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  #1  
Unread September 15th, 2010, 02:01 PM
sk8rgrl23 sk8rgrl23 is offline
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Default Language Fluency

Okay, here's another question; what qualifies as fluency in a given language? I have a minor in Spanish, have worked with migrant farmers where I had to use Spanish to communicate. I've performed assessments and therapy sessions in Spanish on a limited basis. I speak and understand well enough to communicate and if I don't understand something I ask for clarification. I'm a bit out of practice, but my Spanish "ear" comes back rather quickly with practice.

What are some of the ethical and liability concerns here?
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  #2  
Unread September 18th, 2010, 07:53 AM
Da Friendly Puter Tech Da Friendly Puter Tech is offline
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Default Re: Language Fluency

I am bilingual, but few people are aware that English is not my first language. Occassionally, someone notices a slight bur of an accent, but they still assume my first language is English. Sometimes I struggle with certain grammatical issues in written English I seem to not be able to shake out - was / were is a biggie.

When someone tells me they speak my language, I expect to be able to carry on a full conversation with them. If I can't carry on a full conversation then they might classify themselves as "I understand and speak some of your language". When someone says they are fluent in my language I expect they have a really solid understanding of not only the language but also the culture. If someone claims to be fluent in my language I do not expect to be asked to slow down, and I think requests for clarification of words should be a rare thing. In fact, I do not think someone can be "fluent" in a language without having lived in that culture from 1-5 years. I also expect a fluent speaker can read equally well in both languages and are often not quite aware of which language they think in right now.

In contrast - A person who can understand even fast conversations with many people in the room speak the language well. But, if that person goes home after a few days of only speaking and hearing the second language and they are dead tired, have a mother of a headache and are language confused - then they are not fluent speakers.

It took me about 2 years of living in an English speaking country before I reached that level, and I spoke English well when I arrived. 2 years is also the approximate time it took me to develop an instinctive sense of most of the cultural differences.

It took another 5 years before I stopped reverting to my birth language for numbers above 20. We can all struggle sometimes with abbreviations or slang in any language but a fluent speaker should know the basics. (otherwise the waitress might claim that OJ is not at the breakfast restaurant today).

If someone tells me they are bilingual then I expect that they speak and understand both languages equally well. I expect they can translate those languages on the fly, and that they have a truly deep, instinctual knowledge of each culture, their mores, rules, law, government etc.

Speaking a language is so much more than being able to carry on conversations. Along with speaking a language comes a depth of understanding of the different cultures. This cannot be learned in school.

Other really important thing to consider - if a person lives in a country where they need someone to speak something other than the dominant language to really get by then their life is a lot more complicated. One effect of this is to often feel misunderstood and like the outsider. There will definitely be an "us vs them" feeling that goes with this. It will not be overcome with a basic knowledge of their language. The deep expressions will still not be possible.

As far as ethical / legal questions I have no clue.

That is just my opinion of course.... Ever so verbosely expressed.

Da Friendly Puter Tech
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  #3  
Unread September 27th, 2010, 08:39 AM
William Reid William Reid is offline
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Default Re: Language Fluency

Three things come to mind. First, people who teach languages for business and professional use have a competence level system (which I do not know) that is fairly specific. You might be able to find a lot about it on the Web. So far as I know, there's no "rule" that says one must apply it to one's work.

Second, most counseling, mental health evaluations, etc., are so heavily dependent on idiom, nuance, cultural nuances, etc., that working in a language other than one in which one is very familiar with both the words and the person's background seems quite dicey at times. I encounter this in the opposite way: teaching and working with trainees and practitioners from other countries/cultures. Virtually all of them are extremely bright and well-educated (they have to be in order to get into the US and a US-approved training program after completing medical school in a different country/culture), but inaddition to the "science" of medicine and psychiatry, we must expect them to be able to understand the psychosocial aspects of even the most biologically-based care. Some of my trainees have done extremely well for themselves and their patients; others have not.

