Formalizing Community Interpreting Standards

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Formalizing Community Interpreting Standards: A Cross-National Comparison of Testing Systems, Certification Conventions and Recent ISO Guidelines

Jim Hlavac [1]

Monash University

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“Formalizing Community Interpreting Standards”

1. Introduction

Community interpreting, which in this paper is applied to examples of mostly spoken language interpreting, has been generally understood to refer to all forms of interpreting apart from conference, diplomatic, business and media interpreting. The term ‘community interpreting’ first became popular in the predominantly Anglophone countries of the New World that have witnessed continuing immigration from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America over the last century. This paper examines the credentialing of standards and skills levels required for individuals to perform community interpreting by presenting current certification systems in four countries: Australia, Canada, Norway and the UK. The ISO [International Standards Organization] 13611 ‘Interpreting – Guidelines for community interpreting’ (hereafter referred to as: ‘ISO Guidelines’) published in December 2014 are also examined in light of their relationship to national standards. The ISO Guidelines are a recognition of the increasing professionalization of community interpreting and the emergence of the occupation ‘community interpreter’. These developments are discussed in terms of desirable and target attributes of community interpreter performance and in terms of the harmonization of cross-national systems in a globalized and highly mobile language services industry.

This paper presents certification conventions of community interpreting in four countries with extensive Translation and Interpreting (hereafter: T&I) infrastructure: Australia, Canada, Norway and the UK. This paper examines attributes of certification conventions and poses two research questions: 1) whether the development of testing systems has led to a widening of the skills now required for community interpreting; 2) whether testing alone is a means for the demonstration and ascertainment of all of these skills.

This paper commences with a brief outline of how the term ‘community interpreting’ (Section 2) has been employed and what it is commonly understood to refer to (Section 3). In Section 4, the conventions of certification are firstly outlined at the macro-level to show which admission requirements the certifying authorities set for potential applicants. Further, the testing component of the certification systems and their relationship to training opportunities is presented, as well as other features of credentialing such as the certification being a formal legal title, and limited in time or not. The next section, 4.1, presents the components of the certifying authorities’ tests and the skills and performance demonstration that they require from test candidates. This section contains a discussion of these skills and a ‘cross-national’ comparison with a view to show common and shared attributes of certification. These then inform the presentation of the ISO Guidelines for community interpreting in Section 5. The conclusion re-visits attributes common to both national systems and the recent international initiative, and contextualises these in line with the two research questions.

The four countries whose credential systems are examined in this paper were selected on the basis of the existence of an identifiable credential system that has existed for some time in each of the countries, and because some of them are located in different regions of the world. The selection of these four countries does not suggest that I consider the credential systems in these countries to be superior (or inferior) to those found in other countries. Discussion focuses on the attributes of the testing systems of national credentialing authorities and the ISO guidelines. Discussion includes why such attributes may pertain to testing and performance, and why some attributes may be present in some more recent testing systems and not in others. To be sure, this paper does not provide an evaluation of these attributes as testing components. Instead, discussion is focused on concluding whether the development of a number of attributes is evidence of testing and credentialing systems that now require a demonstration of a widening of the number of skills and/or a demonstration of greater skill complexity.

2. Describing Interpreting and Standards

The T&I sector is characterized by increasing diversification according to new technological advances (e.g., video-link interpreting, machine interpreting via voice-recognition technology) as well as socio-demographic changes (e.g., increased mobility of linguistic groups, rapid changes in the linguistic landscape of urban areas). Increased mobility and globalization make a cross-national comparison of certification procedures timely as interpreters face changing marketplaces.

While the T&I sector is undergoing diversification and specialization, conversely, in many countries it is now being subjected to regulatory standards in a similar way to work practices in other fields of employment. In the first place, regulatory standards appear to offer protections primarily to service users, the consumers. However, regulatory standards also perform the function of formalizing standards of work practice within a profession, and in doing so, they raise the profile and standing of that profession through consumers’ knowledge that that profession is regulated. Further, formalization of standards pertaining to the relationship of service-provider to service-user seeks to offer protections to the former in disputes with the latter, and also regulates internal work practices pertaining to the service-provider.

In many countries there are now authorities, either governmental or those belonging to professional associations, which perform the regulation of standards. Regulation is performed on the basis of any or all of the following: evidence of training and formal testing, collected evidence of work performed, and recommendations from fellow practitioners.

Another means of quality assurance is now also being introduced to the T&I sector in some countries: that of standards. In Canada, the National Standard Guide for Community Interpreting Services (National Registers of Communication Professionals, 2007) was released as a 45-page document that provides a multifaceted resource on community interpreting: a descriptive guide to interpreting to non-interpreters, a guide with recommended training pathways for community interpreters, a statistical survey of the number of users of interpreting services, and a guideline document on standards of practice and ethical principles. In the US, a national standard (albeit with the desire that such a standard would gain popularity beyond the US), “Language Interpretation Services” (ASTM F2089), was reapproved in 2007 (American Society for Testing and Materials International [ASTM], 2007). From the content of this standard, it is clear that it relates primarily to conference or court interpreting, given that most space in the document is devoted to these two areas of interpreting. Although the ASTM standard stakes a claim to relate to all types of interpreting, it appears to be a document with limited influence on training and certifying authorities, both in the US and outside it. The ASTM is an example, however, of an attempt to set a comprehensive and universally applicable description of interpreting. This same aim is clear in the scope of the ISO, examined in further detail in section 5.

