Medical Interpreting Exam Results

Test 3: Medical Interpreter Skills
Assessment Report

Bilingual Fluency & Conversion Skills: Transitional
Interpreting Skills: Competent
Knowledge of Interpreting: Competent
Ethics of Interpreting : Outstanding

Outstanding 100% – 95%
Competent 94% – 80%
Transitional 79% – 70%
Beginner 69% or Lower

The candidate demonstrated a low competent level of bilingual fluency and conversion skills in English and Spanish. She made a few changes in meaning, multiple omissions, and one addition throughout the role-play scenario. For

-Changes in meaning: She interpreted “chest pain” as “problem” and “artery walls” as “conducts of the arteries”.
-Omissions: She omitted terms and phrases such as “cardiovascular”, “and avoid”, “follow-up”, “patients” and “blood”.
-Additions: She added the term “already”.

The candidate expressed herself without errors of grammar, syntax or pronunciation in English, but made occasional pronunciation errors in Spanish, such as “aneorismos” (aneurismas), “tobaco” (tabaco) and “indefinativamente”
(indefinidamente). She was able to correctly convey the meaning of all of the English idiomatic expressions found in the role-play scenario into Spanish, with the exception of one: “silent killer”.

The candidate consistently maintained transparency with the speakers when intervening for clarification. However, on several occasions she did not maintain the register of the speakers.

We recommend that the candidate review Spanish pronunciation, and that she review English idiomatic expressions with their equivalents in Spanish. Lastly, we recommend that she practice interpreting in the consecutive mode while applying interpreter skills such as maintaining register for continued progress.


Well, that’s my medical interpreting assessment, word for word. I tried to upload the actual document but couldn’t figure it out. Here are the relevant parts of the email from the coordinator at the hospital (my phone wasn’t working for a few days, so she had to tell me via email):

Attached is your assessment test! You did great! congratulations! . . .

We have decided to offer the full time position to another candidate who has a very extensive experience in interpreting at a hospital of the same caliber as [ours]. We all loved you too, but in the end we had to make a decision and it was the difference in the experience what weighted the most. I am so sorry about that. However, the good news is, you can still work with us in a PRN basis! . . . Financially is actually much better for you than the full time position! They pay $30/hour and we send you your assignments every day for the next day or two days in advance when we can. The main difference is that you would be a “contractor” and not an employee, so you don’t have benefits. But you certainly make more money! We would absolutely love to have you!


So, no interpreting job for me . . . not yet, anyway. I had another job lined up, though, fortunately, and I will be starting it next week. I’ll be using my Spanish there, too, but in a very different way. More details to come!

I feel very, very good about the outcome of this interview process. A few days after the medical interpreting exam (which had been preceded by an extensive phone interview), I had another interview with a higher-up and then a long interview in English and Spanish with four of the hospital’s current full-time interpreters. Whew! I actually had a lot of fun talking with them, and it would have been a real joy to work alongside them.

As I wrote last week, I didn’t have hardly any problems with the language component of the interpreting exam. What really did a number on me, though, was the skill of memory. It’s not like you can just give the gist of the sentences you’ve just heard–you’re expected to state them just as you’ve heard them without adding, omitting, or changing anything. No amount of study could have prepared me for that– that skill only comes with extensive practice and experience. Plus, add in nerves, and I definitely struggled to keep it all straight. That’s where the accidental changes and omissions came from.

Other things to take away from their comments are the need to focus on pronunciation and register. Regarding pronunciation, I thought that was a surprising but astute observation. I tend to think of pronunciation and accent as the same thing in regards to my Spanish, but I now see how they are distinct. My accent is exceptionally good–this is far and away the number one comment that native Spanish speakers make to me about my Spanish. I’m not saying that I don’t have an accent, because I do, of course, but my accent is very good. (And very Colombian!) That is, I sound good. My Spanish is also extremely fluid, and I speak very quickly and smoothly without any need to pause and think. It all just kind of runs out, but . . . this can make my pronunciation a little sloppy at times. Very true to form to colloquial Colombian Spanish, I “eat” my s’s and slur all my words together and generally speak without thinking. Which is the idea, naturally, but with certain words that I’ve never really thought about, like “tobacco,” for example, it makes sense to me that I would say something silly like “tobaco” instead of “tabaco.” Or “indefinitivamente” (I definitely would not have said “indefinativamente”!) instead of “indefinidamente.” Oops. Like I said last week, “aneurismo” wasn’t a mispronunciation– I merely guessed. I really don’t remember if I translated silent killer into Spanish (but botched it) or if I entirely forgot to translate it. Asesino silencioso. 

Also, register. Point taken.

I’m grateful for the detailed feedback! It’s good to be evaluated. Remember, the entire exam was 25 minutes, and the role-play was about 20 minutes long. For having such scant experience in medical interpreting, I feel like I more than held my own. I definitely need much more experience in order to strengthen my memory, though. I’m going to take the other job and try to work some weekend hours at the hospital in order to gain both valuable experience and the skills that I’m lacking. I also would like to attend some professional workshops and conferences. It was very encouraging to me that she urged me to work for them on an on-call basis even though they didn’t choose me for the position. Of course, they are not going to ask someone to do so if they do not consider them competent interpreters with the necessary language level. In any case, none of us are perfect. She herself is not a native English speaker, and although she speaks it at an extremely high level, there were several small errors even in the email I shared. We all have so many areas for improvement!

