Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Buy a book, get a cookie: Freek Lankhof’s 25 years of continuous services to translation and interpretation

Freek Lankhof, a passion for T&I
On December 1st 2012, I wrote a post about a person who is synonymous with translation and interpretation in this country. That person, as many of you may know, is our bookseller – for lack of a better word – and friend Freek Lankhof, owner of InTrans Book Service.  As he has repeatedly pointed out, he cannot compete with giant booksellers that can offer discount prices. However, he offers an invaluable service to the profession that the giants cannot – namely by tracking the many new works in our field and bringing the best and most relevant to our attention (go to his website and sign up for his newsletter to get the latest updates). He has true passion for our profession, being himself a translator. Freek can be found at workshops and conferences across the United States and Canada with a collection of the latest publications in our field, and always with a friendly smile and warm welcome.

It gives me great pleasure to report that Freek’s passion for and service to the profession have been formally acknowledged. During the opening session of its 54nd annual conference, held in San  Antonio, Texas on November 6-9, the American Translators Association presented Freek a special certificate of recognition and appreciation to underline his presence during 25 consecutive years
25 years of support to T&I
at ATA’s annual conference. 
During the ATA conference, the InTrans Book Service booth swarmed with activity. Of course, ATA’s acknowledgment of Freek’s services to our profession may have been part of the reason, but it is worth noting that he hosted book signing sessions with several authors which attracted a good crowd. Book signing sessions included:
Jost Zetzsche. Found in Translation  

InTrans Book Service's busy booth
All of this activity took place in the typically friendly environment that Freek is well-known for creating. He was assisted by his sister Marjan who has, like Freek, been present at ATA conferences most of the 25 years and who, like him, loves baking.  So, stopping by Freek’s booth was an experience where one could meet a renowned author, take a look at recent publications, purchase some of them, and get a yummy artisanal cookie. This is a man from a passionate family whose services deserve to be acknowledged, and I am thrilled that ATA just did so.

Note: I’m not familiar with all of the publications listed above, but am currently reading Nataly Kelly’s and Jost Zetzsche’s Found in Translation and Harry Obst’s White House Interpreter upon recommendation of several colleagues.  Also, I have used Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator in my advanced translation classes at the university level and have Tomasi’s Law Dictionary among my reference resources. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Job growth for translators and interpreters: Reality or mirage?

When you are an interpreter or translator, or both, and you learn that translation and interpretation made it into the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for the first time in the 2004-2005 edition, you feel excited about it. Indeed, it was a happy event –a sign that our profession is being acknowledged as such.

Then, when you learn that the 2012-2013 edition of the same Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that the estimated number of jobs in T&I in 2010 was 58,000 and that the job outlook in the field for  2010-2020 is for growth of 42%, which is much faster than average, then you start to feel very optimistic about the changes in the field and what the future will hold in terms of career opportunity and especially the possibility of making better wages
Finally, when even a local TV channel airs a piece produced by CNN Money saying that interpretation and translation is one of the fifteen fastest growing occupations in the nation (which happened this week), you go “wait a minute.”  Where are those jobs? Am I missing something?  In my October 18 post, I reported massive staff interpreter layoffs at a local hospital.  Yet, respectable organizations like the U.S. Department of Labor and CNN convey bright news for interpreters and translators.  As I pondered in my post, was that massive layoff of healthcare interpreters a mere hiccup?  Is there hope for jobs in our profession?
Obviously, I assume the projections of the Department of Labor are reliable, but the reality on the ground feels very different.  As an interpreter and translator, and above all as an interpreter and translator trainer, I remain optimistic that the profession is indeed growing, that interpreters and translators will be in greater demand, and that this tough job market will get better.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Medical interpreting: merely a hiccup?

