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Agencies to develop interpreters

In an attempt to meet a growing need for interpreters, public agencies in Fargo and Moorhead want to recruit and train more foreign language speakers to do the work.

In an attempt to meet a growing need for interpreters, public agencies in Fargo and Moorhead want to recruit and train more foreign language speakers to do the work.

Area city governments, county governments and school districts will fund a part-time coordinator to oversee the project. That person's primary responsibilities will be to maintain an updated list of interpreters and train them.

The goal is to provide agencies with better access to skilled interpreters, especially after regular working hours, said Kathy Hogan, director of Cass County Social Service.

Cass County will contribute $10,000 toward the position. The total cost to establish the program and hire someone is $45,000.

"We have a good pool of people to work with," she said. "But it's hard for all of us to meet our basic interpreting needs."

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Every agency now maintains its own list of interpreters. There is no centralized training.

Under the new model, every public agency from sheriff's departments to garbage collectors would have access to a list of potential interpreters. This would be particularly helpful for agencies that have smaller interpreter needs, Hogan said.

Each agency would be responsible for contacting and hiring the interpreter.

The program is modeled after one that already serves the Fargo-Moorhead medical community. Those interpreters are trained to understand and translate complex medical terms.

Over time, public agency interpreters would be trained in various disciplines, such as education, law enforcement or social services.

They also would be trained in interpreting skills, such as confidentiality and translating without inserting one's own opinion, said Verlene Dvoracek, English as a Second Language coordinator for the Fargo School District, which has signed on to the project.

"Interpreters need to be very skilled," she said. "Speaking two languages fluently is just the minimum requirement."

Cultural Diversity Resources in Fargo used to train interpreters, but stopped when the medical community established its own program, said Yoke-Sim Gunaratne, executive director. About 80 percent of the agency's interpreting requests were for medical appointments, she said.

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"For convenience and expediency, I can see why agencies want to do it themselves," she said.

Having interpreters trained in specific areas appeals to Louise Dardis, assistant superintendent of West Fargo Schools, which will contribute $2,000 toward the program.

In the past, the district hired interpreters through one of a handful of agencies in the community, she said. But the interpreters didn't always have a thorough understanding of education issues.

"For example, special education is often a new concept to refugees or immigrants," she said. "We need someone who can do a good job of bridging (the parents' and students') experience with ours."

Clay County will consider the proposal in the next couple of weeks, said Vijay Sethi, county administrator.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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