Bad translations cause serious problems in the public sector

Lives and rights at risk, claims study

Interpreters working in the public sector can be so poor they present a real danger to patients at hospitals and also jeopardise the legal rights of immigrants appearing before the legal system.

For a new report by the translators association Translatørforeningen, 64 professionals took a first-ever look at the use of licensed interpreters across the entire public sector.

Doctors, lawyers, nurses, asylum-seekers and municipal employees said that serious mistakes have been made when interpreters were required to translate from Danish – particularly into languages ​​such as Arabic, Turkish and Farsi.

At one hospital, an interpreter said a patient with an ulcer was instead suffering from hepatitis.

In another case, an interpreter being used in a lawsuit was found to be related to one of the parties in the case and was unable to translate basic words like ‘home’.

Training and certification needed
The translators tend to come from a list provided by national police force Rigspolitiet or from an agency.

According to Translatørforeningen, 85-90 percent of the interpreters working in Denmark are not trained properly. Translatørforeningen recommends that a certification system is introduced to ensure they all are.

Mistakes in court have included one made by an interpreter who was so poor that the lawyers ended up acting as interpreters for the interpreter.

Doctors have reported it is commonplace for interpreters to refuse to tell the patients what they were really saying.

READ MORE: Danish companies hiring more and more freelance translators

Asylum-seekers said that interpreters have told them to go back home and not seek asylum in Denmark, while other have been refused asylum because of mistakes made by the interpreter.

Translatørforeningen estimates that about 7,000 people work as interpreters at an annual cost of at least 300 million kroner to the public sector.