Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Google Agrees to Change Arabic Translation of "Gay"

According to PinkNews, Google’s machine translation system translated the English word “gay” into a derogatory Arabic word meaning something like “sodomite.” Several Arab webmasters and bloggers now escalated this and Google agreed to improve the translation. Google’s Middle East/ North Africa business manager Sherif Iskander said “Several examples like this have come to my attention ... Issues like that should not stay in the system.”

The article explains that most of these problems stem not from Google’s translation core – which compares works available in different languages – but from parts of the program where a word is missing, so that man-made online dictionaries have to be queried.

There’s an interesting question in here: does Google have editorial responsibility for their translations? They don’t claim such responsibility for web results. By emphasizing that the current change was outside of the automated translation core, Google avoided to face the question now. But as translation systems improve to higher quality levels, we might see more such issues erupt.

Language Barriers Impact Health Care

By Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
02 August 2006

Many immigrants to the United States may be getting inadequate medical care because of language barriers between patients and medical professionals. In response, some health facilities are working to add more multilingual staff and reduce errors based on miscommunication.

More than 22 million people who live in the United States don't speak or understand English very well. And that can be deadly. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Glenn Flores highlights some cases where language barriers prevented patients from communicating with health care providers -- with serious consequences.

Flores recalls one incident in which English-speaking paramedics thought a Spanish-speaking man was suffering from a drug overdose. "He was in the hospital basically for two days being worked up for drug abuse," Flores says. "They finally did a head C-T scan and realized he had had a major bleed into his brain, probably originating from the rupture of an artery in his brain. He ended up being quadriplegic and he got a $71 million settlement award from the hospital."

Flores, a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin says that despite examples like that, the majority of U.S. health care facilities still do not have trained interpreters on site. But he acknowledges that increasing numbers of health care workers are bilingual, and that more clinics and hospitals do make sure their staff and patients understand each other.

The Sixteenth Street Community Health Center is in a largely Hispanic neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Some 40%, or about 7000 of the patients who were seen there last year spoke little or no English. Fortunately for them, of the 30 doctors and nurses at the clinic, 28 also speak Spanish.

Dr. Enriquez examines a patient at the Sixteenth Street ClinicOne of them is Guatemalan-born pediatrician Francisco Enriquez. He says being able to speak to his patients in their native language means he can discuss their condition - and treatment - in much greater depth. "It's always good to ask a few extra questions," he explains, "such as why this is important for you and what have you heard and what do other people say about this? Sometimes that helps you understand what their real concerns are. But it's difficult to get into that detail if you don't speak the language."

The Sixteenth Street Clinic is expanding. So its directors are in the process of hiring more staff who are bilingual, or who commit to learning Spanish. Clinic vice-president, Dr. Julie Schuller, says new hires are told that by speaking to patients in their own language, they can provide the highest quality care. "By providing high quality care, we are avoiding errors, we are avoiding malpractice suits," she says. "The main focus for us is the high quality. What [follows] from that [i.e. avoiding errors] is important too, but we're focused on providing the best quality we can provide."

Dr. Schuller at workSchuller says it's frustrating to go into medical facilities and see patients who are not being understood. So she urges other hospitals and clinics to look into adding interpreters to their staff, or at least to make use of translator hotlines that can be called day or night.

But Dana Richardson of the Wisconsin Hospital Association says many facilities are worried about the additional cost. "What we have seen in the state of Wisconsin overall is an increasing number of minority-ethnic groups coming in, and so it's becoming a greater cost for the health community to provide these services." Richardson says translator hotlines can cost at least $50 per hour. She says while hospitals recognize the value of having a multi-lingual flexibility, most simply cannot afford it.

The author of the language barrier study, Glenn Flores, suggests that U.S. medical schools could require their students to take medical Spanish, Chinese or other appropriate language. But for now, the number of immigrants is outpacing the health care industry's ability to provide adequate care in a language they can understand.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Interpreter is voice of justice

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/30/06
The accused stood before the judge, holding his forms to his chest, eyes shifting nervously. He had been charged with speeding and driving a car with an expired tag. His family waited patiently, talking in the back of the Municipal Court of Norcross.

