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Language Skills and Level of Experience among Arabic-Speaking Healthcare Interpreters in Denmark; an Explorative Study

Background: Denmark has become a multicultural society over the past three decades, with 12.8% of the population being immigrants and their descendants. Many of these risk inequality in access to health and in health outcomes because of language barriers. The quality of healthcare interpreting services has recently been discussed by politicians and the media. The present explorative study investigated the sociodemographic characteristics, level of experience and linguistic skills of Arabic-speaking healthcare interpreters in Denmark. Method: Snowball sampling (including social media) was used to recruit interpreters. Data were collected through individual telephone interviews based on an interview guide containing structured and semi-structured questions. Interpreters’ language skills were assessed subjectively based on the flow of the interview and preferred interview language. Results: Of the 232 professional Arabic-speaking healthcare interpreters interviewed 21% were assessed as having adequate skills in both Danish and Arabic, 40% we assessed as having inadequate skills in both languages. Only 6% of interpreters born in Denmark had adequate language skills in both languages. Conclusion: A large proportion of Arabic-speaking healthcare interpreters appear to have inadequate language skills in Danish or Arabic or both. Interpreters born in Denmark do not appear to have better skills than those born elsewhere. There is an urgent need to screen interpreters to identify those who are unfit for healthcare interpretation. Those eligible should receive additional training, including technical language skills. All interpreters should be required to undergo testing of their linguistic skills to work professionally as healthcare interpreters.


Nada Itani, Mohammed R Khalil, Morten Sodemann

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