It’s been almost seven years since I received our first inquiry from the American Association of Medical Transcriptionists (AAMT). These are the folks who listen to dictations by physicians and nurses (who, I came to learn, are fondly referred to as ‘dictators’). They then transcribe the audio dictations to written format.
The AAMT had a problem and they wanted to know if the Accent Reduction Institute could help. With nearly 35% of our U.S. practicing physicians being non-native English speakers, understanding some of the dictations could be quite a challenge. A medical transcriptionist (MT) could hit ‘rewind’ repeatedly, but without an actual process for deciphering unfamiliar speech patterns, they’d be stuck. The MT’s compared it to the well known analogy of rocking in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but you don’t get anywhere.
Thus, accent comprehension was born.
Last week I provided our process for understanding accented speech to an organization whose workforce comes from all around the globe. Afterwards, one of the attendees sent me the following note.
My name is Kathleen and my father was a second generation American of Polish descent, his parents only spoke Polish and he only went up to the 6th grade. He could not pronounce the “th” in Kathleen – he always called me Katleen. Now I understand why. It is worth it just to have that understanding. I have to confess that when people would use the term “dumb Polak” I thought they were referring to my father because he did not know how to pronounce my name.
I gasped when I read this. Very painful. The prejudicial slur is intolerable; the misunderstanding it created is heartbreaking. BTW, my grandmother is also of Polish descent, and the immigrant experience in America is both a personal and professional one for me. Perhaps this is one reason why helping people find their voice has been my lifelong passion.
When the AAMT made that first call nearly seven years ago, I’m not sure they meant to have such a far reaching impact on people’s personal lives. To this day, I’m grateful for that call.