A big problem with continuing education.

September 6, 2016 § 9 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Let me start this entry by saying that I am a strong supporter of continuing education for all interpreters. I know that the topic is somewhat controversial and some colleagues believe that it is unnecessary to have an organized practice of checking on colleagues who have already graduated from school or achieved certification or accreditation. I have been contacted by colleagues telling me that they consider continuing education a waste of time; that they are already certified or accredited and there is no other professional level above that; they have said that there is nobody out there who knows enough to teach anything to interpreters that are already at this level.

There is another group of colleagues who believe that continuing education is just a way for some interpreters to make money from teaching others what they can learn on their own; Some even claim that it creates a false sense of insecurity and need to take a seminar or a workshop, especially when these courses are sanctioned or even organized by government agencies or professional organizations.

Finally, there is the position of others who acknowledge the value of continuing education, but oppose it de facto when they state that as a policy or program, continuing education is too expensive to run and control. That there is not enough money to do it, and for this reason interpreters are not required to comply. This is the position adopted by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the only court jurisdiction in the United States with an interpreter certification requirement that does not include continuing education as one of the elements to maintain a valid certification.

In my opinion, it is not possible to provide a truly professional service without preparation. Interpreting is a complex task that requires of sharp skills and huge amounts of knowledge.

The practice of any profession in a developed country requires that those individuals providing the service have a degree and a license, patent, certification or accreditation to show that they meet the minimum standards needed to work as a professional. Then, in order to keep said certification or whatever license is required, the professional individual must comply with continuing education requirements to guarantee society that they have kept up with the changes in their profession.  Lawyers, physicians, accountants, engineers, teachers, and in many cases interpreters, must abide by these rules. Everyday more developing countries are following on these steps, and (in some cases with huge opposition from special interest groups) are beginning to require continuing education for their attorneys and doctors among many others.

Interpreters are aware of their reality: you need to study and prepare for a conference if you want to do a good job. Most colleagues would not disagree.

I believe that the need for continuing education becomes more apparent and crucial in the case of those interpreters whose work is linked to the life, health, freedom, and wellbeing of a person.

As interpreters, we all work with something that is constantly changing, permanently evolving: we work with languages.  As interpreters who work in the real world, we are also impacted by science and technology. They have changed the way we work: from simultaneous interpreting equipment to note-taking on a tablet; from digital dictionaries to video remote interpreting.  The language we spoke when we first started working and the means used to deliver our rendition do not look like the ones we presently use on a daily basis.  There is a constant need to learn.

Moreover, healthcare, medical, court, and legal interpreters work with medicine and legislation. Sometimes these fields are less permanent than language and technology.  Those agencies that certify or accredit these interpreters, whether they are run by a government or by a professional association, cannot put the client at risk. They have to assure the consumer of the professional service (a physician, attorney, patient, defendant, plaintiff, or victim) that the interpreters who have achieved certification or accreditation meet the standard requirements to practice the profession, and that they have been able to update their skills and knowledge by complying with continuing education requirements.  Remember, we are dealing with human life, freedom, and assets.

Most court and healthcare interpreters in the U.S. acknowledge the importance of continuing education in ethics, interpreting, science, legal changes, and technology.  There are also many colleges, professional associations, independent interpreter trainers, and government agencies that organize and offer quality continuing education at all levels.  In the United States, continuing education is accessible all over the country at one time or another.  The problem is not the willingness of the interpreter to attend the seminars, courses or workshops (even though sometimes the motivation to study may be the risk of losing the certification or accreditation for lack of credits); the real problem is the difficult and sometimes absurd requirements that some government agencies ask for in order to approve a workshop or a seminar for continuing education.

There are government agencies where an ethics workshop will never be approved for continuing education, even when the only subject matter of the class is ethics, unless the word “ethics” is included on the title of the workshop.  Sometimes a workshop that deals with the business aspects of the profession, or a seminar on legislative changes are not approved for continuing education because the individual who makes the decision does not understand the subject matter or its relevance. There are also places where continuing education credits are only granted when the course or workshop is offered by the government.

There are some government agencies where the person deciding what does or does not constitute continuing education for an interpreter program has never interpreted, or has never been involved with interpreting or translating.  Many times these are people who were transferred from another bureaucratic post because of their clerical skills, not their professional knowledge. Sometimes the people running a program decide to exercise their “power”, and only approve for continuing education credits those workshops that they contracted and organized; ignoring, and for all practical purposes running out of the state, all seminars and courses offered by reputable entities and instructors that, in the judgment of this government bureaucrat, “are too expensive”, even when the presenters are world-class.

I believe that certifications and accreditation at all levels and in all specialty fields are too important to leave them at the mercy of individuals who are only interested in covering their own behinds or favor their buddies. The granting of continuing education credits should be decided by government officials who are interpreters and know the profession, or even better, by a committee of local reputable interpreters who know what the profession needs because they know what it is all about.  I now ask you to share with the rest of us your experiences in dealing with these unreasonable government officials, or your ideas as to how continuing education credits should be granted.