I recently read an article titled The death of healthcare interpreting in the Netherlands, which describes the decision from the Dutch government not to pay any longer for interpreting services in healthcare settings. The reason: officials believe it is the patient’s responsibility to be able to communicate in the official language.
One could remain unconcerned and believe that that would never happen here at home.  That would be wrong.  Let me tell you, something similar has happened very close to home; that is in Indianapolis, Indiana. This time, it was not a government decision but a hospital system decision.  As recent as last week, the interpreter service supervisor, and a good friend of mine, lost half her interpreting staff to hospital-wide layoffs. Unlike the Dutch government, this hospital will continue to pay for interpreting services, but not to the individual interpreters but a telephone interpreting agency. The hospital’s language access service had been carefully established and interpreters were carefully selected, trained and evaluated. They offered in-house workshops for interpreters, and were working to improve language services by bilingual providers who work without an interpreter with limited English proficient and deaf patients. All of this is almost gone!
 I don’t have anything against interpreting agencies; like everybody else, agencies are trying to earn a living.  I understand that, but two things about this situation bother me. First is the fact that interpreters get paid a fraction of what agencies charge their clients.  That is how agencies make their money.  I understand that as well.  But the second thing that bothers me is an even bigger problem. When a hospital, or a hospital system in this case, gives up responsibility for language access services to a third party, who assures that meaningful access to services are really being provided? Is the interpreter on the other side of the line a truly qualified professional? Is the interpreter adhering to the ethical canons of the medical profession? Is the interpreter’s rendition accurate? Who can provide an answer to all these questions?   Not the patient, not the provider, and not the agency.  Let’s keep in mind, the interpreter is, by and large, the only party in a medical encounter who knows what is going on. Let’s also keep in mind that telephone interpreters work from home in most cases. Who checks on the quality of their work?  Agencies, in the best of cases, do random checks of the interpreter’s rendition. If nobody else but the interpreter knows what is going on during a medical encounter, who will complain about a poor rendition or the message not getting across?  Of course, one can argue that interpreters are interpreters whether they work for an agency or a hospital. It is worth noting, however, that wages for interpreters in the medical/health care field are overall lower than wages for interpreters in legal settings. If interpreters are paid agency wages, then their rates can become significantly lower.  Not very enticing for a good interpreter! So, who are the agencies getting as interpreters?
While I understand that the economy is doing poorly in general, I do not understand that a service as important as access to services would be awarded to a third party without oversight for quality control by the medical provider. Are medical interpreters doomed to work for ‘the middle man’ at a fraction of what the ‘middle man’ gets for the services the interpreter provides, while at the same time the quality of services is not assured? I find this idea rather disturbing.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Juvenile court: the stepchild of court Interpreter training

Once again, my poor blog has come second –fourth or fifth rather– after a book proposal project, the beginning of the school year, a trip to Europe, interpreting in the courts and sheer time off. But, here I am, back to it!  This time, I’d like to write about juvenile court and the training of interpreters in juvenile court issues.

I am not going to beat around the bush; let’s just face it, the juvenile court system, juvenile delinquency, and children in need of services are areas of the law that do not receive attention in court interpreter training. Here in the United States, legislation has established a particular language to refer to children less than eighteen years of age. What is that rationale for that? It is simply that the law does not want to compare the actions of children to those of adults. When adults commit actions that violate the rules that make life in society possible or more livable, we consider them crimes.  Juvenile law avoids placing the “criminal” label on an individual who has most of their life ahead of them.  Stigmas may be deeply damaging and hard to remove; we know that all too well.  There are also children who require structure, guidance or a safer environment to thrive.
The challenges interpreters face in juvenile court stem from at least three sources: 
  1. the type of cases juvenile courts hear,
  2. the parties involved in the various type of cases or proceeding,
  3. and of course, terminology, including the abundant and frequent use of  acronyms.

In Indiana, where I’m based, juvenile courts hear the following cases dealing with youth:
  1. Delinquency
  2. Child in need of services –CHINS– (abuse and neglect cases mainly)
  3. Paternity
  4. Interstate compacts (dealing with Indiana youth in other states)
  5. Parent participation hearings in delinquency and CHINS cases
  6. Detention hearings (when youth are removed from the home or arrested)
  7. Protective orders dealing with people in relation to youth (court orders to keep youth safe)
  8. Misdemeanor traffic offenses
  9. Driving a vehicle while intoxicated
  10. Guardianship proceedings for CHINS
  11. Cases concerning involuntary drug and alcohol treatment
  12. Cases where youth need to be committed to a hospital for mental health need, and
  13. Termination of parental rights (TPR cases)
Interpreting in delinquency cases requires knowing the types of offenses heard in juvenile court; that is status offenses and delinquent acts.  Status offenses are delinquent acts committed by someone under age eighteen. Adults by definition cannot commit status offenses.  Status offenses include:
  1. Truancy (not going to school without being suspended, expelled, or having withdrawn from school.);
  2. Runaway or running away (leaving home without a good reason and without permission from the parent or guardian.);
  3. Incorrigibility, habitual disobedience or ungovernable (continually disobeying the reasonable and lawful commands of parents or guardians.);
  4. Consuming or possessing alcohol as a minor (also called underage drinking);
  5. Curfew violations, and;
  6. Repeat firework violation (discharging fireworks such as bottle rockets, roman candles, fire crackers, sparklers, and ground spinners. I challenge you to find the equivalents in your language!)

