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As stated in previous thoughts of mine, abiding by a code of conduct has many advantages even if some interpreters find these very restrictive.

Today I decided to use a scalpel to start cutting and analysing the code of conduct on my working table. I will be posting my thoughts in parts. Part 1 was posted last week, so if you haven’t yet read it, you can check it out at the bottom of this page.

Part 2 – A can of worms

Why is working towards Standards of Good Practice like opening a can of worms?

Because our profession is not based nor focused on one topic, like accountancy for example. Interpreting covers a variety of settings that require specific knowledge, interventions and normative ethics (aka prescriptive ethics).

What a DPSI Health qualified interpreter has learned in a level 6 course is not the same as what an interpreter has learned in a level 3 course, even if they both covered healthcare.

Achieving a level 6 qualification in one option (Law, Health or Local Government) does not qualify the interpreter to work in all three settings, as the exam is topic focused.

Standards of Good Practice need to cover all areas if interpreters are engaged in a variety of jobs. Good practice will need to be learnt and digested, so that we can act ethically in any setting we are called to interpret upon.

This brings me to point 3.8 “Practitioners shall only accept work which they believe they have the competence both linguistically and in terms of specialist knowledge or skill to carry out to the standard required by the client…” and subsequently point 3.9.

The reality is very different. For registrants and non-registrants of the NRPSI alike.

Some interpreters achieve a qualification, others cut corners to become qualified, some even request the diploma at the time of enrolment in a course. Many work without qualifications or training. This means that the market reality is blurred heavily by ‘wishful thinking’.

This ‘wish to be an interpreter’ comes without a desire to learn and get qualified, or to learn how to provide a professional interpreting service.

Then the next reality is that of those who achieve a qualification, some misrepresent their qualifications. This contravenes point 3.9 “The competence to carry out a particular assignment shall include: a sufficiently advanced and idiomatic command of the languages concerned, with awareness of dialects and other linguistic variations that may be relevant to a particular commission of work; the particular specialist skills required; and, where appropriate, an adequate level of awareness of relevant cultural and political realities in relation to the country or countries concerned.”

Many level 3 certificates are non-language specific. If there is no language on a certificate how can service providers be assured an interpreter is safe to interpret in the languages they claim to speak?

Surely only when there is a successful assessment of performance can one be sure to say ‘I am competent in my language(s)’.

DPSI Online has worked hard to enforce this and since 2021 our certificates state the language an interpreter has achieved their qualification in. But this is not the case nationally.

Take my case, just because I believe I can speak Spanish it does not qualify me to interpret in Spanish. What about my knowledge of legal terminology and legal settings in Spanish speaking countries? Or how to quickly figure out how to say gall bladder? Without training and feedback from a qualified Spanish interpreter, I will never know if my Spanish is good enough. Without a diploma, how can I claim to meet point 3.8 in Spanish?

And if we are misrepresenting our qualifications then surely, we are also behaving without integrity, therefore not in accordance with points 3.1.

Can you see the can of worms spilling?

And if some interpreters are so undisturbed by misrepresenting their qualifications, what assurance does that give service providers that they will not cheat on other aspects of interpreting?

The NRPSI advocates, and rightly so, that interpreters with a DPSI Health should not accept legal assignments because they do not hold the DPSI Law. And of course the same applies the other ways around. But when PAIT offers a ‘legacy’ category for DPSI Health qualified interpreters to work in police settings based on their experience only, then the question begs to be asked… Is it acceptable or not to interpret in an area for which one does not hold the qualification?

And if the Metropolitan Police was keen on enforcing that DPSI Law qualified interpreters sit units from the DPI qualification before accepting them on their list, why is the PAIT list not expecting the same?

Now that the DPI qualification has been withdrawn, where does that leave the future engagement of police interpreters? With a lack of knowledge? With some experience? With solid training? That still depends on how they achieve the qualification. But, if there is no consensus, interpreters will try to get away with it, too. It is only natural.

If standards of practice are not available at training stage, or from associations, who do we follow for advice?

Our profession is changing rapidly without being recognised as such, and without safe guidance we are opening a pandora box not just a can of worms.

And I have not yet started on impartiality… (coming up in Part 3)

by Helena El Masri