In 2013, the ISO Draft Guidelines for community interpreting, ISO/FDIS 13611 were released for discussion, and on 1 December 2014, an endorsed standard, ISO 13611 ‘Interpreting – Guidelines for community interpreting’ was officially released (ISO, 2014). The development of the ISO Guidelines for community interpreting reflects not only the expertise of community interpreters from different countries and situations, but also the perceived need for a global document that sets out the specifications and characteristics that are fit for the purpose of the provision of community interpreting services. The authors of the ISO Guidelines have sought to bring into the standard their own ‘inherited’ know-how and that of their source countries/societies. As is clear, national or regional (and sometimes, as in the case of Canada, even local) conventions on standards of community interpreting precede these global developments. The ISO Guidelines, therefore, chronologically follow and are unavoidably influenced by the legacy of national certification systems that have existed before them.

3. Definitions of Community Interpreting

As stated above, ‘community interpreting’ is defined here as encompassing the following areas: public service (i.e. interactions with government employed personnel and others in areas of public administration such as housing, welfare, counselling etc.); education; medical; legal (court and police) and faith-based organizations. ‘Community interpreting’ functions here as a hypernym that includes all forms of interpreting other than conference, business, media and diplomatic interpreting.

In the UK, the term ‘community interpreting’ is distinguished from the term ‘public service interpreting’, in part through the existence of two different qualifications: the Community Interpreting Certificate, which is a level 1–3 qualification, and the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting, which is a level 6 qualification.[2] The Diploma of Public Service Interpreting (DPSI)[3] is a more popular, and more widely recognized qualification, and is also the favoured prerequisite for entry onto the National Register for Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI, 2011). (The Community Interpreting Certificate is not listed as a qualification that allows applicants to gain entry to the NRPSI.) In this paper, and according to the definition of community interpreting that has been adopted in this paper as outlined in the above paragraph, the DPSI is adopted as the benchmark certification for community interpreting, notwithstanding the nomenclature in the UK. In the DPSI, testing occurs according to the specialist pathway that a candidate must choose: law (English, Scottish or Northern Irish), health or local government.

The situation in the UK, in which their current notion of ‘community interpreting’ does not include court or police interpreting, and where these are encompassed by ‘public service interpreting’, appears to have had some influence on the definition of community interpreting used in the recently released ISO Guidelines. In some other countries, especially those that have a code law tradition, with the institution of a ‘court sworn interpreter’ (e.g., Austria, Croatia, Spain), court interpreting is an activity clearly delineated from interpreting that occurs in the fields of healthcare, education, social welfare, and so forth. Due to these different conceptualizations of the position (or status) of court interpreting, the ISO Guidelines list some countries for which community interpreting encompasses court interpreting and also other countries that do not do this. In its own description, the ISO Guidelines are ambivalent as to whether community interpreting encompasses this or not (ISO, 2014).

In regard to nomenclatures that distinguish ‘court interpreting’ as a separate field, a problem quickly becomes apparent with an enforcement of performance standards inside the courtroom but not outside it. While ‘court interpreting’, and the distinction of ‘court sworn interpreters’ is a relevant feature of some countries, an inconsistency becomes apparent if in legal interpreting for police interrogations or consultations with lawyers there is no requirement to employ a similarly credentialed ‘court sworn interpreter’. In practice, interpreting for the police and lawyers (and also ‘court interpreting’) is often performed by those employed in ‘community interpreting’ according to this paper’s definition of it. Thus, community interpreting occurs across the police, legal and judicial sectors and a conceptualization of community interpreting, I argue, needs to include all of these and not needlessly exclude any of them. A detailed examination of court interpreting and ‘non-courtroom, legal interpreting’, comparing US and Canadian conventions on this is provided by Bancroft, Bendana, Bruggeman, and Feuerle (2013).

In the New World, the emergence of community interpreting would have been unimaginable without national policies that not only recognize the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the population, but also policies that recognize the need for services to be provided so that speakers of other languages could participate in and contribute to society in a social, educational, occupational, economic and political sense.

Implicit in the setting up and provision of these services in some New World countries was that public authorities (national, state or local) through public amenities such as hospitals, the courts, the police, schools etc. would finance these services. Further, these services were to be provided not only to migrants with limited proficiency in English, but also to users of signed language and speakers of indigenous languages (at least in Canada, while in Australia, the addition of these latter two groups occurred subsequently). This paper, as stated in section 1, focuses mainly on spoken language interpreting, and the majority of tests examined in the sections to follow are tests for community interpreting for spoken languages only. (Features of signed and spoken community interpreting are outlined in the context of the ISO Guidelines – see Section 5.)

4. Attributes of Certification and of Candidates Seeking Certification

In some countries (e.g., China, Sweden), it is a governmental organization that administers and conducts certification. In others a governmental organization only administers certification and certification itself is conducted by another (usually professional) organization (e.g., Austria, Germany). In this section, a cross-national comparison of certification systems for community interpreting in four countries is presented: Australia, Canada, Norway[4] and the UK.

In Australia, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (hereafter: NAATI) has conducted testing for interpreters and conferred accreditation (the Australian term for ‘certification’) to successful test candidates since 1977. Canada is the home country of Critical Link, the International Council for the Development of Community Interpreting, an organization that has hosted conferences and greatly furthered research on community interpreting. At the request of Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, the Community Interpreter Language and Interpreting Skills Assessment Tool (CILISAT) was developed in 1994, which is now widely used not only in this Canadian province but also in seven other provinces, and has become the national quasi-standard for community interpreter certification in Canada [5].