Delinquent acts are acts that would be considered crimes if they were committed by an adult. Depending on the offender’s age, an act is viewed as a status offense or as a delinquent act.  For example, using a fake identification card to obtain, drink or transport alcohol without a parent or guardian is a status offense if the person who commits it is under age eighteen. Over the age of eighteen, the acts are considered infractions or misdemeanor crimes and are under adult court jurisdiction. Juvenile cases such as drug dealing usually go directly to adult court if the offender is sixteen years of age.  That is to say that the case is waived to adult court; an interesting use of the verb to waive.

Interpreters in the juvenile court system must not only know this specialized language in American English but also be able to find equivalent terms in the language of interpretation. In some instances -- let’s take the term truancy as an example -- the target language may not have an equivalent term for a specific delinquent act but a phrase that describe the act or the person who commits the act, i.e. truancy. Thus, providing a definition of truancy becomes challenging.  In Spanish, the following expression may be used to refer to truancy:  irse de pinta, hacer nobillos, hacer la rabona, faltar a la escuela, or ausentismo escolar.  It is worth noting that the concept of truancy focusses on the fact that a student skips school without a valid reason and does not take into account what the student does instead. Is the student up to no good while not in school?  It’s likely, but it is not the main concern of this concept. Ausentismo escolar –a rather high register term–  is about the only one from the previous list that could be easily used in a statutory context and meet the formal character of the language of the law.  The challenge increases when trying to find an equivalent for ‘truant’.  In this case, one would have to resort to an explanatory modulation –a translation technique whereby an explanation of the meaning of the term is provided due to a lack of a single term in the target language. If truancy can be rendered by ausentismo escolar, truant cannot be rendered by ausente escolar; its translation into Spanish will require an explanation along the lines of estudiante ausente sin razón / justificacion; a lengthy clause that would be challenging to use in an interpreting situation.  A better equivalent must be devised in this case.

A second challenge is knowing “who is who” in the juvenile court system and what their functions are.  Some of the key players in the juvenile court system include intake officers, probation officers, judges or magistrates, prosecutors, guardian ads litem or court appointed special advocates (GAL/CASA), service providers (mental health services, and child protective services, for example), case managers of various types (including family case managers –FCMs), and mentors.  Of course, by and large the use of acronyms rather than complete names is the norm rather than the exception. Finding equivalents for all these terms into the target language adds to the challenge.

As stated before, terminology is a major challenge for interpreters in the juvenile court system. Throughout this post, one notices the language used to describe the juvenile court and juvenile cases.  Here is list of key juvenile terms the interpreter must know and their counterparts in adult court. 

         Juvenile Court                                    Adult Court

1.     Delinquent Act                                     Crime
2.     Taken into custody                              Arrest
3.     File a petition                                       File charges
4.     Denial or Not True,                              Not guilty plea
 (youth denies the allegations)          
5.     Admission agreement or Truth            Guilty plea/Plea agreement
(youth admits to the allegations)     
6.     Fact finding hearing                            Trial
7.     Found/adjudicate delinquent               Found guilty
8.     Disposition/dispositional hearing         Sentencing
9.     Detention                                             Incarceration
There are also other terms specific to the juvenile court system that must be mastered but for which equivalents are unclear or not readily available. This link leads to an appeal document that includes clarification between juvenile and adult court terminology. See footnote 1 particularly.
Last June, during the Critical Link conference held in Toronto on the campus of Glendon College of York University, I was pleased to see on the program a presentation on the challenges for court interpreters in juvenile court.  The presenter highlighted almost point for point the issues I have raised in this post.  Court interpreting training and education should include at least one module on the juvenile court system and its challenges.  It is not acceptable that interpreters use adult court terminology when working in the juvenile court system. This system includes processes, procedures and a language carefully drafted to reach its goals. It is high time that interpreter education pays attention to an entire system that has been, for all intents and purposes, neglected so far.  The Child Information Gateway of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides an array of resources for the English-Spanish language pair, including an English-Spanish/Spanish-English glossary of child welfare terms. There are other resources developed mostly by government agencies, however most of them are fragmentary and some of them need to be reviewed and updated. Interpreter training in this area of the law is desperately needed.

