A language interpreter is one of the most accessible jobs there is. You don’t need to know anything. Just listen to what someone is saying and then repeat it back in a different language. I single-handedly have enraged hundreds if not thousands of professional language interpreters. Why? Professional interpreters know that to interpret what someone is saying, to understand the meaning of what a person is saying, and to then faithfully reproduce it in another language, taking not only linguistic but also cultural differences into account takes more than merely speaking more than one language In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult mental tasks a person can do.
There are some large organizations, such as the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) or the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) that come up with all of the lovely guidelines and ethics rules for medical interpreters to follow. Then we have schools, and institutions like the famous Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, CA where students learn and practice their language and interpreting skills, or the Southern California School of Interpreting (my alma mater) where students receive specific training on interpretation skills. A quick Google search of ‘Interpreter Training Programs’ yielded 2,100,000 results. There is, as you can see, no shortage of training available for interpreters. Why is this? It takes more than just speaking a language to be a professional interpreter. It takes skill, training, and dedication.
There are also countless forums, Facebook groups, and other entities all dedicated to interpreters. Yes, we are huge. Now you may have heard about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits national origin discrimination against individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP), or possibly Executive Order 13166 (2000), which was issued to clarify existing Titel VI responsibilities. These two alone would make one think that we are highly regulated. Well, you would be wrong. We are one of the largest, and I will take a guess here and say ‘the largest’ profession that is un-regulated.
Regrettably, there are a few that take advantage of this situation, which I nicely refer to as the scum of the interpreter world. How do they take advantage? They talk the talk, promoting training (which they offer in exchange for a hefty fee); however, they don’t walk the walk. These same agencies (Dang it! I think I should name them and their owners.) that market their elite training, and promote themselves as the ‘crème de la crème’ of the interpreting world and yet use the cheapest labor they can find –fresh, uninformed and inexperienced newbies to the profession.
How can we as interpreters raise the bar of our profession if we have agencies, whom we contract with, that treat us as a commodity with the lowest bidder winning the assignment? Many agencies publicize that their interpreters are trained and certified. You should question this claim. What certification does the interpreter hold? Are they certified through the Certification for Health Care Interpreters (CCHI) or the National Board of Certified Medical Interpreters (NBCMI), the only two organizations that certify medical interpreters? Or, are you told that the interpreters are Bridging the Gap (BTG) certified? If so, the agency is not being honest.
The Bridging the Gap training is an excellent 40-hour course, and a great starting point to enter the profession. It is how I entered the fascinating world of medical interpreting, and I am proud of the certificate attesting to my attendance. BTG is just one of many prerequisite courses offered and highly recognized I would add, to become certified by one of the certifying bodies, such as CCHI or NBCMI. Keep in mind, however, that a person with a BTG certificate is not a certified interpreter.
Why on earth would an agency market their interpreters as ‘certified’ when in reality they are not? Um, can we say money? Greed? Although a great business model and I for one am all about businesses making a profit, there is that tilting point where it becomes, in gentle terms, misrepresentation. In nasty terms, fraud. Why do some agencies do this? Lack of legislation. Things are, however, starting to turn around and I believe that we are going to see soon those scum agencies disappear and the good agencies rise to the top, and there are some outstanding ones out there.
Recently, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered a government language agency contractor, SOS International (SOSi) to reclassify their interpreters in the US state courts as employees (March 2018). Why was this? Barry Slaughter Olsen, Associate Professor of Translation and Interpretation at Middlebury Insitute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) agreed with the court ruling and stated, “This ruling is good in a lot of ways because it appears that SOSi really treated these interpreters poorly.”
Another excellent example of how interpreters are saying no more to mistreatment by those misguided and lack of scruples agencies is the formation of the ‘Interpreters Guild of America.’ Directly quoted from their website, “The Interpreters Guild of America is an organization created by and for independent interpreters, and committed to advocating for our profession.” The site goes on to further state, “As a unit of The Newspaper Guild and Communications Workers of America, which represent interpreters around the country, IGA responds to the particular challenges professional interpreters face. We have seen our profession face mounting pressure to lower standards, to compromise working conditions and reduce our rates. We face that pressure every day, but we don’t have to do it alone!” We, as interpreters, working towards change within our profession, have even started using the hashtag, #UnitedWeStand.
I, personally, am proud to be a member of IGA. It is the first I have known of in all my years of interpreting that advocates for the entire interpreter profession. IGA isn’t just about rates, training or even interpreter education. It is about bringing interpreters together as a dominant force to say no more to those agencies and others that are undermining the profession. You, the user of interpreter services, deserve the best, and IGA is working tirelessly to make sure this happens.
Interpreters, like any other professional, attend classes, participate in training and continually confer with their colleagues finding ways to improve their skills to make a challenging job look easy. As a pianist can make it look so easy by turning those ivory keys into a Mozart masterpiece, so does the professional interpreter, taking the message from one language and rendering it to another with skill, precision, and grace.
(If you would like to know more about ‘The Interpreters Guild of America’ (IGA), please don’t hesitate to contact me. #UnitedWeStand)
David Martin Tucker, Certified Spanish Medical Interpreter, CHI™, or “Spanish David” as he is known, is a certified medical interpreter whose passion for Latin American culture and language is second only to his desire to become a voice for his Spanish speaking clients. Conveying more than words, David’s continuous thirst for knowledge thrusts him into the culture of his clients.
David is an honor’s graduate from the Southern California School of Interpreting’s Medical Interpreter Program and holds bachelor degrees in both Modern Languages (Spanish) and Business from Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of Southern Indiana respectively.
A founding member of the El Puente Bilingual Toastmasters in Denver, David is also a contributor to the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), and is a member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Health Care Patient Advisory Board.