Can an interpreter save a life?

I am very passionate about languages. I wish I spoke more than what I do right now, and hopefully some day I will fulfil my goal of speaking 5 languages fluently. Even though the world is getting flatter and flatter, there will still be a need for people that bridge that language gap.

While at Vegas, a coworker and I were waiting by the elevators for the rest of our party. I saw a Japanese couple walk around the elevators looking very confused. I knew they were Japanese because I have had enough Asian friends that I can recognize the sound of the different languages. I can understand more Japanese than I can actually speak, but it is still very, very minimal. I was able to use numbers and charades to point them to the right floor so they could find their room.

I have worked as an interpreter before and enjoyed every single minute of it. Helping people understand what a doctor is telling them is very rewarding. Every single time I get an opportunity to help I do. I even applied at an agency that offered over the phone 3 way interpreting but I am sure they already had enough Spanish speakers to fill their need. I have never saved anyone’s life but I believe an interpreter could have saved someone’s life.

Robert Dziekanski got on an plane and expected to see his mother when he arrived in Canada. Much like me when I moved to the US he did not know English. I knew enough to order a hot dog in the Miami International Airport and that was about it. Unfortunatly for him he became confused and for hours tried to look for his mother. He went through immigration and actually entered the country, but when he exited the area all he wanted to do was go back in thinking he might have missing him Mom.

Imagine being in a foreign land, not knowing the language and spending hours waiting. Imagine becoming very frustrated when people do not understand what you are trying to say. Imagine then, being scared, frustrated and probably in the middle of a panic attack when a group of police man taser you to the ground eventually taking your life.

I really do not know if tasers are safe or not, nor do I care to discuss it. My issue is that it is very simple to get an interpreter on the line and I am almost certain that the life of this man could have been saved. There are plenty of services that can get a interpreter on the line for almost every major language. Also like my wife pointed out, it would have been easy to figure out what the man spoke if an airport official simply looked at his passport.

I am almost irate after watching the video of this man being taser.(beware, it is not an easy video to watch specially knowing that the man died) While they have not released the official statement that would tell us what he died from, I am pretty sure that if he was not tasered and just calmed down by someone talking to him he would still be alive. While everyone can concentrate on the taser usage, or abuse of authority in this situation, I blame airport staff for not serving this man. I have experienced first hand how people are treated like caddle by immigration officials both in the US and Canada. You are afraid to ask questions because if they question you, you will most likely miss your flight.

The sad part is that if this incident was not recorded on camera we might have never heard about it. In fact the police even took the camera and Paul Pritchard (The man who took the footage) had to fight them in court to actually get the footage back. I really hope that at least the mentality is changed when it comes to the use of force on a person that does not understand you, and that at least at an airport there is access to some kind of interpreter, even if it is just over the phone.

2 Responses to Can an interpreter save a life?

  1. I for one I’m completely ashamed of the actions of the RCMP. And I cannot believe such thing happened in Canada, a country that is known for treating its immigrants well.

    I watched the whole video, and there was NO ONE from the airport staff trying to help this confused man. They just assumed he was some kind of psycho. There was one woman who tried to help, but she did not speak the language.

    I think it is very sad that in the era of the Internet and globalization, we still have to witness this kind of situation. It could have been avoided with a little bit of open mind, and enough common sense to realize the man was just lost in translation.

    I would love to know exactly what the RCMP has to say about this. I cried at the end of the video when the man cries his lungs out after being tasered. I suppose he died after hours of extreme anxiety and then those shocks. I wish the police would’ve shown more compassion.

  2. I won’t be able to watch the video, especially knowing that the man died. I hadn’t heard of this story yet, but it’s absolutely horrible. Sadly, our society is becoming one where we react so quickly instead of trying to actually assess the problem properly. I’m just amazed that no one made the effort to help him.

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