I am pleased to announce that I am working on a lexicon of juvenile court terms for the English-Spanish language pair based on the Indiana juvenile court system, and which includes terminology for both CHINS and juvenile court cases. I have the support of several colleague interpreters, but would need institutional and financial support to promote this project and make it available to key players.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Erik Camayd-Freixas' book on the U.S. immigration reform

In the United States, immigration of documented or undocumented individuals underlies the provision of interpreting services for persons who have limited proficiency in English.  On May 12, 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency carried out a raid on a meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, that resulted on the arrest and deportation of 389 undocumented non-national workers. This raid was to be a pilot operation, a model, for future raids.  As a court interpreter and human being, I cannot help to consider the Postville raid as a shameful episode in the treatment of immigrants in this country.

Erik Camayd-Freixas is a Federally-certified interpreter who witnessed firsthand these events. He has just released a book -- US Immigration Reform and Its Global Impact: Lessons from the Postville Raid – which presents an insider’s view of the raid.  He chose to speak up and comment on the events he witnessed as an interpreter. This post is a way for me to support Erik’s efforts to address a very contentious topic.

What follows is a more detailed description of the book and its author.

Erik Camayd-Freixas, US Immigration Reform and Its Global Impact: Lessons from the Postville Raid
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

Providing an insider's view of US immigration enforcement and detention, US Immigration Reform and Its Global Impact unravels the post-9/11 national security agenda that led to the devastating Postville Raid of 2008 and its global ramifications. This incisive historical analysis unveils the hidden ideologies within immigration policy—uncovering forms of labor, demographic, and electoral control. Rich eyewitness accounts and voices from across the political spectrum paint a vivid picture of labor migration in the era of globalization. Camayd-Freixas employs theories of human mobility in terms of migration spheres to convey practical and historical lessons, illuminating a much-needed roadmap for enlightened immigration reform. 

Erik Camayd-Freixas is Professor of Hispanic Studies at Florida International University.  [He is also is Graduate Program Director of Translation and Interpretation Program at this university.]  He has testified before Congress, contributed as amicus curiae to the U.S. Supreme Court, and received numerous human rights awards.  He has lectured internationally on cultural studies, immigration, labor, ethics, and human rights. His most recent books include Etnografía Imaginaria : Historia y parodia en la literatura hispanoamericana and Orientalism and Identity in Latin America.

The book is currently available on and has a 20% discount. If you have any questions, I encourage you to contact the author directly.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Publication of our article on judicial interpretation education in U.S. colleges and universities

In my June 22 post, I wrote about a study I was conducting with a colleague on programs and courses in judicial interpretation offered by US colleges and universities, which, to a great extent justified the name of my blog.   I am extremely pleased to report that the article on our findings has been published in the academic journal Translation and Interpretation Studies (John Benjamins Publishing Company). The exact reference to the article is:

Matthews, Gladys and Enrica Ardemagni. “Judicial interpretation education in U.S. colleges and universities. The path to academic recognition”. Translation and Interpreting Studies 8:1(2013), 73-93.  
The article draws a general profile of interpreter education in academic institutions, including  program overview (name, location, and level: graduate or undergraduate), requirements for admissions, program type and structure, faculty, student demographics, code of ethics taught, curriculum and pedagogy, student assessment, and experiential learning.  Because of copyright issues, I cannot reproduce my article on this blog, but would be more than happy to provide details of the study to those interested in knowing more about it.  While our contribution is rather modest, it required a great effort and we are thrilled it was published in a major journal of the field of translation and interpretation studies.  We hope it will be provide useful data for scholars and researchers and generate additional research opportunities in this field.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Keeping track of interpreting programs and courses in colleges and universities

Several individuals, professional associations, and public service organizations have made lists of interpreting training opportunities, especially in higher education institutions. However, keeping track of colleges and universities that offer courses or full-fledged programs in interpretation is a hard task as new programs and courses are created and others are shutdown. These lists become out of date quickly because it is hard to keep up with changes in the field.

What follows is an attempt to group various sources that provide information on interpreting training and education in universities and colleges, mostly in the United States.
1.      Administrative Office of the State Courts of Maryland. This list includes interpreter training opportunities in colleges and universities, self-training resources, standard reference materials, and other sources such as professional associations. It is not clear when  this list was last updated.
2.      Translation and Interpretation Summit Advisory Council.  It includes a T&I program inventory.  No latest update date is provided.