Third, about translators: There are LOTS of problems with using translators in detailed evaluations and treatment. It's too big a topic to get into here, and I'm not all that experienced with it, but suffice to say that simply knowing the language well is not sufficient for choosing a translator in clinical work. In emergencies, one has to use whatever is at hand, of course, but there are many unfortunate stories about situations using relatives, telephone translation services, even a custodian from another country.
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  #4  
Unread October 9th, 2010, 07:52 AM
sk8rgrl23 sk8rgrl23 is offline
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Default Re: Language Fluency

Two sides of the same coin. Classic ethical dilemma of potential pitfalls no matter what you do.

I've had several instances at the agency where a translator was involved, mostly Spanish speaking, but a couple Russian, one where the wife didn't speak a word of English and her husband translated her Russian. I speak a smattering of Russian as well-no claims to being able to do sessions in Russian, though!-so I could pick up on what she was talking about, but having an interpreter in this day and age does involve potentially unsavory situations. What comes to mind is the sex-slave trade or situations where a partner is completely dominating the client and posing as interpreter to maintain control of a session. I've never been aware of this happening, but somewhere in this country it's conceivable that it could happen.

On the side of not using an interpreter, I think the biggest risks are of perhaps missing a veiled reference to suicide, or someone misunderstanding a recommendation I make. To respond to those risks, I ask clarifying questions, and check with the client for understanding. Also, indicators of suicide are so much more than any particular statement or threat, with any client I am gauging (or is it guaging?gageing?ghagging?ghghgh I think I'm choking....) my client's circumstances and how they seem to be responding to them-hopelessness, realistic plans for the future, strength of relationships...always with the "big picture" in mind. I'm also never afraid to ask directly about suicide.

As for the less concrete issues pertaining culture and language competence, I agree that I'm not as qualified as perhaps an Hispanic counselor, though, in the spirit of the Rosetta stone, you could get into discussions about the same cultural competence here, as there are so many different Hispanic cultures, with different sets of idioms, and going that further, you could take a British counselor and plant him in our humble little Wood county in this little corner of Ohio, and he would speak the language, but probably miss the idioms as well.

Ah, ethics is such a messy thing!
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  #5  
Unread October 9th, 2010, 04:27 PM
William Reid William Reid is offline
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Default Re: Language Fluency

Not sure exactly what you mean, but I think that having a spouse translate in couples' or family therapy is generally very sticky. The nefarious possibilities are probably rare, but very commonly -- and sometimes only semiconsciously -- one spouse would mistranslate, selectively translate, insert or omit nuances, or otherwise shape what the therapist hears.

Gauging is correct. Have confidence in your first impression. :-)

BTW, and off the subject: do readers know that sk8rgrl23 is also an artist and does great pet portraits? Send her a private message and she might tell you more about that.
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  #6  
Unread October 10th, 2010, 10:01 PM
sk8rgrl23 sk8rgrl23 is offline
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Default Re: Language Fluency

That was kind of what I meant about having a spouse translate, in that things can be selectively translated, altered or omitted for whatever reason. But I agree that whole situation makes for some sketchy ethical issues.

chalk up one more reason I'm glad to be done with agency counseling! (hopefully)

And thanks for the plug!

Quote:
Originally Posted by William Reid View Post
Not sure exactly what you mean, but I think that having a spouse translate in couples' or family therapy is generally very sticky. The nefarious possibilities are probably rare, but very commonly -- and sometimes only semiconsciously -- one spouse would mistranslate, selectively translate, insert or omit nuances, or otherwise shape what the therapist hears.

Gauging is correct. Have confidence in your first impression. :-)

BTW, and off the subject: do readers know that sk8rgrl23 is also an artist and does great pet portraits? Send her a private message and she might tell you more about that.
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  #7  
Unread November 15th, 2010, 04:37 PM
kiersten kiersten is offline
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Default Re: Language Fluency

In my opinion, someone is fluent when he or she is capable of using a language easily and accurately.
Regarding education, I consider it a key point that language teachers should always be native speakers of the language they teach.
Professionals or business men who need to process legal documents in other than their native language should ask for professional translation services.

Regards,
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