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PP12 understands the importance of proper translation

19 July 2012

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Regan, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

Dozens of Vietnamese translators, who come from a slew of different locations, are taking part in all aspects of the Pacific Partnership mission while in Vietnam.

VINH, Vietnam (July 19, 2012) - Dozens of Vietnamese translators, who come from a slew of different locations, are taking part in all aspects of the Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12) mission while in Vietnam.

Vietnamese is a rich language with numerous different dialects and accents, which makes for a complex environment for the personnel of 12 partner nations who arrived to Vinh, Vietnam, July 10, for the third mission port of PP12.

Some of the translators are U.S. born and grew up speaking the language with their family, while others are Vietnamese natives.

Namphuong Donavon, a University of San Diego pre-med student and volunteer translator for the PP12 mission, spoke of the many challenges that present themselves when trying to accurately translate each case.

"A lot of the words I don't know or don't use on a daily basis, also the accent is different so I have to ask them to repeat themselves quite often," she said. "They often don't understand me, because I believe the way I speak it is more Americanized."

Vietnam has proven to be different than the past mission ports when it comes to the language barrier.

According to Lt. Cmdr. Curtis Gaball, a PP12 surgeon, "It's been different at each mission port. While in Indonesia and Philippines there was enough similarities between the languages, body language and medical terms that we were able to get by with less involvement with the translators, particularly with the doctor."

"Here in Vietnam it's a different story, there is really no cross over with the language, the body language is different and they're not using the same medical terminology, so here in Vietnam we have been relying much more heavily on the translators."

All those involved overcame the issue by using determination and thinking laterally.

When referring the challenges with translating Donavon said, "When I can't come up with the exact word, then I work with the patient to describe it as much as possible."

A team effort and cooperation between the doctors, American born translators and the Vietnamese born translators proved to be an effective solution to get the best results for the mission.

"Also, the help from the translators who are from the area was a huge help, their English is not perfect, but they know all of the vocabulary words we need to help the patients," said Donavon.

In the final analysis, Lt. Cmdr. Gaball said patient care and safety was the underlying factor in pursing effective translations.

"In the Directorate of Surgery we are very careful to provide safe surgery so we comb over the most important details to make sure there is not a communication error to avoid a serious complication," said Gaball. "The safety checks, the different skill levels of the translators and our ability to do a careful physical exam and appropriate work up that allows us to perform safe surgery out here."

Now in its seventh year, Pacific Partnership is an annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance mission that brings together U.S. military personnel, host and partner nations, non-government organizations and international agencies to build stronger relationships and develop disaster response capabilities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information about the PP12 mission, please visit the Pacific Partnership Blog or engage with Pacific Partnership on Facebook and Twitter.

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