African Journal of Psychiatry

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The accuracy of interpreting key psychiatric terms by ad hoc interpreters at a South African psychiatric hospital

S Hagan, L Swartz, S Kilian, B Chiliza, P Bisogno, J Joska


Objective: This study examined the competence and accuracy of ad hoc interpreters in interpreting key psychiatric terms at a South African psychiatric hospital.
Method: Nine individuals were asked to translate key psychiatric terms from English to Xhosa. These translations were then back-translated by independent translators, who do not have knowledge of psychiatric terminology. These back-translations were then compared with the original English. Results: It was clear that not all the participants were fully competent in English. None had formal training in interpreting or psychiatric terminology. Not all of the participants were familiar with the psychiatric concepts that clinicians use and they often made mistakes while interpreting. Conclusion: The competency levels of interpreters are unsatisfactory to ensure the optimal delivery of mental health care. It is clear that there is a need for trained interpreters in South Africa, as the continuous use of untrained interpreters compromises the effectiveness of mental health care and could lead to adverse health outcomes.

Keywords: Translation; Cultural Diversity; South Africa; Health Care Quality; Access and Evaluation

African Journal of Psychiatry • November 2013, 16(6)
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