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NM: Online language courses aim to boost interpreters: State hopes to improve access to justice, health care

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A new program has been put in place to help promote language learning and bilingual capabilities both within the state and across the country.

In a news conference Wednesday, Chief Justice Edward L. Chávez of the New Mexico Supreme Court introduced the New Mexico Center for Language Access.

New Mexico Center for Language Access:  

The center offers four certificate programs for individuals interested in enhancing their bilingual abilities: Medical Bilingual Communication, Justice System Bilingual Communication, Justice System Interpreting and Medical Interpreting. Languages offered include Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, Navajo and American Sign Language.

In addition to classes, students will be given the opportunity to gain more experience through an on-the-job internship.

The programs will also be offered online, to allow people to participate without leaving their jobs or homes, as well as provide access to those who live outside New Mexico.

"This program is unique in the United States," Chávez said. "We're a multicultural and multilingual border state. The goal is to improve access to justice and health care in the state of New Mexico. It will train people to break communication barriers."

The program will be managed through The University of New Mexico in Los Alamos in collaboration with Doña Ana Community College and Central New Mexico Community College.

Cedric Page, executive director of The University of New Mexico in Los Alamos, also spoke highly of the new program.

"We are a community service college, and this program is a great service to the community," he said. "We believe in service. We encourage service among our students, and we encourage it among our faculty. What better service than the New Mexico Center for Language Access."

Several benefits for the judicial system were discussed, including more certified board interpreters and an increased confidence level in their abilities and professionalism. Steps are also being taken to reward justice employees who become certified with an increased pay recognition.

There is a shortage of interpreters, particularly in rural areas of the state, according to Arthur Pepin, director of the state's Administrative Office of the Courts. New Mexico currently has only about 40 certified court interpreters. They are paid about $46 an hour.

Kristina Sanchez, senior director for ambulatory business operation at The University of New Mexico Hospice, was also in attendance.

"The need (in hospitals) is tremendous," she said. "We challenge our medical community to step up and provide language access. What it boils down to is patient safety. It's a chance to provide better health care for patients."

The center will begin accepting students for certificate programs this fall.

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