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Book Review: Introduction to Healthcare for Chinese-Speaking Interpreters and Translators

Yanqiang Wang
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Crezee, I. H. M., & Ng, E. N. S. (2016). Introduction to healthcare for Chinese-speaking interpreters and translators. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins. ISBN 978-90272-1235-1 (Hb), 978-90272-1236-8 (Pb). EBook: 978-90272-6684-2412pp.
Settings, as the “social context of interaction” (Pöchhacker, 2004. p. 13), not only constitute the social context of professional interpreting, but also place certain constraints on interpreting performance. Interpreters do not work in a vacuum; they work in specific settings, where they need to be equipped with certain background knowledge, playing particular roles, in order to interpret with accuracy by using text-specific discourses. The more context knowledge they have in a certain field, the better they perform in the real world of interpreting and translation.
Introduction to Healthcare for Chinese-Speaking Interpreters and Translators, is based on the popular international publication (Crezee, 2013) is a knowledge-based guidebook and reference for interpreters and translators working in English–Chinese healthcare settings. This is the first book of its kind, with its innovative localization focus and language-specific design, and may greatly benefit the targeted audience, namely, medical interpreters with little experience or knowledge of medicine, and the medical interpreting and translation learners working with the English-and-Chinese language combination.
The authors aim for the book to serve as a brief medical encyclopedia for English-Chinese language professionals working in this field and for learners/trainees as well. It will allow interpreters and translators to familiarize themselves with anatomy, physiology, medical terminology and frequently encountered conditions, diagnostic tests and treatment options, and so forth, providing English and Chinese medical glossaries pertaining to a cross-section of modern medicine. The book also provides explanations relating to body systems and medical procedures commonly encountered in healthcare settings, which makes it more like a subject-oriented course text for interpreting training programs. Interpreters in the medical setting must do more than just familiarize themselves with technical glossaries; must gain an overall understanding of the working processes in the setting.
The book contains 28 chapters, divided into three parts, in line with the learning process of the medical interpreting trainees, to meet the needs of both trainers and trainees. Part I provides a brief introduction to healthcare interpreting, covering issues such as healthcare interpreting systems worldwide; medical interpreting challenges and skills needed to fulfill assignments; the code of ethics for medical interpreters; and the culture-specific nature of medical interpreting. The importance of understanding the culture is highlighted throughout Part I, and especially in Chapter Three. This part concludes with the introduction to the structure of medical terminology in both Western and Chinese medicine.
Part II gives an overview of a range of healthcare settings, providing a general map of primary care, specialty care, inpatient care and emergency care and introducing the professionals who work in these settings. The authors briefly explain the common protocols and procedures of different countries from the US and UK to China. In each section, readers will find a list of questions that interpreters may encounter in various healthcare interactions, which will be extremely valuable to novice interpreters. Part II also describes other areas of the medical system, such as obstetrics, neonatal care, pediatrics, speech therapy, mental health care, and oncology.
Part III introduces readers to healthcare specialty areas. Each chapter provides the following information specific to a particular specialty around the main body systems: Latin and Greek roots, anatomy, physiology, health professionals, common disorders, medications and procedures. Each chapter presents the English–Chinese glossary in the specific area, including regional variations (both traditional Chinese, as used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and simplified Chinese, as used in Mainland China). The authors cover most of the principal specialty areas, including neurology, cardiology, pulmonology, hematology, orthopedics muscular and motor systems, the sensory system, immunology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, urology/nephrology, and the reproductive system. Other information sources and a list of most useful websites are included as annexes to the book for readers to further explore this field.
Introduction to Healthcare for Chinese-Speaking Interpreters and Translators was created by healthcare professionals, practicing interpreters and educators, and is different from general textbooks for interpreting and translation in many ways. First, the book will be a great tool for the medical interpreting educator. The easy-to-understand descriptions of almost all the medical subsystems in plain language and the well-structured format will help learners gain a comprehensive understanding of the healthcare interpreting setting and be better prepared for the real world. The samples and explanations of typical illnesses, diagnoses, tests, medical procedures, treatments and descriptions of common equipment used in hospitals are equally relevant and practical in medical interpreting training. Each of the book’s 41 illustrations (by Jenny Jiang) contains English and Chinese labels to support interpreters preparing for an interpreting assignment or during the assignment itself.
Second, the authors dedicate a section to the cultural aspect of the medical interpreting. As language and culture are intertwined, the cultural differences between East and West—in particular, different attitudes toward health and lifestyle based in different philosophical traditions—can greatly influence communication in healthcare settings. Even immigrants who feel that they have assimilated to their new country in many ways may return to their original cultural attitudes when faced with ill health. The explanations of the differences between Chinese and Western healthcare cultures will be very helpful to the translators and interpreters working in this language combination. In addition, a number of interpreting anecdotes together with practical advice from the authors address ethical dilemmas with interpreters may face. In “Notes for Interpreters and Translators,” the authors draw on their considerable real-world medical interpreting experience to explain, for example how to relay the doctor’s questions to the patient effectively and how to be aware of the various ways in which patients may respond to bad news.
In spite of the complexity of medical systems and the many divergent terms in the medical field, the authors of this book manage to incorporate the most essential knowledge and the commonly used terminology, keeping the book to a practical size. Future editions might cover the names of some frequently used medicines in each area; but given the fact that brand names and drugs of choice vary a lot between countries, this may be impractical. Language professionals working in the medical field must be able to understand medical forms and other documents such as forms for registration, examinations and the patient’s consent, to be able to assist patients effectively; although such documents vary among institutions, it may be helpful to include some samples. Future editions of this book might also include a chapter on dermatology, a specialty in almost all major Chinese hospitals.
Significantly, the book introduces the basics of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and some TCM principles, such as the concept of ying and yang. In light of the important role of the TCM in China and its increasing popularity in countries with English-speaking populations, including more detailed introductions to the holistic health approach of the TCM as well as to commonly adopted therapies, medication procedures and terminologies (such as herbal medicines, and acupuncture), would assure the book’s contemporary relevance.
In an era of mass immigration activities and cross-border medical service provisions, there may be an increase in demand for English-Chinese medical interpreting and translation worldwide. The timely publication of the first English-Chinese medical interpreting textbook will benefit all medical interpreters, novices in particular, increasing their health literacy and enhancing their ability to understand the discourse of the medical setting. As the first English–Chinese medical interpreting training course book, Introduction to Healthcare for Chinese-Speaking Interpreters and Translators will surely promote the importance of modern medical interpreting training in this language combination.


Crezee, I. (2013). Introduction to healthcare for interpreters and translators. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Pöchhacker, F. (2004). Introducing interpreting studies. London, England: Routledge.