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5 Questions for a Cantonese-Speaking Medical Interpreter

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We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Elsie—a LaGuardia Community College/CUNY student who holds a BA in Art Education. With aspirations to become a registered nurse, she is also learning Mandarin & Japanese.

1. In addition to your studies, you work as a certified medical interpreter. Could you share with us a little about what this work entails on a daily basis?

I work as an on-demand video/audio interpreter. 95% of the time I work with providers from hospitals, clinics, rehab or nursing facilities. I also assist therapists on evaluations of patients or students.

For in-person (on-site) interpreting sessions, interpreters would know ahead of time what the assignments are about, so there would be time to prepare—such as doing a refresh on terminologies for a specific topic or disease. In contrast, there is no advanced background information given for video/audio interpreting. There are times when the interpreter may join in the middle of a meeting, due to various reasons, lacking the full context of the situation. Depending on the scheduled work hours, there can be a high number of ER or 911 sessions, which could be challenging for beginners, since the LEP (limited English proficient person) may not be able to communicate clearly, even in their mother language.

2. What would you like other students to know about learning languages at community colleges? What have you most enjoyed?

To me, language learning is a lifelong hobby. I find it super helpful when I focus my attention on one language only for a period (a semester is a good amount of time). And when I say focusing my attention, I mean full focus. I would submerge myself in the language as much as I could by avoiding books, music or shows in other languages than the one I’m working on, to the point that I would dream in the language!

A strategy that works well for me, learning both Japanese and Mandarin, is to repeat some sitcoms or drama series, to a point that I could anticipate the conversations. Do try to apply the vocabularies or phrases learned from the shows in your daily conversations and know that making mistakes is a part of the process. Like all other acquired skills, practice makes progress, if not perfect.

3. You completed the NYS Court Interpreter Internship Program through LaGuardia Community College/CUNY. What did this involve?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to do the NYS Court Interpreter Internship Program through my college. I did the 20-hour internship over 5 weeks.

In the first meeting (an orientation at the Office of Court Administration), we learned about a brief history of court interpreting; must-know information, such as ethics, requirements and challenges; and information on the Per Diem Court Interpreter Exam for placement on the court system’s Per Diem Court Interpreter Registry.

After that, students are assigned to different courts each week to shadow working court interpreters. The interpreters were very welcoming and generously shared their knowledge with us. I would recommend the internship to anyone who is serious about interpreting as a career; it is truly a valuable experience.

4. What’s next on your language journey?

When I participated in the NYS Court Interpreter Internship Program, I was taking my last non-clinical course and had no idea if I would be accepted by the RN (registered nursing) program or not. My next language journey was set to be learning legal interpreting. Fortunately, I just learned that I’ve been accepted to the RN program at my college, and I will start the clinical phrase in fall of 2024.

To me, medical interpreting and legal interpreting are like different languages: It doesn't take too much time to know the basics, but would take a lot of dedication and practice to be able to master.

5. What does learning another language mean to you? What would you say to someone who’s considering learning a new language?

Learning another language means empowering yourself with one of the most powerful tools that could be used as keys to open doors to foreign countries, cultures, and even one's own mind.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to give language learning a try, it is not reserved for “the youth.” Even though we may not be able to pick up a new language as effortlessly as we get older, we have everything to gain from challenging our brains in this way!

Similar to art-making, language learning can be both a therapeutic and inspiring experience. Learning a language is like giving myself a life-time gym membership for my mind: It contributes to the health of my brain and so much more. It even pays the bills. 😊


Have you got a favorite Cantonese word or expression? What is it, what does it mean, and why did you choose it?

I would like to share an idiom with the reader that I’d translate into: “Making a needle from grinding an iron rod.”

It means that anything is possible with unwavering determination. I chose this expression because my grandmother used to say this to me since I was a little girl, and I finally have enough life experience to know that she was absolutely right.

Check out our Connect with Chinese and Japanese pages—or select a language of your own—to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.