Some time ago, I interpreted a call from an auto insurance company in which the client, an adjuster, wanted to get further details about an accident.
I am used to these types of calls. The adjuster asks questions and the limited English proficient (LEP) person answers, sometimes in a matter of fact manner or sometimes try to convey that he or she is not at fault.
The difficulties occur when the LEP gives vague or convoluted answers. It could be that the LEP lacks communication or verbal skills or his intention is to sway the responsibility away from himself.
The interpreter’s job is to navigate among prepositions and generalizations such as “I was driving normally in my lane and the other car came from the other side, got in my way, moved further and further and then stopped suddenly. I couldn’t avoid it.” It was an ordinary call. I just needed to listen even more carefully and to clarify obscure statements.
Everything was going as expected. The LEP was the driver in an accident that involved ambulances. He had been released recently from the hospital and the adjuster was asking questions about the vehicles involved in the accident.
Then, the adjuster asked “What injuries did you sustain?” The LEP described the contusions, cuts and bruises he suffered and the pain and the treatment received.
The next question was “Where was your brother seated? I understand that he did not survive the crash. I am sorry.”
It took me by surprise. The LEP was silent for a few seconds. He said the names of the passengers and where they were seated. He did not remember how the collision happened. Another silence. I thought of the immense weight that this tragedy could have on this man, the feelings of guilt and blame. I thought about my brothers, my family and friends in my car.
Struggling with the knot in my throat, I was very careful to interpret everything in a more understanding, soft manner, trying to avoid the automatic, robot-like renditions, the detached tone of voice, the “poor-you” approach. The LEP and I were able to successfully complete the conversation with the adjuster.
I want to think that he did not feel judged, pitied or blamed. He heard two voices, the adjuster’s and mine, that acknowledged his pain. Understanding voices that respected his silences, that helped him to begin to heal, somehow, if possible.
I want to think that I made a difference on that call. Certainly, the call made a difference with me.