3.      American Translators Association (ATA) provides a list called Approved Translation and Interpretation Schools, which includes schools world-wide.  ATA’s  Education and Pedagogy Committee oversees this approval process, which is set in motion upon request by the interested school. It is worth noting that completion of a degree or certificate from one of the institutions on ATA’s list confers eligibility for ATA certification in translation. 
New programs
As mentioned before, new programs are created every year, while others suspended or shut down.  In Canada, for example, the Vancouver Community College has put its court and health interpreting programs on hiatus for redevelopment. Some fear this means the end of these two programs. On the program creation front, still in Canada, we have the brand-new Master of Conference Interpreting  (MCI) of Glendon College of York University, in Toronto, that offers two courses in court and medical interpreting on-line in year one of this two-year program.  I am pleased to report that I have been invited to teach again the two English-French court interpreting courses that I developed for this program.  A second student cohort will start in September of this year and I am looking forward to repeating this exciting experience. Glendon’s MCI program has started with a bang; in its short existence, it has already offered interpreting courses in the English-French, English-Spanish, English-Portuguese and English- Mandarin language pairs. Last week Glendon College hosted the Critical Link 7 conference, which I attended.

In the United States, there are two new interpreting programs:  one offered face-to-face and the other on-line.  The former is the Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation of the University of Maryland (see my December 15 post) and the latter the Master of Arts in Spanish Translation and Interpreting of the University of Texas, Brownsville.  The University of Maryland program focusses for now on the English-Chinese language pair, but other language pairs may be added depending on demand. The East Coast and our nation’s capital greatly needed a program to educate and train interpreters and translators from the area.  I will provide detailed information on the Master of Arts in Spanish Translation and Interpreting of the University of Texas, Brownsville in an upcoming post.

Of course, there are other sources that list translation and interpretation schools and programs, but the above three links are a good start for those interested in knowing more about training and education opportunities.  I will keep checking for new information sources and for new programs.  Your feedback will be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

MOOCs, CBE and On-line Learning: Trends to Explore in Translation and Interpretation

Many interpreters and translators cannot afford the cost of traditional programs. Even more importantly, many are working and have families, and cannot take off to a distant location for a year or more to pursue a degree. Fortunately, there is a revolution beginning to sweep through higher education that may make it easier for interpreters and translators to obtain education and training. One aspect of this revolution that has received a lot of attention is the phenomenon of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – which are free, on-line courses from top universities like MIT and Stanford that enroll literally hundreds of thousands of students. It is hard to see, though, how MOOCs can be used to teach interpretation and translation.  Fortunately, MOOCs are not the only new development in higher education. Although it’s been around for a long time, competency-based education (CBE) is expanding rapidly, and this approach is of even more importance to fields like interpretation and translation.

CBE is based on demonstrated mastery of skills and knowledge – competencies – in a field, rather than time spent sitting in a classroom. In CBE, students are assessed for what they already know and then given targeted instruction on the competencies they need to master. Once they demonstrate mastery, they move on to the next competency until they earn a degree or certification or both. In CBE, students can learn at their own pace, and many finish much more rapidly than in traditional programs.
Because it is self-paced, CBE can be combined with another innovation in higher education – online education – in powerful ways. I am teaching interpretation in an on-line graduate degree program, and know it is certainly possible to deliver high-quality instruction and performance feedback in that environment. Students and faculty can also interact in ways that are just as strong as traditional programs. Coupling the strengths of online education to the flexibility of CBE could be a winning combination.
Of course, moving to CBE poses new challenges. Perhaps the most significant is the need to define the competencies that must be mastered. Developing high-quality course materials is another challenge (although it is one that I am already working to overcome), as is creating the assessments to determine whether competencies have been mastered. However, with the right efforts, these challenges can be met.  
These and other new approaches hold significant promise for interpretation and translation. There is no doubt that the demand for education and training far exceeds its availability. If more flexible approaches were available, I have no doubt that many would take advantage of them. Many interpreters and translators want to improve their skills and knowledge, and would like a college degree to qualify for a promotion or new job. There are a lot of questions about these new approaches, especially how they might work in a highly interactive profession like interpretation, but we all need to pay attention to them to see what promise they hold for our profession.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Court Interpreting in the United States Revisited

