Low-cost interpreter factories.

June 23, 2015 § 15 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

It seems like every time I open my mailbox, see a tweet, or read a professional publication, I see new advertisement for all these interpreter courses, interpreter certifications, interpreter great opportunities, and so on.  There are many government entities, multinational agencies, professional associations, and “professional trainers” who have discovered a new business: create interpreters from nothing!

Let’s see: Just a few years ago Spanish language court interpreters in the United States could only be certified by the United States Administrative Office of the Courts (federal) or by the Administrative Office of the Courts of a state member of what was called the consortium. These credentials were widely known and recognized. Everybody knew what was behind them: a federal certification was more than a state-level certification, and then… there were the non-certified individuals who were precluded from working in the court system, and in those cases when they were used by the government, they were ushered in through the back door because they all knew that they were doing something that should be kept “confidential”.

Well, the enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act became a reality for all state courts so the Consortium was no more, it has now been replaced by the Council of Language Access Coordinators (CLAC) and now, in order to keep those federal funds coming, the states have devised a clever plan to circumvent the court certification requirement which would be the thing to do according to law, but very expensive, so they have created this new “category” of people who  cannot pass the certification test, but are allowed to work in court, entering through the front door,  called “qualified”, “conditionally qualified” and other versions of the same thing: an unqualified individual doing a job that is federally mandated and requires of certification.  Yes, it is easier, and cheaper, to mass produce these individuals who, in my opinion, are trained to do a job that does not exist, and pays lower than a professional certified interpreter would work for.  These individuals are now produced in “programs” developed by some states with the help of opportunist community colleges and “professional trainers” who see fit to create a program and go through the motions in order to deliver these paraprofessionals.

But this was not enough. The developments above showed the way to another lucrative business: the development of another category of interpreter who would be called “community interpreter” but would provide services in legal arenas where the court proceedings are of Article One of the U.S. Constitution: Administrative Courts. The reason for this new category, according to those who are now benefiting from its implementation: To fill in the gap in the legal system that was not been serviced by certified court interpreters.  The real motivation: That these courts and their proceedings are not covered by the court interpreter legislation, so there was a great opportunity for agencies to jump in, “certify” their people, and cover the hearings while paying these para-interpreters very little money.  Again, the “certification” programs (sometimes called “diploma” programs) have been developed by individuals who saw the opportunity to make money. There is no official oversight nor legal authority for the existence of these “community interpreters”. The only thing that is clear is that court proceedings in administrative courts are as important and complex as the ones heard in Article 3 courts. This is why, to be able to appear before administrative law judges, attorneys have to pass the same bar exam and be members in good standing of their state bar. No lesser requirements for attorneys, but non-existent requirements for interpreters. Obviously, there is a lot of money to be made in a service where the interpreter pay is so bad that no real self-respecting interpreter would get involved.

Then we have the professional associations and multinational agencies that offer their own “certifications” “qualifications” or whatever they chose to call them, to those left-overs who cannot work anywhere else and have to settle for a quick course online, a 15-minute exam online, and a dismal pay in exchange for telephonic or live interpreting at medical offices, school classrooms, community meetings, and the likes.  I do not blame those who are providing what in my opinion are questionable services, they are taking advantage of a void in the legal system and a weak group of interpreters who do not fight for their profession, reputation, betterment, and income. The blame is on the authorities who chose not to fix the situation and foster the spread of these “interpreter factories” all over; on the ignorant clients who buy the Brooklyn Bridge every time the agency sells it to them, and on the self-respect and ambition lacking so-called interpreters who enable the system to continue, instead of studying to better themselves as real conference, court, healthcare, or community interpreters.

We as professional interpreters need to protect our profession, we need to watch over our future, and we need to stop this do-nothing attitude and stand up, educate our clients, better ourselves, join real professional associations that work for the interpreters and not against them, and embracing the new technology, explain to the client that, compared to those I mentioned above, we represent quality, and many times savings, as we work without the middle man, the only actor who is not necessary in this play.   There are some good agencies, trainers, and professional associations out there, unfortunately, most of them become known to the interpreters once they reach certain level within the profession. It is our job, and responsibility, to point the new colleagues in the right direction.  Please feel free to share your comments with the rest of us, but please abstain from coming here to defend the entities I wrote about. They have plenty of forums where to make their case.

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§ 15 Responses to Low-cost interpreter factories.

  • Tianlu says:

    “[T]o be able to appear before administrative law judges, attorneys have to pass the same bar exam and be members in good standing of their state bar.” Good point!

  • I have to agree with you that becoming an interpreter in 40 hours or less is a fallacy. Unfortunately there are legal and medical interpreters who are in this category, even certified ones, due to the demand outweighing the supply.

    I think that until we move the interpreter education from the occupational level (intensive short term courses taught by private companies), to the academic level (long term programs made of multiple courses by non-profit universities) interpreters will not be considered professionals by the public at large. I wrote an article to this effect in 1996 on the MMIA Newsletter, and the change has been slow, as this was almost 20 years ago.

    On a more positive note I believe that the new national certification programs developed by psychometricians certainly have brought a level of professionalism to our practice. It is unfortunate that the term ‘certification’ has been misused within our own field, and as such lost some of its value.

    To me the most detrimental practice of deprofessionalization is that some companies and departments are consciously making the determination to train bilingual individuals with no experience and pay them paraprofessional rates, rather than hire experienced certified professional interpreters at professional rates.

    What can interpreters do? Join the national associations, as professional affiliation is a mark of a true professional. It is also a way to support the national efforts and initiatives being done to increase the status of the interpreting profession. State association affiliation is also important, however, the national efforts have a larger scope and greater impact.