Norway, although a country that has never officially affirmed a national policy of multiculturalism, has given some consideration to the development of immigration and integration policies, which included provision for the establishment of interpreting services (Skaaden, 1999). In 1990, the Norwegian Interpreter Certification Examination was established and administered by the Linguistics Department of the University of Oslo (Mortensen, 2001; Skaaden, 2003) to cater for a pressing need for the credentialing of community interpreters. Since 2005, the Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity has co-ordinated the registration of interpreters. Some of the macro-level features of certification in Norway are under the auspices of the Norwegian National Register of Interpreters, but most are contained within the Norwegian Interpreter Certification Examination (hereafter: NICE). The term ‘NICE’ will be the one used to ‘represent’ Norway (cf. Giambruno, 2014).

In the UK, the DPSI was developed in 1983 (CIoL, 2013). The DPSI is intended for interpreters working in languages for communities that have been established in the UK on the basis of post-WWII migration and, more recently, from intra-European migration.

Table 1 below outlines macro-level features of the testing of the certification systems. The selection of these macro-level features is made on the basis of features identified by researchers who have examined attributes of interpreting examinations as ‘stand-alone’ tests (Mortensen, 2001) and certifying interpreters at university training centres (Kalina, 2002; Lee, 2009; Mikkelson, 2013), community-based training courses (Mikkelson, 2007; Vermeiren et al, Van Gucht, & De Bontridder, 2009) and cross-national surveys (Hlavac, 2013; Stejskal, 2005, Turner & Ozolins, 2007).

Table 1. Features of testing procedures reported from sample organizations

Australia NAATI Accreditation (Professional) Canada CILISAT Certification Norwegian Interpreter Certification Examination UK Diploma of Public Service Interpreting
Certification conducted by a governmental organization Yes No Yes a No
Language proficiency test No No Yes b No
Formal examination of skill in inter-lingual transfer. Yes Yes Yes Yes
Evidence of previous experience required No No No No
Minimum age Yes No Yes Yes (19)
Membership of accrediting association obligatory No No No No
Minimum education level Yes No No No
Lack of criminal record N/Avail. N/Avail. No Yes c
Signed-language interpreting Yes No No No
Availability of practice/sample tests Yes Yes Yes Yes
Statistics on pass rate Yes Yes Yes (10%) No
Details of the content of the interpreting test made public Yes Yes Yes Yes
Specialist components No No Yes. Law, Medicine, Employment and Social Life Yes. Law, Health, Local Government
Video or audio recording of exam Yes Yes Yes Yes
Training as a pre-requisite or strongly advised attribute No No Yes Yes
Test / exam accompanied by training No No No Yes
Availability of any training Yes Yes Yes Yes
Conferral of legal title No No Yes Yes
Re-registration/re-validation of certification required Yes No No Yes

a  A publicly-funded tertiary institution, the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA), administers national certification while a government agency, the Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi), grants the certification.

b  This is both a test of language proficiency and skill in inter-lingual transfer.

c While the DPSI examination does not specify a lack of criminal record, a lack of criminal record is a requirement for registration onto the NRPSI.

Table 1 above and the asterisked notes show that certification is conducted either by governmental organizations, or by nonprivate providers such as NGOs (CISOC in Canada) or an educational trust (of the CIoL in the UK). Language proficiency testing is not usually a prerequisite, while a formal examination of skill in interlingual transfer is part of all certification systems. According to the attributes listed above, no previous experience is required in any system, but applicants must usually be of a minimum age. Evidence of a ‘clean’ criminal record is not required for any tests, and is, in fact, usually not mentioned at all. Reflecting the fact that signed language interpreting is often conceived of or classified in a separate way, only one of the testing systems includes both spoken and signed interpreting (NAATI); the remaining do not, and testing for signed language interpreters occurs through other channels[6]. In some cases, practice or sample test materials are made available, and details of the format and skills tested are also publicly accessible. Statistics on pass rates are sometimes published. It appears that their function is not only to inform interested parties of the rate of successful test-takers, but to alert potential candidates of the relative difficulty of the test.

A distinction between the Australian and Canadian certification systems on the one hand, and the Norwegian and UK ones on the other, is the requirement for specialization that applies in the latter two countries – in the areas of law, health and public services in general. This is a consequence of training being a strongly advised attribute for the DPSI test and the NICE. Exams are also video- or audio-recorded[7]. This indicates also that ‘live testing’, that is, the presence of one or two other speakers for whom the candidate interprets, may not always be possible, and that test candidates can be provided with recorded speeches/dialogues, which they then interpret, and their interpretations are recorded and sent to examiners. Two of the systems require a renewal or revalidation of certification, on the basis of demonstrated further professional development, rather than retesting. The DPSI and admission to the Norwegian National Register of Interpreters are credentials that carry the weight of a legal title.

The components of the four testing systems above compare favourably when matched against the components of the certification systems that were presented in Stejskal’s (2005) overview of 63 T&I professional associations across 40 countries, and Turner and Ozolins’ (2007) data on a smaller number of T&I testing and certifying bodies[8]. A favourable comparison refers here to the fact that it is possible to more transparently ascertain attributes of the four testing systems above. There is public availability of test components, of sample tests and availability of training opportunities that pertain to these four systems.