It was one of those nights Judge Kenneth E. Wickham said made the town look almost crime-free. The benches were nearly empty.

Wickham folded his hands and looked at the man calmly.

"Buenas noches," Wickham said, speaking what Spanish he knew. "Do you speak English?"

The man shook his head. "No," he said quickly.

Mariana Carlisle dashed to his side, touched him on the shoulder and introduced herself. For a moment, her perfect Spanish washed the anxiety from his face.

Word for word, she repeated to the man everything the judge had said during the three-minute exchange: If the man pleaded guilty, the tag charge would be dropped; he had to pay his speeding fine within 10 days; and he should "please, slow down next time."

Carlisle sighed and sat down. So far that night, she had guided more than a dozen Hispanics through the legal process. She was already tired, she said, because it takes every bit of energy to translate without changing a single meaning.

From 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Wednesday, Carlisle, 47, gives voice to about 100 non-English speakers as the sole interpreter for the traffic court. She also interprets for other courts, hospitals and other legal proceedings, which make up a full work week.

"It's psychologically exhausting," Carlisle said, "but I love it."

Even though judges said Carlisle's work is in high demand, Carlisle said court interpreters aren't fully appreciated yet in the court system. "Many people in court are still learning how important our role is," Carlisle said.

'I work like a doctor'

A petite woman with sleek glasses, short dark hair neatly kept and a put-together wardrobe of brilliant colors, Carlisle is an immigrant from Brasov, Romania, near Dracula's castle.

She jokingly calls herself "a small, little vampire on call," a loving reference to her Transylvanian roots and the demand for her work.

"I work like a doctor — they call me when they need me," Carlisle said.

Carlisle has been a court interpreter since she came to the United States in 1996.

When she was a child, the Romanian school system required her to learn three languages, Carlisle said. Linguistics became her passion, and she studied at the University of Bucharest. Seven languages now roll off her tongue with ease: Romanian, Hungarian, Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic and English .

Visiting her sister, Carmen, in Georgia 10 years ago, Carlisle had no intention of staying long — until she met a Snellville attorney named Robert Carlisle. Two weeks later, they married, and soon Mariana Carlisle became a U.S. resident.

Carlisle quickly learned about the court system through her husband. They worked as a team, with Mariana acting as an interpreter for Robert's clients.

Robert Carlisle died about six years after their marriage. But Mariana Carlisle kept on interpreting.

Relaying information between people who otherwise can't communicate requires more than knowing the languages, Carlisle said. Cultural training, sensitivity and an understanding of the law are also essential.

Georgia interpreters are certified and overseen by the Georgia Commission on Interpreters. The commission approves them to serve in the state courts.

Judges call up interpreters they know or trust from the pool of 57 certified interpreters and 319 registered interpreters, said Marva Lamb, administrative assistant for the Georgia Commission on Interpreters.

Trials without errors

Carlisle said an interpreter can't pretend to know everything. The vocabulary of seven languages mingling inside her head can make switching languages in mid-thought more difficult, she said.

"It's frustrating when you're in the middle of a trial and can't think of a word," Carlisle said. "We are required to carry a dictionary, just in case."

Because she has the gift of language, Carlisle said she isn't familiar with the frustration of not being able to speak for herself.

"I try sometimes to put myself in their situation," Carlisle said. "I can't imagine how scary that would be."

Carlisle does some work in murder trials and for other serious crimes. Most of the time, though, she interprets for minor infractions in the smaller courts.

Having grown up under the old Communist regime in Romania, with stiff punishments for disobedience, Carlisle said she is an adamant follower of the law.

"We grew up in fear of what the government would do to us if we did something wrong," Carlisle said.

But although she said she follows her own straight line, she has to stay neutral in the lives of her clients.

"You're not there to be their friend," Carlisle said. "I have to focus on what I'm supposed to say so that they understand what's going on. It isn't healthy to get involved."

Plenty of work

Judge Phyllis Miller, who oversees the Gwinnett Juvenile Court, said interpreters are essential in Gwinnett County.

"I have been here a little over a year and I can't count a day when we have not needed an interpreter," Miller said.

