How much money would you like your organization to lose this year? I am guessing you would rather not lose money, and in fact, would prefer to make a nice profit. If you use an interpreter agency service, the likelihood is you are overpaying and therefore losing money.
There are hundreds of language agencies that contract, coordinate and offer interpreting (the spoken word) and translation (the written word) services to a variety of businesses and organizations. Some of these agencies are considered highly reputable, pay their interpreters’ professional rates and have quality controls in place to ensure a great experience at an affordable cost to you, the user of their services.
What you may not be aware of is that for every reputable language agency, there is a dozen more that, to put it nicely, are a scam. How do these scams work? Let me tell you. One is by marketing to you that their interpreters are in-house trained. Don’t worry; you are not the only one that is being scammed. The interpreters that work with them are not getting such a good deal either. Notice I said ‘work with them’ and not ‘for’ them. You see, almost all interpreters can be classified as independent freelance contractors. So, when an agency says that have 200, 300, 1000 interpreters, what they are saying is that they have the contact information of these interpreters and can call on them as needed.
You are thinking to yourself, well this isn’t so bad. In fact, this is good because when we call the agency, we need an interpreter, not an excuse for why no interpreter is available. I completely agree with you. Let’s dig a little deeper into this though, shall we?
How does the agency determine the best interpreter for your needs? The short answer, they don’t. What you get, in the majority of all cases, is the lowest cost interpreter. What? You’re kidding, right? Are you telling me that an interpreter called in for an explanation of complicated heart surgery is the same as one that will interpret for a parent/teacher conference? Yes, this is precisely what I am telling you.
Besides, many of these same agencies offer interpreter training. In fact, some insist that the interpreter participate –and pay– for this training. The agency then makes a nice profit from the practice and can claim that their interpreters are ‘trained.’ Are these interpreter trainers licensed? Do they hold any Is their training accredited by any authoritative body other than themselves? Well, I guess anything is possible, but in the majority of cases, the answer is no.
You may be thinking to yourself; this isn’t possible especially considering our interpreting budget. Let’s do a further breakdown. What you pay for professional interpreter services is not what the professional interpreter receives, not even close. The normal (it is varied for some agencies) split is 30/70. That is, the agency gets 70% of the fee and the interpreter, if lucky, receives 30%. With many agencies, it is closer to a 20/80 split. I bet you thought all along it was the interpreter that was insisting on such high rates. Well, now you know.
Why are there so many agencies? It is a cash cow business, as the expression goes. Some agencies even have the nerve to say what an interpreter may charge. Personally, I haven’t figured this one out considering that an interpreter is an independent contractor, but that can of worms is for another blog.
By this point, if you are still with me, you are asking how, then, are you able to save money. Don’t you have to call an agency when you need the services of an interpreter? The answer, no. If you truly want quality, affordable interpreting service you would be better off to contract directly with a dozen or so interpreters in those languages that you most often need, and use the agencies for those rare, and exotic languages that you need once in a blue moon.
You may be saying to yourself, how would I know a good interpreter? First, ask if the interpreter is certified. For legal interpreters, there is state as well as federal certifications. For medical interpreters there is the Commission for Certified Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certified Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) certifications, both have national recognition. Also, a professional interpreter will have a resume outlining their interpreter education, credentials, experience, and certifications. You should ask to see these.
So, to summarize. You don’t need to use an agency for your language interpreting or document translation needs. Depending on the size of your organization, you are better off contracting directly with the interpreters, and this saves you money, is an increase in pay for the interpreter (the one that is doing the job), and gives your clients better quality service. The next time you use an interpreter, ask them what their rate is and then compare this to what the agency quoted you.
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.