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We are in Japan, and one of my British friends got neck pain and needs to go to the hospital. The injury occurred a few month ago and recently he asked me to go to the hospital with him. First he went alone but he got refused because his Japanese level was not good enough. He was told that he needs to come back with someone who can speak good Japanese.

I would like to avoid to go with him because

  • I can understand Japanese (native-speaker) and English but translating a medical conversation is important and nowhere easy. I have no idea how most medical terms are said in English, so my translations might not be accurate.
  • It probably won't finish in one time. My planning is not as flexible as his, I can't go during weekdays where he could, so this will make the process much slower. Plus I have other things to do for my weekend...

I think he should either

  • get professional help (the hospital can provide it with fees)
  • look for another hospital

How can I convey this fact in the nicest way without loosing our friendship?

Before knowing that it would take several times, without thinking much I accepted to go with him.

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    Is your friend in a difficult financial situation? Do you think he can also be asking for emotional support? Compare to the cost of one meal, how much this fee cost? – Ælis Jan 13 at 12:39
  • @Noon I don't think that he has financial problems nor did he show signs of emotional distress. I'm not sure how much is the fee but I think ~10ish meals. – Mimi Jan 13 at 14:42
  • I heard there are very good translation apps for smartphones or translation devices like this one. Would using such an app be enough for the hospital to treat your friend? – Elmy Jan 13 at 19:41
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    Machine translation should NEVER be used for anything financially or medically important!!!! – WGroleau Jan 14 at 2:05
  • Thank to everyone that answered or commented, that was very helpful. I've approached him with my concerns and let him chose. He wanted to go with it, so I went up to make the reservation but it the end it turns the specialist he wanted to meet was only available during weekdays. He reconsidered his decision to continue with this hospital and looked for alternatives. – Mimi Jan 15 at 12:58
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What it looks like to me is that you have two very valid reasons for not wanting to do this, and what makes this easier is that both of these reasons are obviously reasons that limit your ability to do the task as opposed to merely not wanting to do it.

I would approach your friend addressing both points in ways that hightlight WHY you can't do the job e.g.

  1. I don't think that my english is good enough to provide an accurate translation for you
  2. I have a busy schedule, and so we might have to delay vital hospital appointments

As a friend he should understand your concerns for both him and you.

  • Great answer! Can you explain how to convey the whys of you not being able to do this for him- how do you approach this friend? What are some things to be careful about, so that the friend is not hurt or offended, and what may happen after? – ElizB Jan 13 at 23:14
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That's what friends are for.

For helping each other when in need. It's very easy call each other "friends" as long as nothing really important and demanding happens (to be honest, this request is not so demanding in my opinion).

That being said, what you can do is tell him exactly what you told us:

  • that your english level is not good enough to translate medical terms.
  • that you have to agree on times which are suitable for both of you.

Once your friend is ok with these 2 points and he accepts them, I don't see many problems..

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BluePulse's answer already outlines the main points you can use.

As you write that you want to keep the friendship, you could offer a compromise. The idea is that you tell him what you can offer - then it's his choice whether that is enough or not.

Something like:

I'd be glad to help you, however I must warn you that my medical English is probably not good enough. I can come along and translate, but at some point I may have to tell you I cannot translate certain things, and that may mean you must accept that you either do not understand some parts go again with someone else who can translate better.

Also, I will not be able come along every time you need to go, so you will need to find someone else for repeat visits.

At that point, your friend will understand what you can and cannot do for him, and can make an informed choice.

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