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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Health Exchange Foreign Language Fact Sheets Get Poor Marks

Washington Health Benefit Exchange

Call it a case of “lost in translation.” Washington and Oregon’s new health insurance exchanges are getting poor marks for their efforts to communicate with foreign language audiences.

On the Washington Health Benefit Exchange website you can find fact sheets in eight foreign languages – from Cambodian to Somali. These one and two page documents are supposed to help uninsured families navigate the new world of the Affordable Care Act.

But after the translations went live on the website, the feedback was not great.

“We looked at those and felt that they were somewhat concerning in their quality and effectiveness,” says Amy Alexander, a member of an advisory committee that’s helping Washington’s Exchange reach out to low income and immigrant communities.

She says the committee had unofficial reviewers look at the translations.

Imagine a teacher taking a red pen to a student’s paper. That’s what it looked like when the reviewers got done. In the case of the Cambodian translation, the reviewer said it was written in street language and recommended a complete redo. The Chinese language reviewer said just the opposite: that the language was too formal and difficult to understand.

Alexander says it’s vital to get it right. “It is often said that it’s better to have no translation than a poor translation.”

At Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange, Michael Marchand says the fact sheets were done by state certified translators.

“Obviously we’re disappointed," Marchand says.

He adds that the fact sheets will be reworked. He notes the Exchange doesn’t go live until October 1 and says this is why they have community advisers.

“I think it’s great that we’re in a position where we’re catching it now,” he says.

In Oregon, the healthcare exchange uses Google Translate. Click on it, select your language and voila – the whole website is translated.

But Angele Surault is not impressed. She directs Translations Services at CETRA Language Solutions near Philadelphia.

“My reaction is that it doesn’t look professional.”

To demonstrate the problems Surault converted questions on the Cover Oregon website into her native French. She says, “It reads “how can to cover Oregon it help me?”

A spokesperson for Cover Oregon says Google Translate is just a temporary solution. Coming soon: an informational website entirely in Spanish and other Oregon materials in several languages.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."