Designing curriculum for healthcare interpreting education: A principles approach

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

22 Citations (Scopus)


IN A CLASSIC in work in pedagogy, Brown states that "by perceiving and internalizing connections between practice (choices made in the classroom) and theory (principles derived from research) teaching is likely to be enlightened" (emphasis in the original) (2001, 54). This statement can certainly be applied to the teaching of healthcare interpreting. Healthcare interpreting (sometimes also referred to as medical interpreting or included in the term community interpreting) has been the focus of various studies that have shed light on the complexities and challenges of this specific setting (Angelelli 2001, 2003, and 2004a; Bolden 2000, Cambridge 1999; Davidson 1998, 2000, and 2001; Metzger 1999; Prince 1986; Wadensjö 1995 and 1998). Interestingly, the research produced in this field is not reflected either in current programs that aim to train healthcare interpreters nor in professional associations intimately connected with them (e.g., Mount San Antonio College and The California Healthcare Interpreting Association, or Bridging the Gap and the Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association).1 This lack of connection leads us to assume an unfortunate divorce between research and practice that exists not only at the level of the individual, but also at the level of the organization. The disconnect between research and practice to which Brown alerted us not only occurs in the teaching of healthcare interpreting, but also in programs that provide interpreter education in general. With a few exceptions, such as the University of North Texas Health Interpreting and Health Applied Linguistics master program, the curriculum of institutions granting master's degrees in interpreting in the United States mostly reflects the teaching of practice (Angelelli 2002).2 Acquisition and learning of interpreting competence are narrowly defined. Coursework gives students endless opportunities to practice basic skills such as note-taking or split attention without necessarily diving into the specifics of each of the interpreting settings in which they may perform. Most of the programs are based on models of conference interpreting and, in many cases, education is equated to the training of basic skills, representing a cognitive approach to interpreting. This may be explained by how interpreting entered academia in the first place. I have argued elsewhere (2004b) how the education of interpreters entered academia to satisfy a pragmatic need rather than to constitute a field of inquiry in its own right. In the early days (immediately after World War II), the education of interpreters was prompted by the need to ensure communication between speakers sharing similar socioeco-nomic status (i.e., heads of state, delegates of international organizations, or members of business communities). In the 1950s, the first university programs responded to the need for conference interpreting. Curricular decisions made at that time focused on the skills needed to perform a task rather than on the linkage between theory, research, and practice as applied to the communicative needs of speech communities who do not share the societal language. Because the training for conference interpreters represented the only academic training, many programs focusing on medical or community interpreting turned to these models for answers on how to design their curriculum. Since interpreting entered academia to meet a pragmatic need, rather than to become an object of study, research questions about practice, specifically in community and then medical settings, and the practitioners, which are essential to understand the underlying complexities of the interpreted communicative event (Angelelli 2000; Metzger 1999; Roy 2000; Wadensjö 1998), were deferred to the market need of practitioners. Logistical questions directed to conducting training took priority over questions that were designed to understand what a well-rounded education of interpreters may look like and how it would account for the differences in settings where interpreters work. For example, based on educators' personal experience and opinions, rather than on research, many programs that teach healthcare interpreting are reduced to teaching terminology related to the field. While it would be pointless to argue that this is not relevant, it is not sufficient and should definitely not drive the curriculum. A strong focus on terminology is like giving a student a fish instead of teaching him or her how to fish. Terminology and glossaries derive from ways of speaking in a contextualized setting. They need to be studied in this way and should not constitute the centerpiece of any curriculum. In the next section, I explore concepts on which a curriculum could be based. These concepts or components could be the general goals of a healthcare interpreting curriculum.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Approaches to Interpreter Education
EditorsCynthia B. Roy
PublisherGallaudet University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781563683800
ISBN (Print)9781563682971
Publication statusPublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Designing curriculum for healthcare interpreting education: A principles approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this