  • […] Source: Low-cost interpreter factories. […]

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    Unfortunately and like in everything else, they keep lowering the standards and if they continue doing it, we’ll be neck-deep in wannabe interpreters, and who knows? we might already be at that stage.

    Any interpreter worth its salt is not going to go for any namby-pamby certification which by the way, is akin to having a college degree from a diploma mill.

    I’ve personally heard from certain individuals that the federal exam was “rigged” to exclude them, which of course is a bunch of hooey, as is smacks of pure envy because they weren’t able to hack it and so they have to come up with some sort of lame excuse to justify their shortcomings. Sorry but they’re simply not cut out to be interpreters of any sort!

    And yes, you’ve taken the words rig out of my mouth: The blame is on the authorities for fostering such abysmally poor practices perhaps in their attempt to be politically correct rather than emphasizing quality and discipline in our profession.

    • oxana says:

      We have met the enemy and he is us: We – the bonafide pros – know exactly what the problems are, in fact, we repeatedly and articulately recite them here ad nauseam on the very pages of this invaluable blog. Yet, we lack the will to take the next step, nay, even consider what that step might be.

      • André Csihás, FCCI says:

        Those who lack the proper credentials for interpretation and/or translation are the ones who ought to be taking the next step to get DULY certified rather than masquerading as such.

        We have already taken that step. Don’t give up the ship.

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    sorry for the typo. Mean to write “…the words right out…”

    • oxana says:

      Those who lack the proper credentials for interpretation and/or translation are the ones that must be legally prohibited from working. Just like attorneys who have not been admitted to the bar don’t get to practice law and doctors who are not licensed don’t get to practice medicine.

      This will eliminate the practice of agencies using the moonlighting, para-professional bottom feeding hobbyists to drive down the pros’ fees.

      Now we can wait for this to magically happen – to be fair, some states have moved or are moving in that direction- or we can bring collective pressure to bear. The latter would require an organization that actually actively represents interpreter’s interest. If there were such an entity we wouldn’t be having this discussion for years now on this blog and others.

  • Diana Nisterenková-Chester says:

    I fully agree with André and love his expression of namby- pamby certification. I strongy believe as Izabel that it should be the academic qualification with further highly specialised training and not the crash course of vocational nature as it is so favoured .Unfortunately, there seems to be too many diplomas going round and what is worse that it is being promoted by some professional organisations as well. There is a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth.

  • Thank you for the article. I’m very concerned the way this profession is going, that is, it is going down in the sense that these factories keep producing more cheap laborers. That’s what they are. Laborers. They have not the slightest clue what they are doing. Sometimes, once in a while, a law firm or a department of social services or someone who has been using these sub-standard bilinguals (at best), hires me –for a good fee, of course– and they can’t stop raving about what an awesome job I did, how professional, amazing, and on-and-on, but I’m just really doing my work in a professional way, period. I am very good, yes, but the others are amateurs. My new clients say things like: you’re the best interpreter we have ever had! I often wonder what horrors the other “interpreter” was doing.

    To defend our profession, we cannot be best kept secrets, and we must constantly politely wow our customers, for they ARE legitimately OUR customers, and not that of the impostors. Strong words, well… yes. I have a family to provide for, and I don’t appreciate impostors, usurpers of our profession.

    This article reminds me of what I was told by a dear lady who is one of the persons who wrote the Federal Court Interpreter Orientation Manual. She was telling me that her Arabic interpreter did not have enough work in a nearby area (a tristate metropolis of 2.2 million souls), and that he moved to Chicago. He did better there, much better, but he decided to move to Abu Dhabi with his whole family and is doing extremely well there. Hmm…. The guys from San Fran who trained me for my FCICE moved to Paris and are having a grand life.

    • oxana says:

      It should have become apparent to us by now that our individual isolated efforts at “defending our profession” though an essential component, fall woefully short of what is needed to turn the tide.

      In fact, the history of labor in the world tips us off to the reality that unless those who carry out the work present a united common organized front against those who buy and sell our services e.g. agencies, we’ll end up on the short end of the stick as we increasingly appear to do, falling victim to a divide and conquer scenario that pits the para-professional, or “impostor” to use Mr. Lopez’ term, against the bonafide pros.

      A concentrated effort is required to carry out analysis, implement steps,
      and monitor the effectiveness of steps taken. At most so far we seem to be stuck in the dabbling in voicing complaints stage. And as long as we stay in that stage things won’t change for the better and the idea of jumping ship for greener pastures will loom large as the only alternative -not an option for everyone.

  • […] Dear Colleagues: It seems like every time I open my mailbox, see a tweet, or read a professional publication, I see new advertisement for all these interpreter courses, interpreter certifications, …  […]

  • […] Dear Colleagues: It seems like every time I open my mailbox, see a tweet, or read a professional publication, I see new advertisement for all these interpreter courses, interpreter certifications, …  […]

  • Cecilia Spearing says:

    Tony, I believe what you are stating is absolutely correct. I have often thought the same thing. Now, the question is, what can be done about it?

    • oxana says:

      Cecilia, exactly, you’ve put your finger on our collective sore spot: What can be done about it; that is the question we should at this stage really be getting around to asking.

      What we have done so far – if you review the posts on this blog from the very beginning, this pattern emerges – is voice our views on the deplorable state of our profession turning these pages, so generously made available by the intrepid Mr. Rosado, into a virtual wailing wall.

      The natural next step would seem to be to interact with one-another proposing and discussing solutions. Very little if any of that seems to happen here. Perhaps here is not the venue for it but without that next step -moving from a commiseration fest to a what action can we take stance- we will continue to let those that do not have interpreters interests and the profession at heart determine our present and our future.

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