Justification for this post

I have been racking my brain to remember the author of a quote that states that most people do not know the history of their profession. Agreeing with this assertion, I am trying to include in a single document an overview of court interpreting in the United States (US) as we know it today. This blog post draws from two postings I wrote in February 2011 and is not to be considered, by any means, as exhaustive. It includes, however, some of the most significant actions that have been taken to bring court interpreting to the level it has currently reached.
Interpreting in public administration settings (or community interpreting, among other names) in the US, especially in the courts, has gained momentum in the last ten years. While there is still a lot to be done, it would be safe say that interpreters are gaining standing as officers of the courts. It is to be noted that for the first time a language-based profession in the US is a step ahead of countries like Canada. This has been acknowledged by my Canadian colleagues in academia and in the courts, as well as my Canadian court interpreting students. While court interpreting in the US is not a perfect model, it is establishing its bona fides, and it is worth writing about it.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against “any person in this country on the ground of race, color, or national origin.” It also prohibits that any such person be excluded “from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Since these provisions have been construed to include any person in the US, state courts that receive federal funds are required to provide interpreters to Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals in civil and criminal cases at no charge for defendants. Under federal law, courts must also ensure that interpreters have essential language and interpreting skills.
In October 1978, President Carter signed the Court Interpreters Act of 1978, establishing the right for any individual involved in a court proceeding to have a certified or otherwise qualified court interpreter if his/her communication or comprehension capabilities are inhibited because of a language barrier, or a hearing or speech impairment. To implement the provisions of the Court Interpreters Act, the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination program (FCICE) was created to define criteria for certifying interpreters qualified to interpret in federal courts and to assist the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) in maintaining a list of federally-certified court interpreters. These requirements also apply to state courts, where the ‘otherwise qualified’ interpreter category may represent a problem since it could include individuals whose language skills have not been screened or tested as we will see later in this post.
In August 2000, President Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency” and its limited English proficiency Resource Document: Tips andTools from the Field strengthened the limited English proficiency initiative. Executive Order 13166 requires that federal agencies take “reasonable steps to provide meaningful access for LEP people to federally-conducted programs and activities.” It also requires that “every federal agency that provides financial assistance to non-federal entities publish guidance on how those recipients can provide meaningful access to LEP persons.” Ten years later, the Attorney General stressed the importance of complying with this executive order  to turn policy into reality.
In July 2008, the Brennan Center for Justice a public policy and law institute that focuses on issues of democracy and justice – released an 88-page report on an extensive study of language access in state courts. The report, Language Access on the State Courts, notes that about 25 million people in the US are LEP and need an interpreter in court. It further notes that at least 13 million of them live in states that do not require the provision of court interpreting services in most types of civil cases, while six million live in states that fail to uphold Title VI provisions, charge LEP persons for interpreting services, or have ill-prepared interpreters providing such services.
In June 2010, the US Attorney General issued a Memorandum for Heads of Department Components restating the obligations set forth in Executive Order 13166. In August 2010, less than a month later, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice Tom Perez sent a similar reminder to all chief justices and court administrators in an attempt to bring courts into compliance with provisions that seek to provide language access to LEP persons in the judicial system. However, additional clarification was in order as the letter gave rise to a series of questions by the state courts, including definition of the extension of the term “court” and the Department of Justice’s expectations on telephone interpretation and certification for less frequently used languages.

Otherwise Qualified Interpreters
Certified interpreters have continuously requested review of the category “otherwise qualified interpreters.”  In some states, the interpreter registry includes as “otherwise qualified interpreters” individuals who have only completed a two-day orientation session that does not assess the candidate’s language proficiency or interpreting skills. In some cases, non-certified interpreters have been grandfathered based on years of services provided to the court. Of course, compensation for “otherwise qualified interpreters” is significantly lower and decision makers try to save money.  What they don’t seem to take into account when hiring a non-qualified interpreter is the cost of cases on appeal. Some interpreters who have been grandfathered in various courts have gained certification, are reaching retirement age or are simply not interpreting in court proceedings.  Attrition and advocacy on the importance of working with certified are solving the issue of grandfathered and “otherwise qualified interpreters”.

