Perspectives: Navigating the maze of interpreting and certification

Afaf Steiert
MultiLingual September 2016
Columns and Commentary

Interpreting is an inherent part of the evolution of societies across the world. And what was once a profession reserved for the staff of dignitaries and merchants traveling from empire to empire has expanded in proportion to immigration and the globalization of modern communities in developed nations.

As an Arabic interpreter in the Bay Area with over a decade of experience, I have seen this need grow, resulting in greater demand for the screening and certification of interpreters....

Although there are insufficient criteria to properly grade the value of linguists, the markets for certain languages, especially Arabic, have become saturated. People displaced from wars, political asylum seekers and refugees who have qualifying educations and adequate language skills in both English and Arabic have come to seek work as interpreters in California’s market. While it is wonderful that these interpreters can make a living, they also benefit from a certification system rife with issues. 

While it may be good for them and better for the market, it is worse, I believe, for the quality of the industry. For example, existing certifications for Arabic medical interpreters can serve a good purpose in vetting the interpreters who are fit for service; however, dependence only on certification leads to organizations that underutilize those who may be better qualified for high demand jobs, as opposed to those who merely obtained the certification. This creates a culture of interpreting that depends on certification results when everyone in a mediocre playing field becomes a certificate holder and interpreters with valuable expertise do not stand out in the market....