In the studies of Stejskal (2005), Turner and Ozolins (2007) and Hlavac (2013), the following general findings from a cross-national perspective could be reported about testing and certifying authorities globally: many do not include tests on language proficiency as a ‘stand-alone’ feature; a minimum education level (normally completion of secondary school) is a usual requirement; video or audio taping of interpreting exams is often not specified; the details of the interpreting tests are not publicly available; training is usually not required or even offered as a corequisite.

4.1    Components of Testing Systems

Attention now switches to the components of the tests themselves. Tables 2 and 3 below present performance or skill criteria that must be demonstrated for a test candidate to pass the test and gain the desired certification. Three of the testing systems are in predominantly Anglophone countries, while one is in Norway. The language designations used here are ‘Eng.’ (English), ‘LOTE’ (language other than English), ‘Nor.’ (Norwegian) and ‘LOTN’ (language other than Norwegian). Some testing systems contain two stages, and completion of the first stage is highly recommended before undertaking the next stage, usually the (main) test itself. These are listed as ‘hurdle’ components. The presentation of performance skills that are demonstrated at the hurdle stage relate to those that are discernible items in the testing and certification system. In testing systems that require training as a pre- or corequisite to the ‘main test’, particular performance skills that may be part of the training are otherwise not listed as a ‘hurdle’ unless there are specific performance skills listed in the accompanying training. The Norwegian Interpreter Certification Exam, co-ordinated by the IMDi, also consists of two parts, the first written part being a prerequisite for the second, oral component, which is undertaken 3 to 4 months later. For the DPSI, there is no actual ‘hurdle’ that test candidates need to pass—anyone can attempt the DPSI final exam and attain the qualification. However, training courses for the DPSI are strongly recommended and those skills that are ascertainable from the pretest modules are listed in Table 1.

Where there is evidence that a performance criterion is tested this is represented with a ‘Yes’. Where information is available that this is not elicited, a ‘No’ response is given. Where sought information is not applicable or congruent to the testing system ‘N/A’ (‘not applicable’) is used to refer to a feature that does not apply to the test, while the response ‘N/Avail’ (‘not available’) indicates that information on that feature is not available.

Table 2: First-stage components of the testing system for admission to the ‘main test’ (Norway); Typical components of preliminary training recommended to test candidates for the DPSI (UK).

  Australia Canada Norway UK
Test Attributes NAATI CILISAT NICE DPSI a
Test of proficiency in Eng./Nor. or LOTE/LOTN No hurdle test required No hurdle test required No N/Avail.
Written translation test Eng./Nor. < > LOTE/LOTN Yes N/Avail.
Specialist exercises – terminology (legal/health) in Eng. & LOTE / Nor. & LOTN Yes Yes
Ethics / Standards of practice / Roles of interpreter Yes Yes
Knowledge of legal responsibilities & liability Yes N/Avail.
Cultural awareness Yes Yes
Written / Oral Written Both
Online delivery available No Yes
Pass mark 80% Certificate of completion (min. 85%) attendance)

a Training courses for the DPSI are optional, as previously stated. The information provided here is taken from an online education provider that offers training for the DPSI exam, and is taken from its description of training provided (DPSI Online, 2015).

Table 2 above shows that the community interpreting testing systems in Australia and in Canada do not contain hurdle requirements for admission to the ‘main test’. In the first-stage testing in Norway, and in pretest training in the UK, demonstration of language proficiency in Norwegian or English and LOTN/LOTE is not elicited. Translation is a feature of the NICE test that requires candidates to complete bi-directional translation of terms and the translation of a text of 250–350 words into Norwegian. Knowledge of specialist terms through monolingual elicitation is conducted in DPSI pretest training. Knowledge of role, role-relationships, ethical considerations and/or knowledge of a relevant code of ethics/conduct is usually elicited at this first stage (and usually retested at the second stage). Cultural awareness or knowledge of cross-cultural pragmatics is less commonly elicited. The first-stage test (Norway), or pretest training (UK), are offered in written or written/oral form. Although ‘uncharacteristic’ for interpreting, a written performance from test-takers is logistically simpler to administer and to distribute, and literacy skills, including computer literacy skills, are now an attribute required of contemporary community interpreters. Attention now turns to the components of the ‘second-stage’ or ‘main test’ in all countries’ testing systems.

Table 3. Second-stage components or the ‘main test’ for certification.

  Australia Canada Norway UK
Test Attributes NAATI CILISAT NICE DPSI
Max. time limit between hurdle/pre-requisite and sitting test N/A N/A N/A 5 years
Minimum formal standard of general education required Yes No No No
Formal T&I training as a pre- or co-requisite for admission to main test No No No No
Consecutive Dialogue Interpreting Eng. < > LOTE / Nor. < > LOTN. Yes Yes Yes Yes
Consecutive Speech Interpreting Eng < > LOTE / Nor. < > LOTN. Yes Yes Yes No
Sight translation Eng < > LOTE / Nor. < > LOTN. Yes Yes Yes Yes
Simultaneous interpreting (general)

Eng < > LOTE / Nor. < > LOTN.

No No No Yes
Simultaneous interpreting (chuchotage)

Eng < > LOTE / Nor. < > LOTN.

No No No Yes
Simultaneous interpreting (specialist area)

Eng < > LOTE / Nor. < > LOTN.

