face many barriers to living-wage employment. But many are multilingual: a potentially marketable skill,” says Found in Translation.

The program is aimed at giving those most in need a breakout option. The poverty rate for immigrants is 50% higher than for native-born Americans, even though more immigrants are working (see Immigrants in the United States). And women’s income is lower than men’s. putting linguistic minority women at a double disadvantage.

But their first-language skills also offer a competitive advantage in the workforce. Medical interpretation is a high-growth profession, and demand is expected to increase rapidly with the growth of immigrant populations. The median annual wage for medical interpreters is $43,300.

The current shortage of qualified medical interpreters results in bad outcomes for patients who don’t speak English well. Many LEP patients may never encounter a professional interpreter in the health system, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if proper medical care wasn’t a matter of life and death!
“Economic disadvantages prevent many multilingual women from entering this lucrative field, trapping them in a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and homelessness and depriving the community of the unique skills they could bring into the workforce,” says Found in Translation.

The solution: A 12-week course on medical interpretation, with day-care and transportation included so that women with limited resources can complete their studies. The training is provided in collaboration with Central Massachusetts Area Health Education Center (AHEC), a program of the UMass Medical School. On graduation, participants earn a medical interpreter certificate and the chance for a good job in a growing field.

It gives motivated multilingual women without much money the chance to break the “broke” cycle by giving them the tools they need to get a medical interpreting job. “We looked for people who had ambition, motivation and who knew their strengths and weaknesses,” says founder Maria Vertkin. People “don’t give credit for people being fluent in a second language, which would take someone 5-8 years to learn,” Vertkin told the Boston Herald. “The good thing about medical interpreting is that there’s a low barrier to entry. All you need is a high-school diploma and a certificate.”

Found in Translation has been at it for less than a year. I’m looking forward to hearing from Vertkin on their placement rate, the number of birds stoned as it were, to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.

Tip ‘o hat to Paul Levy at Not Running a Hospital, my favorite medical blog for the lead.


  1. Yeah, go Umass, my alma mater.

  2. R. B. says:

    Medical interpreters are badly needed and will be more so as time goes by.

  3. Thach Nguyen says:

    How long does this program take? Cost?

  4. Teina says:

    What does this do to health care costs though, as more hospitals take on professional interpreters?

    • Ken says:

      It certainly costs more to provide services. I wonder if is saves money in the long run through improved care?

  5. Great article.

  6. Tom says:

    My question is what is the english proficiency of these women upon completion of the program?

    • Ken says:

      I was contacted by the director of the program via LinkedIn and encouraged her to share her thoughts with readers.

  7. Kemal says:

    Is this program going to reach out beyond the Boston area?

  8. Julie Tedde says:

    Comendable that they are helping not just women but immigrants, kudos.

  9. It’s a shame that in a country built by immigrants, so many may never achieve the American Dream, but at least there are people doing the best they cann out there.

  10. Margaret says:

    Nice to read good news once in a while.

  11. Hilary says:

    I like that these people are helping immigrants help themselves.

  12. Bohous Raab says:

    Bravo, always nice to see things like this, and always nice for people to spread the word, so good for you too.

  13. Ricky says:

    Shocking that people can’t get such a vital service in a place like America.

  14. Otka Busa says:

    Great piece, this non-profit is doing great work.

  15. Joel Pesach says:

    Incredible work these people are doing, thanks for sharing the story.

  16. Mariano says:

    I really appreciated your article. Thank you Again. Cool.

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