Gwinnett County hires most of its interpreters on a case-by-case basis. Some, like Carlisle, have enough work to be busy five days per week, while others work a case every few weeks.

Despite the high demand, Chief Magistrate Warren Davis said there are enough interpreters to go around for now. The bigger problem, he said, is scheduling.

"It's important to know our calendars," Davis said. "Sometimes we need to use an interpreter right away and get to our other cases later."

The languages most in demand are Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese, said Brenda Avera, director of court services .

Many people who need Carlisle's services are illegal residents who have no knowledge of the law, Carlisle said.

Carlisle herself is a legal immigrant who applied for citizenship about a year ago and still is waiting. "I haven't stayed one day illegally," Carlisle said. "If I can do it, I believe that everyone can."

She said she strives to be productive in the United States, and hopes the same for her son, Amis, 24, an aspiring lawyer.

No matter how many hours she spends in the courtroom, Carlisle said, there is always more to know about the people in it.

"Sometimes I think, 'God, I've seen it all,' " she said. "But I haven't. Every day is a learning experience."

Study Finds Disparities in Judges’ Asylum Rulings

WASHINGTON, July 30 — An examination of thousands of immigration cases has found wide disparities in the rate at which judges grant asylum to people seeking haven in the United States, according to a study released Sunday by a private research group.

One judge in Miami denied 96.7 percent of the asylum cases before him in which the petitioner had a lawyer. It was the highest denial rate in the nation between the beginning of the fiscal year 2000 and the first few months of fiscal year 2005 , the study found. In contrast, a New York judge granted asylum in all but 9.8 percent of such cases.

Ten percent of the nation’s immigration judges denied asylum cases in 86 percent or more of their decisions, while another 10 percent of judges denied asylum cases in 34 percent of their rulings during that same time period, the study found.

The report, which examined 297,240 immigration cases from fiscal year 1994 through the first few months of fiscal year 2005, was done by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group connected to Syracuse University. The data was collected from the Justice Department, which oversees the nation’s immigration courts.

Because of factors that included changes in immigration law, the clearinghouse divided the asylum cases into two groups, those decided from 1994 to 1999, and those decided from 2000 to 2005.

The study found wide variations in how different nationalities were treated. It reported that more than 80 percent of asylum seekers from Haiti and El Salvador were denied asylum for the period beginning in 2000, while fewer than 30 percent of asylum seekers from Afghanistan or Myanmar, formerly Burma, were denied.

David Burnham, co-director of the research group, said the findings seemed to call into question the government’s “commitment to providing a uniform application of the nation’s immigration laws in all cases.’’

Mr. Burnham said a copy of the report had been provided to the Justice Department. A spokesman for the Justice Department did not return calls for comment on Sunday.

The study echoes a report released last year by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an agency created by Congress in 1998. The commission study, which examined the processing of asylum cases from 2000 through 2004, found that more than 80 percent of Cubans were given a permanent right to stay in the United States, along with more than 60 percent of Iraqis. By contrast, just more than 10 percent of those from Haiti and fewer than 5 percent from El Salvador were granted asylum.

That study also found that only 2 percent of asylum seekers without a lawyer were granted asylum, compared with 25 percent of those who had a lawyer.

The study by Mr. Burnham’s group found that 7 percent of asylum seekers lacking legal representation won asylum, compared with 36 percent of those with lawyers.

The handling of asylum cases has become a delicate issue recently as federal appeals judges have assailed what they have described as a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions from immigration judges in asylum cases, which make up the bulk of immigration appeals.

In September, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia said it had been repeatedly forced to rebuke immigration judges for “intemperate and humiliating remarks.” Citing cases from around the country, the court described “a disturbing pattern” of misconduct in immigration rulings that sent people back to countries where they had said they would face persecution.

In November, Richard A. Posner, a prominent and relatively conservative federal appeals court judge in Chicago, concluded that the handling of asylum cases by immigration judges had “fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice.”

Concerned about what he described as “intemperate or even abusive” conduct by some immigration judges, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales called for a comprehensive review of the immigration court system in January.