No No No Yes
Written translation Eng < > LOTE / Nor. < > LOTN. No No No Yes
Language proficiency in Eng & LOTE / Nor. & LOTN. marked as a feature internal to recorded performance Yes Yes Yes Yes
Knowledge of medical / legal terminology as separate area No No No No
Cultural competence Yes Yes No Yes
Knowledge of ethics Yes Yes Yes N/Avail.
Offered online No Yes No No
Pass mark 70% 75% 90% 50%

Table 3 above shows that there is some variation in the time that may elapse between when a candidate completes a first-stage test or training and then undertakes the second-stage test. For the NICE, this period is usually 3 to 4 months, while for the DPSI with requirements for specialization in law, health, or local government, the test must be taken within 5 years of registration to sit the test (usually when pretest training is undertaken). For the Australian NAATI interpreter test at professional level, a postsecondary qualification of at least 1 year is required or the preceding level of certification (i.e., paraprofessional interpreter accreditation, NAATI, 2014, p.8).

Dialogue consecutive interpreting and sight translation are attributes of all tests, while consecutive interpreting of longer stretches of speech, usually delivered in the form of a monologue, i.e. consecutive ‘speech interpreting’, is an attribute of all tests, except for the DPSI. Simultaneous interpreting is restricted to the DPSI. The DPSI is also the only test that explicitly requires whispered simultaneous interpreting (general, as well as chuchotage). The DPSI test is also the only one to include a written translation component. (The NICE test included translation of both short texts and words/expressions in the first or hurdle test. cf. Table 2.)

Most of the tests also elicit familiarity in ‘cultural competence’, that is, questions on cultural–pragmatic traits of groups of speakers and the ways that these are displayed in communicative interactions, particularly where these traits are possibly not recognized in the same way by groups of speakers whose cultural–pragmatic traits are different.

Other attributes are not explicitly tested. These include: inter-personal skills of explanation and delineation of the interpreter’s role, bi-cultural proficiency in pragmatics and proxemics, adaptation to different speakers’ idiomatic and discourse features, and interaction management skills. In fairness, these are ‘less straightforward’ attributes of interpreting performance, and more readily assessed in a cumulative or holistic sense, where examiners assess a candidate’s apparent ‘overall’ ability to display knowledge of the pragmatics of both language groups, ‘managing’ an interaction and so forth.

For some testing systems, these attributes are not explicitly assessed. For example, the CILISAT test is frank in an admission that it “does not measure… interpersonal communication skills” (CISOC, n.d., p.6). But for the DPSI test, examiners are supplied with descriptors of general performance in a grid of rubrics and are asked to locate attributes such as “reflects tone, emotion and non-verbal signs appropriate to situation”, “handles intercultural references correctly”, “displays good management strategies intervening appropriately and only when necessary to clarify or ask for repetition or prevent breakdown of communication” in the performance of test candidates and to allocate a score along a scale of four mark ranges (IoL Education Trust, 2010, p.11). Turner (2008) had proposed that such a marking system, with descriptors for such features, be considered for the marking of NAATI tests in Australia.

Knowledge of ethics (i.e. familiarity with relevant codes of ethics or conduct and the ability to cite a principle that guides behaviour in hypothetical situations) is tested in the NAATI and CILISAT tests, but it is not generally re-tested in the main test of the other systems. A feature of agencies that employ and supply community interpreters (CISOC, 2011), or national directories (NRPSI, 2015) that list them, is that they provide assurances that supplied or listed interpreters adhere to relevant ethical standards (i.e. nationally or locally declared ones). Abiding by the local (national) codes of ethics/conduct is now also a component of the ISO Guidelines for community interpreters with multiple entries (ISO, 2014, pp.12, 15, 20). The mark required for successful completion of the test is not usually 50%, which is the usual threshold for minimum acceptable standards in Anglophone countries, but well above it – usually 70%. (The DPSI test is an exception to this).

4.2    Attributes of Certification and Training

Training is recommended for the NAATI, CILISAT, NICE and DPSI tests, but not compulsory. The relationship between training and certification, although not axiomatic, deserves some attention, and training opportunities are briefly outlined in relation to each of the testing systems.

In Australia, the majority of interpreting accreditations (54%) are conferred through a candidate having completed a NAATI-approved course, not through the candidate passing a NAATI standalone test (J. Beever, personal communication, 20 October 2014). Training, although not yet a prerequisite to NAATI accreditation, is now the more popular pathway to certification in Australia. Some level of mandatory training is also suggested in the ‘Improvements into NAATI Testing’ project (NAATI, 2012).

The CILISAT test requires the purchase of a textbook for preparation (which contains the equivalent of 70 hours of unsupervised, self-directed exercises[9]) and a pre-test interview, but there is no information to show that training is required[10]. The increasing importance awarded to training, from it being a desirable pathway to testing to a co- or even pre-requisite to testing, is demonstrated in the system of registering interpreters in Norway. The Norwegian National Register of Interpreters distinguishes five categories of registered interpreters: Level 1: interpreters with national certification and university-level interpreter training; Level 2: interpreters with national certification only; Level 3: interpreters with university-level interpreter training (? 30 European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System [ECTS] points); Level 4: certified translators who have completed a 3-day intensive course on interpreting techniques; Level 5: potential interpreters who have a mark of 80% or above from the NICE’s bilingual test, and who have completed a short course on interpreting ethics and techniques. Users of interpreter services in Norway are informed of the registered level of the interpreter as well. In Australia, demonstrated performance level also distinguishes paraprofessional from professional interpreters and there is a slightly higher pay-rate that almost all agencies/providers pay to professional interpreters compared to paraprofessional ones.