All in all, I feel very good. I completely understand why they chose the other candidate with more experience, and I only feel affirmed, not rejected. It was a very positive experience for me. I’m sharing it with you to hold myself accountable and to let you look over my shoulder to see how I’m using (and trying to use) Spanish in my life. Maybe it will be useful to you or maybe merely interesting. I will be significantly more prepared and fluent the next time!

How about you? Have you pushed yourself to do anything scary in Spanish lately? Have you ever had it formally evaluated? Do you enjoy receiving feedback? Do you expect to reach the level where you could work as a professional interpreter? Of course, readers who are learning English are also welcomed to comment, as always.


20 responses to “Medical Interpreting Exam Results

  1. Very detailed assesment. I understand why you feel good despite the fact that they chose someone else. After all they didn’t just tell you “you suck”, but rather “you’re quite good already, and here’s what you can do to be better ” :)
    Will your next job have to do with medicine or translation/ interpreting?


  2. Exactly!

    I definitely don’t suck. I don’t come even close to sucking, so if they had said that, I would have known that their judgment was very flawed.

    Yes, I am very confident about my Spanish! (and at the same time very humble and aware of my weaknesses) I have worked very hard and come a long way in a short amount of time, so I definitely take a lot of pride in what I’ve achieved. No false modesty from me– it’s not my way ;)

    Yes, it was a very helpful experience, no doubt.

    Nope, nothing to do with medicine, translation, or interpreting. But it’s all in Spanish. You’ll just have to be patient :)


  3. If you ever want to give it another try, get in touch with me. As regards Spanish, I’m a novice, but I teach interpretation in addition to being a full-time conference interpreter. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.


  4. —>”We recommend that the candidate review Spanish pronunciation”.
    ¿Qué? Bah.

    Tengo que felicitarte porque tus resultados fueron estupendos.

    —>”It’s not like you can just give the gist of the sentences you’ve just heard”.
    Te entiendo completamente. Es muy difícil seguir el hilo de la conversación, atender a lo que se está diciendo, memorizar todo, lidiar con los nervios, prestar atención a tu pronunciación, etc. Es muy heavy.



    • Claro. Bueno, tampoco es una excusa. Así es el trabajo! De eso se trata. Y es por eso que ellos ganan muy bien. No es sencillo lo que hacen, y el hecho de que uno sea bilingüe no quiere decir que pueda interpretar bien. Son como malabaristas, siempre con muchas bolas en el aire. Yo las manejo bien en general, pero necesito mejorar hasta que las maneje a la perfección.

      Jaja, yo tampoco estoy de acuerdo con que necesito repasar mi pronunciación. PERO… es verdad que a veces soy un poco descuidada, pues como las s’s, mordisqueo las d’s, a veces hablo muy enredado. Además, hay ciertas palabras muy parecidas a otras en inglés (como tobacco y tabaco), y es probable que yo tienda a pronunciarlas sin pensar como son en inglés más bien. Bueno, hay que aprender a recibir la corrección! Trato de ser humilde y siempre ver cada corrección como una oportunidad de aprender. La próxima vez, los voy a descrestar, ya lo verás :)


  5. I understand that you had to interpret without the possibilty of any note-taking? Were the individual bits long?


    • No, I was able to take notes. I would say that each person probably talked for 15 seconds or so before stopping. It sounds short, but one can pack in so much information in 15 seconds! Plus, add in the fact that I was stressed out and that I just don’t have much practice doing this, and you can see why I struggled with memory.


  6. eres mas valiente que yo. He pasada la vida esperando que nadie se daría cuenta que no hablo bien el ingles tampoco el español. Traduzco todo el tiempo, normalmente me llama la familia cuando algo pasa con el corte, hospital, escuelas, etc. recientemente empecé estudiar la gramática y intento quitarme el spanglish pero me cuesta mucho hacerlo! Felicidades!


    • Ay, pero amiga, tienes que ser más valiente! Tú sí puedes! Sabes, nunca me ha pasado nada mal por atreverme a hacer cosas que me dan nervios. Es más, siempre aprendo muchas cosas, hago muchos amigos y la paso muy bien. Suerte con tus estudios! En lo que te pueda ayudar, aquí estoy a la orden :)


      • olvide preguntar, que significa “register”?


        • Según el diccionario:

          registro–Modo de expresarse que se adopta en función de las circunstancias; Variedad lingüística que se utiliza en función de la situación comunicativa en que se encuentra el hablante.

          Por ejemplo, coloquial/familiar/informal v. formal/técnico.


  7. Good job! Its great to actually get tested on something you have learned on your own. For my Thai, I took the only test I could find, which tested my knowledge of Thai at a 3 semester level. It was pass/fail but still it was nice to actually see how your skills happen in tested environment.

    Congrats on the skills and the opportunity to break into Medical Interpreting!


  8. Agreed – well done! Thanks for sharing the results – seeing how language competency can be evaluated provides some interesting perspectives that we don’t always think about. I love that you chose to feel affirmed – after all, you were also offered the contractor position (a lesson to many who focus way too much on perfectionism…). Such an accomplishment to do so well!


  9. I am taking my BFA for medical interpreting this coming MONDAY!! and any tips or advice on HOW to study would be sooooooo helpful!!!


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