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Bringing down language barriers to medical care

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Bringing down language barriers to medical care
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Language barriers create a number of issues for refugees who settle in CNY. One of the most serious can be when they take a trip to the doctor's office. Our Sarah Blazonis tells us about a class aimed at giving non-English speakers a voice.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Adam Bastola remembers his first experience in a U.S. classroom all too well. He was the lone Nepali speaker at his high school.

"I was in the class, and I was thinking I was an alien to a different planet," said Bastola. "I was just lost. I couldn't even understand anything. The way they speak was too fast, I couldn't even capture a single word."

Bastola is one of sixteen students training to become medical interpreters through a class offered by the Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters, or MAMI, and Onondaga Community College.

With more than 30,000 immigrants and refugees in Onondaga County alone, MAMI officials say their interpreters provide a vital community service.

"Maybe about half of them are limited English proficient, so they don't speak English well enough to use it when they visit the doctor or they go to court," said MAMI Executive Director Cornelia Brown.

These students come from the Syracuse and Utica areas and speak a dozen different languages, but instructors say there's a difference between understanding a language and knowing how to interpret.

"It's important to be able to not get emotional, for example. If a daughter hears that her mother has cancer, she won't be able to interpret everything the doctor is saying," said instructor Anthony Stronach.

MAMI has offered interpreting instruction for 15 years, but at 135 hours, this program is its longest yet. Officials say research has shown training of at least 100 hours is key.

"They're ten times more accurate with those medical communications that must be exact if the diagnosis and the treatment plan are going to be effective," said Brown.

And students like Adam Bastola know how crucial that link between their old and new homes can be.

MAMI officials say a new national certification process will help ensure hospitals and health care providers are put in touch with the most qualified interpreters. Their interpreters will begin the process within the next month.

For more information on MAMI, visit mamiinterpreters.org text

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