Court Interpreter Certification
Authority over the federal and state court interpreter certification programs falls on the National Center of State Courts (NCSC)[1] under contract to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. NCSC oversees the court interpreter certification program through the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts (formerly the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification), which was created in August 1997 with the mission to “facilitate court interpretation test development and administration standards, to provide testing materials, to develop educational programs and standards, and to facilitate communication among the member states and entities, in order that individual member states and entities may have the necessary tools and guidance to implement certification programs.” Aside from developing and administering testing material, the Consortium has conducted research on certification examination outcomes and career trends. Research reports and other information on court interpreter issues can be found on the Consortium’s website Publications page.
These certification processes, and the fact that success rates in both the state and federal court interpreter exams are notoriously low[2], has generated an increasing demand for the training of hundreds of aspiring interpreters. Interpreter training needs have primarily been addressed through short-term workshops and seminars offered by court administrators, professional organizations, and entrepreneurs, rather than through academia. A whole certification process has been set in place before establishing the mechanisms that would provide aspiring interpreters a well-rounded education Court interpreter education and training in the US has been correctly described as “putting the cart before the horse.” (Angelelli: 2005).
Court Interpreter Certification in Indiana

A good example of a strong program can be found in Indiana. The Indiana Court Interpreter Certification Program is the result of an interim recommendation made to the Supreme Court in 2000 by its Commission on Race and Gender Fairness on ways to improve race and gender fairness in the courts, legal service providers, state and local governments, and public organizations. The court interpreter certification program is now the most important program of the Commission. It administers the certification examination twice a year, and offers not only a compulsory two-day orientation session for aspiring court interpreters but also skill-building workshops. It also has an advisory board made up of a cross-section of stakeholders across the state, including judges, public defenders, law professors, and of course, interpreters, which allows to program to receive feedback from a wide array of sources. All this has been accomplished with the support of the entire state judiciary. Indiana is currently exploring continuing education activities as a requirement for certified court interpreters.
Overview of the certification process[3]
Given that court interpreter certification is under the oversight of a national body, the certification process is by and large similar in most states. The following are certification steps in Indiana:
·        First: Attend a two-day court interpreter orientation session that covers interpreter ethics, protocol, basic criminal procedure, and the three modes of interpretation used in the courtroom. No language proficiency assessment is required for this activity. Anyone who pays registration fees may attend.
·        Second: Pass a written exam covering vocabulary, criminal procedure, and court interpreter ethics with a score of 80% or better.
·        Third: Attend a two-day skills building seminar that covers sight translation, consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation. Not all states include this step. 
·        Fourth: Pass all three portions – sight translation, consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation – of the National Consortium-approved interpreter certification oral exam with a score of 70% or better on each of three sections. A candidate who fails one or two portions of the oral exam can retake only those portions until all three are completed successfully.
·        Fifth: Submit to a criminal background check.
·        Sixth: Sign an oath promising to comply with the Indiana Supreme Court Interpreter Code of Conduct and Procedure.

Overview of the written exam
The written test contains 135 multiple-choice questions and measures a candidate's knowledge of the following areas central to the work of a court interpreter:

·        English Language: One indispensable component necessary to function as a professional court interpreter is a high degree of proficiency in the English language. Accordingly, the written examination assumes a high degree of literacy in the English language and familiarity with a range of language constructions. The candidate is tested on comprehension of written English vocabulary and common English idioms.
·        Court-Related Terms and Usage: A second area of knowledge essential to successful professional performance is familiarity with the terminology and procedures of the court system. Accordingly, the written examination also measures recognition of common court-related situations and vocabulary.
·        Ethics and Professional Conduct: The third area of knowledge required of professional court interpreters encompassed in the written test is general knowledge of ethical standards guiding the performance of duties. Accordingly, the written exam includes questions aimed at measuring a candidate's knowledge of ethical behavior and professional conduct.

For Spanish, the test includes a ten-sentence translation component in which the candidate translates ten English sentences to Spanish. The passing score is borderline or better.
Overview of the oral certification exam
The oral certification exam tests proficiency in the three modes of interpretation used in the courts: sight translation, consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation. A candidate must achieve a score of 70% or better on each portion of the test to pass. Tests are given individually recorded, and scored by two certified interpreters trained as raters. The passing score for FCICE is 75% for the written portion and 80% for the oral portion.  Candidates have to achieve a passing score in the two languages involved in the test.

Certification by reciprocity
Since most states use the testing materials developed by the Consortium, interpreters are eligible for certification by reciprocity. In Indiana, certification by reciprocity is granted as long as the certifying state or federal government maintains the same or higher scoring standards as Indiana.  This link leads to reciprocity requirements in Indiana.

