Lancaster County now has its first two Pennsylvania Dutch medical interpreters.

They are Amish-raised Crist Beiler, an RN at Lancaster General Hospital, and Lydia Nolt, a medical liaison and member of an Old Order Mennonite church. Both were recently certified by their institutions.

A big part of their work is reducing anxiety, especially in children (Amish children below school age typically have varying degrees of English ability, with the norm being little-to-none). From Lancaster Online:

Both say easing anxiety is a key part of what they do, with patients sometimes visibly relaxing when they hear the familiar dialect.

“I introduce myself, and I try to make them feel comfortable,” said Beiler, who grew up Amish. “You can see the facial expression change.”

The difference is most pronounced in children, he said, who are generally less familiar with English than their parents and tend to be nervous when they need to have an IV inserted or face other procedures they’re not accustomed to.

“I think it’s a trust issue,” he said. “Once they hear that familiar dialect, they tend to relax and it goes much better.”

This makes a lot of sense to me, especially considering the calming effect for young children in what is often a jarring environment. Even if you can understand what the other person is saying perfectly, a visit to medical facilities is in the best cases uncomfortable, and often worse than that.

PA Dutch joins a wide array of languages already interpreted either “live” or via other means in the region. A rep from medical institution UPMC Pinnacle states that they had provided interpretation via “video remote interpretation systems”, for over 100 languages, but not the native tongue of the County’s Plain segment, comprising roughly 10% of the local population.

Nolt and Beiler join other medical personnel providing live interpretation for languages including Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.




If you’d like some PA Dutch basics, Crist Beiler shares a few common phrases in the video below:

Pennsylvania Dutch interpreters have been used in other situations involving Amish, such as in a 2011 court case in Kentucky. In that instance, the defendants had difficulty following the proceedings.

And what about Pennsylvania Dutch being interpreted for the benefit of English ears? Such is the case in at least one Amish community where this service has been provided for church visitors.