Category Archives: language barriers

“Je suis une étudiante sage-femme” – adding midwifery-related language to my French vocabulary.

Last week I looked after a French-speaking woman who had been admitted into hospital early in her pregnancy. She didn’t speak much English, and her French-speaking partner spoke some English but couldn’t stay with her. I am so glad that when her partner told me she didn’t speak English, that I asked them what language they did speak. I am no longer completely fluent but I still have a high level of conversational French, so I could say – “I speak French. Would you like me to speak in French to you?” to which she said yes and smiled.

We do have mechanisms in place in the NHS for getting interpreters for those in our care who don’t speak English (or who speak a little but need someone to interpret the medical language that goes along with midwifery care). We can either use Language Line – a confidential telephone service whereby the interpreter is on the other end of the phone and it is passed between the health care worker and the person receiving care – or an interpreter can be booked to attend appointments, or to explain procedures for limited amounts of time, or to be present once labour is established. Interpreters through either/both of these channels are completely essential and I have no jumped-up ideas about taking over from them!

But whether on the phone or in the room, these interpreters cannot be here all the time. So when we do our observation rounds to see how the people in our care are doing, or when we respond to one of them pressing a buzzer, if they don’t speak English and we don’t speak their language then in the immediate term it’s harder for us to understand what they are saying and for them to make themselves understood.

And I realised that something I can do, as someone who can already speak French, is to learn the midwifery-related language in French too so that on the occasions where I am caring for a French-speaker who doesn’t speak English, I can make sure that at the times an interpreter is not present, that they can understand what we are saying and that they are understood. It may not come in useful often  – this is only the second time I have looked after a French-speaking woman who didn’t speak English (and the first time was when I was training in the community so we had booked an interpreter for every appointment she had with us) but on the occasions it does come in useful it will be invaluable.

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