Salary and wages
The inclusion of translation and interpretation in the 2004-2005 Occupational Outlook Handbook of the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics was a much celebrated step towards the professionalization of this activity. The handbook, which is updated every other year, provides a description of the nature of the work, training and other qualifications required, job outlook, and earnings and wages for the profession. While more job opportunities and better earnings remain in the realm of projections for the future, there is reason to hope that translation and interpretation are on their way to acquiring a higher standing.
Regarding the pay scale for interpreters working in courts and legal settings, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) notes that it depends in part on the law of supply and demand and the type of certification or other qualifications held by the interpreter, frequency and volume of work available, settings in which interpretation is needed,  and employment circumstances under which the interpreter works (self-employment, freelance, or salaried).  Remuneration varies also according to the associated cost of living of a particular area.
As NAJIT points out, most court interpreters are self-employed but full-time staff positions exist in areas where the volume of work is greatest. Of course, giving the number of Hispanics in the US, almost all staff positions are for Spanish-English interpreters. Starting annual salaries in state or federal courts for staff interpreters may range from $30,000 to $80,000. Supervisory positions may also be available.  In some jurisdictions, such as California, New Jersey, and Cook County, Illinois, for example, court interpreters in certain categories, both full-time and part-time, are considered judiciary employees, and as such have collective bargaining rights.
As for freelance rates in federal courts for certified or professionally qualified interpreters, the web page of the United States Courts[4]  provides the following:
Certified and Professionally Qualified Interpreters:
  Full Day:  $ 388   
  Half Day:  $ 210   
  Overtime:  $ 55   per hour or part thereof
Language Skilled (Non-Certified) Interpreters:
  Full Day:  $ 187   
  Half Day:  $ 103   
  Overtime:  $ 32   per hour or part thereof
The difference in wages between certified and non-certified interpreters in the US federal court systems is significant and the demand for certified interpreters is great. One wonders why the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination is not offered more frequently. The written portion of the exam is administered once a year nation-wide. Those who pass it can take the oral portion of the test the following year but those who fail have to wait two years to take the exam again. A recent innovation in the administration of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination is that it is now computerized. No more paper exams. However, candidates have to go to an exam location, like in the past, where a proctor will be responsible for conducting the test session properly.
A lot has been achieved regarding the Language Access for LEP persons initiative; however, compliance with the various dispositions remains an issue. The good news is that forty three states have joined the Consortium as of 2011. Court interpreters have their own professional association –NAJIT, which actively advocates for the use of certified interpreters in both state and federal courts.
Interpreting in public administration settings is a profession that has evolved in nearly four decades from being a service usually provided by “bilingual” but otherwise unqualified individuals, including untrained family and staff members. It is now a profession practiced by certified or otherwise qualified interpreters. Immigrants have been at the heart of this country’s foundation, and this is not about to change even with radical anti-illegal immigration legislation like the recently enacted in Arizona, which has been copied in states like Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah. On the educational front, more and more higher education institutions are seeing translation and interpretation as subjects worthy of serious scholarship. A great deal is yet to be done in this arena, but a positive trend has, without a doubt, been set. This is a ‘story’ to be continued…  Please continue to check back.
As always, your comment are most welcome!


Angelelli, Claudia. 2005. “Healthcare Interpreting Education: Are We Putting the Cart before the Horse?” ATA Chronicle November-December 34.2: 33-38.

Additional Resources

1.     Examinee Handbook - National Center for State Courts

2.     ACEBO Publishing.   ACEBO is owned by Holly Mikkelson, a leading figure in judicial interpreting (most commonly called “court” interpreting /court interpreter) training in the United States, who also teaches judicial interpreting at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in Monterey, California.

[1] This link leads to information for both the state and the federal court interpreter certification process.  The two certification examinations are similar in the way they are structured and administered. However, it is well-known that the FCICE is by far more difficult and the pass rate significantly much lower than that of the state court interpreter certification exam. Most aspiring interpreters gain certification both at the state and federal courts levels after several attempts and some simply give up.
[2] Wanda Romberger, Interpreter Service Manager at NCSC, has published several research papers on the results on the certification exam and the performance in the exam by aspiring interpreters.  See:  Wanted: Career Path for Court Interpreters (2006); and Skills training for foreign language court interpreters: does it increase the number of qualified interpreters? (2007). Related titles can be found on the NCSC Library eCollection.
[3] The web site of the National Consortium for Language Access in the State Courts includes detailed information on both state and federal court interpreter certification examinations.  Indiana has administered the certification exam for the English-Spanish language pair, which is the language combination that has by far the most demand for interpreting services in the courts, but also in French, Polish, and Mandarin.
[4] This link also leads to information on a national court interpreter database of interpreter categories and skills.