The transition from ‘stand-alone’ tests (as the sole pathway to certification or registration) to training has been taking place in Norway for some years. The Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA) administers and conducts university level training, which is now the desired end-point of registration for interpreters in Norway. The HiOA conducts not only a course entitled ‘Interpreting in the Public Sector’ (30 ECTS), but in recent years has also developed and introduced university-level courses, each with a value of 15 ECTS. The HiOA aims to have a program of units available by 2018 that will constitute a Bachelor (in interpreting) of 180 ECTS. The professionalization of the ‘conference interpreter’, which to a considerable degree has occurred due to the emergence of university-level under-graduate and post-graduate courses to train students to become conference interpreters, is now occurring for the ‘community interpreter’ through the emergence of equivalent university-level courses, for at least a certain number of languages. (Languages of less diffusion are not commonly included in university-level programs, but potential interpreters in such languages may be serviced by an emerging type of course, ‘language-neutral’ courses. cf. Hlavac, Orlando, & Tobias, 2012).

The UK DPSI is a benchmark examination where those who pass it can seek not only registration with the NRPSI, but also gain a diploma. The DPSI is a qualification that seeks to train and test potential interpreters in the three largest fields of community interpreting: health, law and local government. It is a credential that entitles the holder not only to apply to the NRPSI, but also for membership of the national professional association, the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) and to advance directly to post-graduate Master-level courses in T&I.

5.    ISO Guidelines for Community Interpreting

As stated above in section 3, the ISO Guidelines that were released in 2014 do not clearly state whether community interpreting includes court interpreting or examples of ‘legal’ interpreting. As shown above in the case of the four certification systems that are the focus of this paper, all four include court and other forms of legal interpreting. The lack of clarity of the ISO Guidelines perhaps undermines a recommendation made in them: “Community interpreting occurs in a wide variety of dissimilar settings and should not be confused with other types of interpreting.” (ISO, 2014, p.v.). Notwithstanding this, the ISO Guidelines attempt to offer a broad picture of community interpreting and contain the following seven sections:

  1. Scope;
  2. Terms and definitions (including concepts for both interpreters and the interlocutors/organizations with whom they work);
  3. Basic principles of community interpreting;
  4. The community interpreter’s competences and qualifications;
  5. Recommendations for clients and end users;
  6. Responsibilities of interpreting service providers (ISPs);
  7. Role and responsibilities of community interpreters.

As can be seen, the first three sections of the ISO Guidelines introduce interpreting and community interpreting to a nonspecialist readership. This is a general characteristic of ISO standards that provide definitions and descriptions in lay terms in their initial sections. Section 4 is the first section to specify the skills that a community interpreter should possess. This modal verb is the one most widely used and indicates that the ISO Guidelines are not only descriptive but also prescriptive: “Community interpreters should have the ability to convey a message from the source to the target language (be it spoken or signed) in the applicable mode” (ISO, 2014, p.7). This quote also shows that the ISO Guidelines relate to both signed and spoken interpreting. The ISO Guidelines in sections 5 and 6 include suggested procedures for those working with community interpreters. The verb should is used also in these sections: for example, “During the interpreted communicative event, the client or end user should . . . avoid interrupting the community interpreter; allow the community interpreter to finish his/her statement” (Section 5) and “The ISP [Interpreter Service Provider] should . . . brief the client on how to work effectively with community interpreters” (Section 6; ISO, 2014, pp.9, 10). It is admirable that protocols are suggested also for those who work with community interpreters. In this way, the ISO Guidelines (like all ISO standards) are different from a professional code of ethics in that they address all parties to the interaction or occupational setting. Section 7 of the ISO Guidelines contains general recommendations on role-relationships, including ones specific to interaction and discourse management, for example, “Community interpreters should . . . intervene (verbally or non-verbally) when speakers do not allow community interpreters to perform their job or when speakers speak too fast” (ISO, 2014, p. 11).

Discussion of the ISO Guidelines focuses here on those sections which specify skills level requirements and levels of demonstrated performance. I focus here only on sections 4.2.1 ‘Competences relating to interpreting ’, 4.4 ‘Interpersonal skills’ and 4.5 ‘Evidence of qualifications’, which are relevant to the previous discussion on certification of community interpreters in the four countries presented above in Section 4.

5.1    The ISO Guidelines for General Skills Required for Community Interpreting

The ISO Guidelines contain requirements of linguistic proficiency: “linguistic ability in their working languages based on accepted standards of language proficiency. This means the community interpreter should be able to understand and produce technical and non-technical language…” (ISO, 2014, p. 8). Other attributes of the ISO Guidelines that are hurdle or admission components of the four certification systems from above are presented below (cf. Table 2).

Table 4: Skill level attributes of the ISO Guidelines for Community Interpreting

Linguistic and discourse/pragmatic attributes ISO Guidelines
Test of proficiency in A-language, B-language Yes
Written translation test N/App
Proficiency in specialist terminology (e.g. legal/health) in both languages Yes
Ethics / Standards of practice / Roles of interpreter Yes
Knowledge of legal responsibilities & liability Yes
Cultural awareness Yes
Written / Oral Oral only
Online delivery available N/App
Pass mark N/App

The ISO Guidelines require a level of linguistic proficiency that is to be demonstrated through “documented evidence of successful completion of a language proficiency test, or other evidence of language proficiency…” (ISO, 2014, p. 8). Further, active production skills in specialist terminology in both languages are prescribed. In addition, the ISO Guidelines require that community interpreters follow ethically defensible courses of actions and abide by local (i.e. usually national) codes of ethics or conduct. In six places in the 22 page-document, community interpreters are instructed to follow such codes and/or otherwise act ethically.

