Standards For Interpreting

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What Is Happening with ISO, ASTM and Going Forward into the Future

Article based on an interview by Margarite Heintz Montez with Marjory Bancroft

Marjory Bancroft is the Director of Cross-Cultural Communications and also the World Project Leader responsible for developing the upcoming standard ISO 18841, Interpreting: General Requirements, for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

The Gotham had a conversation with her regarding standardization for interpreters, which seems to be on everyone’s mind today.  Members of the NYCT will really appreciate her insight into the standardization process.  Many organizations including the ATA have been discussing certification and standardization, but so far the ATA has not developed any certification for interpreters.

International Standards

ISO recently published its first International Standard for interpreting: ISO 13611:2014, Interpreting: Guidelines for Community Interpreting. The second ISO standard, 18841, will be a stricter requirements standard that addresses all areas of interpreting; 18841 is intended to be an “umbrella” standard.

This standard which should be completed by 2017 addresses three key areas:

  • Terms and definitions
  • Requirements for interpreters
  • Requirements for Interpreting Service Providers (ISPs, including self-employed interpreters who act, in effect, as their own interpreting agencies).

After the standard is published, there might be companies who seek to create a certification program, particularly for ISPs, based on the standard,.

ISO involves input from many countries. For instance, 29 countries were involved in the development of the community interpreting standard. For the new standard, 42 national member delegations are participating, in addition to many “liaison delegations” that can’t vote but include the European Commission, European Parliament, FIT (international Federation of Interpreters) and WASLA (World Association of Sign Language Interpreters), among others.

ISO standards are strictly voluntary, so although they are international standards that technically apply to all countries, in reality only those interpreters and ISPs who choose to comply with ISO interpreting standards will do so.

ASTM International is another organization that develops international standards. However, for interpreting the ASTM involvement is primarily U.S.-based. Thus, the ASTM interpreting standard ASTM F2089: Standard Practice for Language Interpreting  is more an American standard.  However, ASTM standards in general are used in more than 100 countries, so the interpreting standard might be used in a number of countries.

ASTM standards must be revised and updated every few years. That revision just took place for F2089 and the newest version of this interpreting standard has just been published. It is a stricter standard than its previous version, which is likely to please many professional interpreters. However, this standard, like ISO’s, is voluntary.

U.S. Standards

In addition to international standards, the United States has medical and court standards as well as certification programs. The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the National Association of Interpreters in the Judiciary (NAJIT), the federal courts and the state courts have published a code of ethics for interpreters. In addition, NCIHC and IMIA have published formal, researched standards of practice. Standards of practice are standards developed by professionals for professionals. Those published by IMIA and NCIHC have had influence in other countries.

Sign language also has both general and specialized (including educational) standards of practice published by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and they are needed.

In addition, the National Board of Certified Medical Interpreters (NBCMI, part of IMIA), the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), NAJIT, federal courts, many state courts and RID have all developed national or state certification for interpreters for either medical interpreters (IMIA and CCHI) or court interpreters (NAJIT, federal courts and state courts). The state of Washington has also developed a state certification for community (medical and social services) interpreters. In some ways, because it involves both a written and oral skills examination, certification implies a set of strict standards.

Finally, three U.S. entities have developed standards that address training and education programs for interpreters:

  • In 2010, the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE) published its revision of Accreditation Standards for programs that educate sign language interpreters.
  • In 2011, NCIHC published National Standards for Healthcare Interpreter Training Programs.
  • In 2012, IMIA published National Accreditation Standards for Medical Interpreter Education Programs.


Driving forces

International migration has been a major force in the drive for standardization.  There is an inescapable need for professional interpreters in medical, community and the legal areas.  Hospitals, government agencies and even schools have added pressure to have more qualified certified interpreters.

Alas, money is a major driving force.  Hospitals do not want to be sued for inappropriate care or negligence. To reduce risk and liability, many hospitals are engaging more qualified and certified professional interpreters.  Agencies that send interpreters to hospitals also then need more qualified and certified interpreters to send, and interpreters themselves see having more qualifications as a sign of professionalism.


Certification and Credentials

A training certificate is not certification! What would it cost interpreters to obtain real certification?  The answer varies by specialization. Each state court may have a different cost, whereas national certification for medical interpreters by CCHI or IMIA costs roughly $450.

However, credentials are credentials, whether an interpreter is just starting out or is a seasoned veteran. A certificate for attending a training program or conference is a credential. For medical, court and general interpreters, however, certification is considered the most important credential.

Certification for state courts is available in about 20 languages, but for federal courts only in Spanish. The two national medical interpreter certifications cover 7 languages. However, even taking the written test alone for court or medical interpreter certification (which an interpreter of any language pair can do) is a credential worth having.

Whether or not one can get certified, it behooves interpreters or all levels to try to attain meaningful credentials, perform their work to the best of their abilities and know about and follow the relevant standards. Doing so is one hallmark of a professional interpreter.

The Gotham Translator wishes to thank Marjory Bancroft for her time in helping us prepare this article.

About the Author
Margarite Heintz MontezMargarite Heintz Montez is a conference interpreter and editor of The Gotham Translator. She has been a long-time member of the NY Circle of Translators, the ATA and is on the Human Rights Committee of FIT.

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