Teen Language Brokers – A Bad Idea

By Stephanie Luengas, Student participant 21GATASHAKE in Jefferson, WI

The chances of a noncertified interpreter misusing medical terminology are exceedingly high. Imagine how high the odds would be for a bilingual eight year old. I began to interpret for my mom early on in my childhood. It never occurred to me how much of an impact it made. It sort of crossed my mind (in one of the sessions of a bilingual youth program I attended). I put so many people at risk – not only because people jumped to take advantage of my bilingual skills, but also my decision to let them. A great example would be interpreting in the emergency room. Although I was a smart kid, I was no expert in medical jargon. There was never a horrendous error in communication, but I was pushing the limit.

This summer, I visited some family down in L.A. Keeping in mind the high percentage of Latinos in this highly populated city, I found I did not once have to interpret for any of my family members. I was increasingly aware of the situation as I consistently prepared to interpret, but came no where near the act of actually interpreting. There was no need. Most people spoke Spanish and one could get around their normal business without an interpreter. This is not the case in Wisconsin– orJefferson. In Wisconsin I accompany my mother everywhere she might need interpreting. You can’t exactly call someone in to interpret while you attempt to pay the rent or mail a package. Possessing this skill is much more valuable in Wisconsin than say a bigger city like Los Angeles where you come across a greater diversity of people. The amazing part is it took me most of my teenage life and a trip to L.A. to recognize the different circumstances bilingual youth face today.