In the ISO Guidelines, much attention is afforded the ‘role of the community interpreter’. Protocols that inform all parties of the specific functions and role of the community interpreter are recommended, for example, “. . . if allowed, properly introduce himself or herself to all parties and explain the role of the community interpreter” (ISO, 2014, p. 12). Cultural awareness is an area that also receives substantial attention. Community interpreters are required to “display cross-cultural competency”, “understand and convey cultural nuances”, “if requested or possible, interrupt to point out the existence of a cultural barrier (cultural custom, health belief or practice) . . . when such a barrier can result in miscommunication or misunderstanding” (ISO, 2014, pp. 8, 11, 12).

Attention now focuses on the particular interpreting skills that the ISO Guidelines specify. Table 5 below lists those interpreting skills that are matched against the components of the certification systems in the four countries discussed above in sections 4.1 and 4.2. Table 5 below lists the same attributes that were listed in Table 2, and notes whether these are specified as attributes that an interpreter should display to conform to the specification of ISO 13611.

Table 5: Interpreting skills from national community interpreting certification systems and their representation in the ISO Guidelines for Community Interpreting

Interpreting skills and interpreter attributes ISO Guidelines
Minimum formal standard of general education required Yes
Formal T&I training as a pre- or co-requisite for admission to main test Yes
Consecutive Dialogue Interpreting Yes
Consecutive Speech Interpreting Yes
Sight translation Yes
Simultaneous interpreting (general) Yes
Simultaneous interpreting (chuchotage) Yes
Simultaneous interpreting (specialist area) N/A
Written translation N/A
Language proficiency conceptualized as a feature internal to performance Yes
Knowledge of medical / legal terminology as separate (or definable) area No

 

Table 5 above shows that the ISO Guidelines contain most interpreting skill requirements that nearly all of the four national certification systems require: short consecutive (dialogue), long consecutive (speech), and it includes simultaneous interpreting (including chuchotage) that is not required in three of the four national testing systems, although it is much less clear whether the ISO Guidelines prescribe simultaneous interpreting in specialist fields. The inclusion of simultaneous interpreting is to be expected for guidelines that encompass both signed and spoken interpreting as simultaneous interpreting is a more common form, (although not necessarily the ‘default’ form of interpreting) for signed interpreting. [11] A lack of distinction between the two modes and a comprehensive listing of many types of interpreting creates the impression that all types of interpreting listed are applicable in the same way to both signed and spoken language interpreting. In general, simultaneous interpreting is less frequent in spoken community interpreting compared to signed interpreting. [12]

The ISO Guidelines also specify minimum formal standards of education. In the first instance, a university degree or “recognized educational certificate in community interpreting” (ISO, 2014, p. 8) is set as a criterion of expertise. In the absence of a degree or specialist certificate, the following five alternative criteria are provided, in order of preference:

“A degree in any academic field”, and two years’ experience as a community interpreter or a relevant educational certificate in community interpreting;

“An attestation of competence in interpreting awarded by an appropriate government body… or recognized professional organization” with proof of experience in community interpreting;

“Membership in an existing nationwide register of interpreters”;

“Five years of continuous experience in community interpreting” where no post-secondary educational qualifications are possessed;

“Certificate of attendance to further vocational training modules (ISO, 2014, p. 8)

Thus, the ISO Guidelines advocate training in T&I as an attribute that a community interpreter should possess, and where this is not possessed, other postsecondary training and/or 5 years’ experience as a community interpreter are required. It is also noteworthy that the ISO Guidelines do not only defer to local (i.e. national) requirements of training for community interpreting, but, in addition, send a clear message that training and formal study of interpreting are highly desired attributes that practitioners should hold.

6. Conclusion

What is clear from the above comparative analysis and discussion of testing systems and the ISO Guidelines is the trend for more recently developed systems to include a wider range of the following: inter-lingual skill capabilities, for example, simultaneous interpreting (general and chuchotage); theme-specific knowledge, for example, interpreting in specialist areas such as law, healthcare; inter-cultural expertise, for example, cultural competence. Further, knowledge of relevant codes of ethics or conduct is either a component of tests, or a condition of acceptance into a national register. Knowledge of liability that interpreters may bear in the course of their work appears in the pre-test training of one certification system only. This last attribute, detailed knowledge of each language group’s socio-cultural features, was listed in a broad survey conducted by Chesher et al. (2003) as the second most important skill that interpreters believe they should possess. Further, knowledge of relevant codes of ethics or conduct is either a component of tests, or a condition of acceptance into a national register. Thus, examination of the most recently developed certification systems and of the ISO Guidelines shows us that contemporary testing now includes the demonstration of not only a wider number of skills, but also a greater level of skill complexity.

Interactional management skills that can only be demonstrated in test settings with other live protagonists are listed as desirable, but less prominently tested. This is a consequence of the often recorded nature of tests, which is also a consequence of increasing numbers of test-takers and/or the need to deliver the same test across a wide geographical area. Further, knowledge of the discourse-pragmatic norms available to (although not always practised by) speakers of the two participating languages and the ability to render these in the other language with the same intended effect is not identified as a specific testable attribute. Instead, this is likely to be an attribute subsumed under a candidate’s general ability to interpret, although the transfer of not only the referential content, but the manner of its transfer, is an important part of interpreting. Holistic qualities such as the ability to manage stress and fatigue or to practise self-care are not listed anywhere. A requirement for professional development subsequent to testing is not part of a testing system as such, but it has become a requirement now for re-certification in a system that applies a time limit for initial certification.

