When English Is Not Your Primary Language

Whether speaking with a physician, nurse, therapist or technician, patients need to know that they are being understood, and health care practitioners need to know that their messages are being conveyed clearly and accurately. The Froedtert & MCW health network has taken a rigorous approach to assuring patients that from initial consultation through treatment and follow-up care, language does not stand in the way of quality, timely care.

From your first phone call, our staff will assess your language needs and enlist the support if needed.


The moment a patient makes contact with the hospital or clinics, our registration staff assess language needs, so that interpreter services are made available. From then on, an appropriate interpreter resource will be assigned for the patient. We also provide language assistance with scheduling appointments or receiving test results over the phone.

Because health concerns can arise any time of day, our interpreter services are available around the clock through our broad range of resources. The resources we access to provide around-the-clock language services may include onsite interpreters, telephonic and video interpreting programs and local interpreting agencies.


For our patients whose primary language is not English, we offer assistance in a broad range of languages. Our onsite interpreters provide support in Hmong, Russian and Spanish. Through local interpreting agencies, the resources of the nation-wide telephonic interpreting provider and the audio and web camera technology of Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), we can assist patients in many languages. Interpreting support is most frequently requested by patients in the following languages:

  • American Sign Language
  • Arabic
  • Mandarin
  • Hmong
  • Russian
  • Serbian
  • Spanish

Benefits of Utilizing a Professional Medical Interpreter

Professional medical interpreters may serve in various roles with the goal of providing a timely and reliable communication bridge between a patient and a provider. Medical interpreters undergo extensive testing and training to insure competences in bilingual medical terminology, various modes of interpreting and cultural competence. Medical interpreters may serve as:

Conduits of communication. In this most common role, interpreters relay messages from the source language into the patient’s native language.

Cultural brokers. In this less common role, medical interpreters may choose to share pertinent cultural information which can help the provider or the patient find a culturally appropriate resolution to a situation, in which Western views may be different from non-Western traditions. Cultural competence and solid knowledge of the topic are critical for this role.

Our medical interpreters abide by a Code of Ethics and by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which insures confidentiality of private health information.

Medical Interpreting and the Law

Approximately 80 percent of American hospitals encounter limited English proficiency patients frequently and 43 percent encounter these patients daily. Medical interpreting is a highly needed service, and assures seamless and meaningful communication between patients and care providers.

There are also laws which mandate and govern the provision of interpreter services. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents any organization that receives federal funding from discriminating on the basis of a person’s race, color, or national origin. Failure to recognize a patient’s need for a medical interpreter is regarded as violation of this federal law in relation to the national origin.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities including Deaf and hard of hearing. ADA expects hospitals and medical service providers to eliminate anything that discriminates against a Deaf person.