Exchanges lost in translation

Comedian Bill Murray, right, in a scene from Comedian Bill Murray, right, in a scene from "Lost in Translation."

It’s hard enough to figure out the intricacies of the emerging state health insurance exchanges without having to surmount a language barrier. Yet, according to a report from the Pacific Northwest, that’s exactly what many immigrants are encountering.

Public radio station KUOW in Seattle decided to check out the immigrant outreach attempts by those creating the marketing materials for the Oregon and Washington state exchanges.

What it found was a hodgepodge of dialects and language styles for the eight language-specific groups targeted by the Washington state exchange. The state used certified translators, it said, to create fact sheets about the exchange in the eight languages.

Nonetheless, “feedback was not great” from the native language speakers who reviewed the content, KUOW reported.

“In the case of the Cambodian translation, the reviewer said it was written in street language and recommended a complete redo. The Chinese language reviewer said just the opposite: that the language was too formal and difficult to understand,” the radio station reported.

Amy Alexander, representing the advisory committee formed to reach out to low-income and immigrant communities, said the committee would go back  to the drawing board and try again.

At least Washington tried to do its own translations.

In Oregon, website crafters simply directed non-English speakers to use Google’s translation tool. Again, results fell short of praise-worthy.

KUOW asked Angele Surault, who directs Translations Services at CETRA Language Solutions near Philadelphia,  to check out Oregon’s solution.

“My reaction is that it doesn’t look professional,” she said.

“To demonstrate the problems, Surault converted questions on the Cover Oregon website into her native French,” KUOW reported. “She says, ‘It reads “how can to cover Oregon it help me?”’”

A spokesperson for Cover Oregon called Google Translate “a temporary solution” and promised that soon “an informational website entirely in Spanish and other Oregon materials in several languages” would appear.

Hopefully, not using the same translators Washington state used.

By the way, for the record, only legal immigrants will be able to shop for coverage on the exchanges, not anyone in the U.S. illegally.

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