An important trend that is ascertainable is the role of training in tandem with testing. ‘Stand-alone’ testing without training remains a possible, but now a discernibly dispreferred, course of action. Interpreter training is offered in the four countries, and training courses that are associated in some way to the testing exist in three of the four countries. This indicates a reciprocal relationship between the two: a contemporary testing system that gradually includes a larger number of demonstrated skill attributes that compels the testing authority or other related educational institutions (or possibly professional associations) to offer pre-test training. Of course, pre-test training, or even training concurrent with testing, offers the opportunity for test candidates to acquire (and demonstrate) skills that are traditionally elicited in interpreting tests, such as dialogue interpreting and sight translation, but also ones that are less often and less easily elicited in tests, such as role-relationships with others, management of interactions and knowledge of ethical requirements. None of the testing systems have so far made training a pre-requisite of testing, but the preferred pathway that now includes training is clearly discernible. The preferential pathway of training is clear also from the ISO Guidelines that prioritize university-level interpreting education as the prime attribute, with other attributes that include less training scaled at a lower level.

Recent proposals such as the 2014 NOU Official Report in Norway on the use of interpreters in the public sector include recommendations for the mandatory employment of “qualified interpreters”, who possess level 5 certification that includes as a minimum, short course training and a test (Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, 2014). A further recent proposal in Australia is that for minimum levels of training as a pre-requisite for testing: “all candidates complete compulsory education and training in order to be eligible to sit for the accreditation examinations” (NAATI 2012: p. 7).

From this it is clear that testing alone provides a basic, ‘one-off’ demonstration of some skills, but testing and credentialing systems are now increasingly employing training as an accompanying feature of skill acquisition and development. There is now a widening array of skills included in certifying systems, including skills that are less easily displayed or ascertained on a ‘one-off’ basis. As a consequence, skill-demonstration is likely to increasingly occur not only through means of more elaborate and detailed testing, but also through training that may function as a co-requisite to certification.

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[1] Correspondence to: Jim.Hlavac@monash.edu

[2] In the UK, an NQF Level 6 qualification is a ‘first-degree level qualification’ and is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree (at least in terms of the language skills required for those interpreting in the UK in a “public service context” (cf. Chartered Institute of Linguists [CIoL], 2013).

[3] The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) administers the examinations for the DPSI. The forerunner of the DPSI was a qualification called the Certificate in Community Interpreting. (The DPSI was developed in 1983 from a project entitled “the Community Interpreter Project,” CIoL, 2013.) This indicates that the term ‘community interpreting’ did exist as a hypernym for a variety of types of interpreting in the UK, even though ‘public service interpreting’ is now the ‘benchmark’ term that specifies a more aspirational level of interpreter competency.

[4] I am greatly indebted to Mr Leonardo Doria de Souza, Senior Advisor at the IMDi – Directorate of Integration and Diversity – in Norway, who generously supplied me with general and detailed information on the workings of the certification system in Norway (admission to the Norwegian National Register of Interpreters), details about the Norwegian Interpreter Certification Examination (NICE) and the role of Oslo and Akershus University College in providing interpreter training. Any errors in this paper are mine and mine alone.

[5] The CILISAT test, administered by CISOC (Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities), is not the only community interpreting credential available in Canada. Industry Canada (2007, p.44) lists nine other community interpreting credentials available across Canada.

[6] In Canada this occurs firstly through possessing a community college diploma and having one of the following: five years’ experience as a signed-language interpreter; membership in the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada, and secondly after passing a written and then a practical exam in English or French and ASL or LSQ (PWGSC, 2014). In Norway, certification to become a sign language interpreter occurs in 3-year courses at postsecondary institutions located in Bergen, Oslo and Trondheim (Leeson, Wurm, & Vermeerbergen, 2011). In the UK, it occurs through registration with the National Registers of Communication Professionals Working with Deaf and Deafblind People (n. d.), which requires evidence of completion of an interpreting qualification.

[7] The Auslan (Australian Sign Language) interpreting test, conducted by the Australian authority, NAATI, is always video-recorded. This is necessary for non-present examiners to examine signed-language interpretation.

[8] Both these studies examine T&I testing and certifying systems in general and were not restricted only to the field of community interpreting.

[9] These exercises include, amongst others, memory extensions drills, note-taking, sight translation practice, information on cross-cultural communication and hypothetical scenarios and anecdotes on effective management of multi-party interactions.

[10] CISOC (n.d., p.4) informs test candidates that CISOC will itself employ (or “retain the services”) of those test candidates who gain not only 75% in the CILISAT test but those who subsequently complete a mandatory 70-hour training program.

[11] I do not suggest here that simultaneous interpreting is the default mode for signed language interpreting. Further, as research and pedagogy on signed language interpreting indicate, consecutive signing has been shown to often be more accurate than simultaneous signing (cf. Russell, 2005).

[12] The testing system of one of the national certifying authorities, NAATI, reflects this through the inclusion of simultaneous interpreting in the signed language professional interpreter test, while only consecutive interpreting is tested in the spoken language professional interpreter test.