Over the language barrier
May 30, 2014
BARAHONA, Dominican Republic - When in a foreign country that speaks a foreign tongue, you have to navigate around the language barrier.
Soldiers assigned to Task Force Larimar for the Beyond the Horizon 2014 mission in Barahona, Dominican Republic did just that.
To overcome the language barrier, bi-lingual U.S. Army cadets from around the world were tasked to be interpreters. Some served on the construction sites, but the majority were assigned to the Medical Readiness Training Exercise to translate for locals receiving medical care. They even started teaching some functional Spanish to MEDRETE members to help the process.
"When we have a translator, they teach me key words so I can communicate," said U.S. Army Capt. Laura J. Jarrell, a Liberty Lake, Wash. native with the 396th Combat Support Hospital Company A, out of Spokane, Wash., "Now I know how to write 'medicine'."
With so many patients receiving care, translators were not always readily available, so the MEDRETE personnel made Spanish cheat sheets of common questions.
"My cheat sheet has questions in English and Spanish and I listen for key words," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Cheylynn M. Currie with the 102nd General Support Battalion, Austin Texas.
Where untranslated words fail, pictures avail. Optometry used an eye chart displaying the symbol E turned in different positions. When U.S. Army Capt. Stephen L. Gartner from Pleasant Hill, Calif., with the 352nd Combat Support Hospital out of Camp Parks in Dublin, Calif., pointed to one of the symbols, the patient would point the direction the symbol was facing according to a separate instruction sheet using arrows to indicate that symbols direction.
The preventive medicine section also used picture cards to communicate with the patients.
"They show patients the cards and ask them what they know," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dana R. Dobbs with the 149th Medical Veterinary Services Detachment out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
"There's a lot to be said by pictures and pointing," said U.S. Army Maj. Veronica S. Fayerweather from Killeen, Texas, with the 3rd Brigade Cadet Command Headquarter out of Fort Knox, Ky.
If you have no pictures, gestures will do.
"We use a lot of hand motions. You can usually figure it out," said U.S. Army Spc. Joseph L. Drunkenmiller from Lancaster, Pa., with the 358th Engineer Company out of New Cumberland, Pa.
If none of this works, soldiers can communicate caring while they wait for an available interpreter.
"Smiles are universal. I don't remember where I heard it before, but it stuck with me and it's the truth," said Dobbs.