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§ 9 Responses to A big problem with continuing education.

  • isahudgins says:

    Check! And this situation is even worse in Mexico. In my State, 70% of State-certified legal translator/interpreters make the “Lista de Peritos Oficiales” not on merit and/or proof that they are proficient in a specific area of expertise, but because an insider in the State government is his or her relative or friend. This I’ve discovered first hand through the years, when asked to re-translate or offer my professional opinion of a translation submitted by another State-certified translator, before the court or by a Notary Public, if it’s a private instrument. As you already know, Tony, I am totally for continuing education.

  • Alina Salvat says:

    As always Tony you deal with a very important subject head on. I feel it is essential for court Interpreters to obtain and maintain CEU’s. These courses should, in my opinion, be offered by companies who have significant experience with the subject matter.

    Also, if one is a certified court Interpteter having passed the Consortia exam (state certification), then I believe one should attempt to attend workshops conducted by Federally certified court Interpreters with many years (ideally 5+) of experience in the Federal court setting. That is what I have attempted to do.

    That said, I’m not opposed to taking workshops online. Sometimes that is the only option available. What is critical then is to ID an ethical, competent and professional organization and ascertain if the CEU’S they offer are accepted by the state(s) in which one is working. Just my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

  • transcreare says:

    I totally agree with you, Tony. I can hardly believe those professionals who actually think continuing education is not necessary! We need to educate ourselves not only in our working fields and keep up with the constante change, as you very well put it, but we need to continually educate ourselves in a wide variety of subjects if we want to keep growing, both professionaly and personally! Thank you for always sharing your thoughts with us.

  • Arnaldo B says:

    I agree with those who think that MOST continuing education courses for interpreters are little more than a cash cow for some. What superficially seems to make perfect sense and sounds like a good idea—one that should definitely be implemented—can and does lead into people suddenly being forced to shell out money to sit through something they most likely already know, or can figure out on their own. I work as a staff interpreter for a certain organization that promotes—and requires that we participate in—an annual “training day”, always bringing in a different presentation by someone recognized as a leader in the industry. Although these are labeled “continuing education”, I always leave Training Day with the impression that I just wasted a perfectly good day. The materials presented invariably seem like old, rehashed, or self-obvious stuff. I am saying this to bring attention to the hidden dangers in making continuing education a compulsory condition in order to keep a license, accreditation or certification. Our profession is not as technology-intensive as other fields, and the kind of improvement we need we should be able to accomplish by ourselves. My continuing education is something that I do on my own, on a daily basis, and in non-traditional ways. We aren’t as well paid as doctors or dentists, for the most part, and the cost of mandatory courses might be too heavy for some. I think continuing education should remain within the realm of the personal professional ethics of the individual interpreter. Just my 2¢.

  • Perla Johnsen says:

    I disagree with Arnaldo B. – Continuing education is a must in our line of work. We are professionals, and like doctors, we need to keep abreast of new technology and changes in all industries we deal with. The more knowledge the better. One has to invest in any business to keep it growing. Continuing education is a most valuable tool.

  • André Csihas, FCCI says:

    Yeah, yeah, at one time I also thought that the redundancy of the ethics and the same ol’, same ol’ rigamarole was just a bunch of hooey, repeating things that we learned years ago, but alas, I saw the light and realized that I’d rather have an interpreter who’s up to snuff and updated with the continued education classes, because at least that person cares enough about his/her profession to meet the mandated requirements and with that, projects an air of professionalism and quality to the job being done.

    Yes, we all know the ethics and yes, we all know what we have to do, but still, it behooves us to stay sharp and stay updated with our profession even if it seems like a boring event because ultimately only those who are updated will be trusted over those who exercise complacency thinking that “they know everything”.

    C’mon boys and girls, let’s not only be GOOD, but DARN GOOD interpreters and translators by ever-honing our skills with continuing education! Let’s be grateful that we have an honorable profession and also let’s not forget that ultimately we are part of the solution and not part of the problem. We are the funnel that connects those in need with a fair shake at justice, and I can’t think of a greater honor that is of higher value than that!


    André Csihas, FCCI

  • Bethany Korp says:

    New Jersey also does not have a continuing ed requirement.

  • My opinion is that continuing education is extremely important. The legislation, terminology, vocabulary, etc. are in a constant state of flux. I always attend continuing education at a location (San Diego) where there are interpreters from both Mexico and the United States. The presenters are also from both countries. This includes attorneys who live in one country and practice in the other. There is always discussion involving international issues. For example, the children are in one country and the parent paying child support in the other. Last year we had presentations involving the Letters Rogatory and also Mexico’s new criminal law procedures. I always learn a good deal.
    I would like to have more available in my second language combination, German-English,but I guess, because there are fewer of us, there isn’t much available. (Earlier, it was available, through SCATIA.)

  • […] interessante articolo scritto da Tony Rosado e incentrato sulle problematiche della “continuing education” mostra come, in realtà, il mondo professionale non sia pienamente concorde sull’utilità della […]

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