Lack of recognition of the social value of interpreting services, poor working conditions and inadequate remuneration all conspire against meaningful language access for Washington State’s Limited English Proficient population. Unlike conference interpreters, whose clients are powerful leaders of the business and political worlds, interpreters working in healthcare, social and legal settings serve powerless members of society. Prevailing anti-immigrant attitudes in the United States further contribute to the low prestige of community interpreting.
According to AIIC, interpreting in community settings “is following the typical pattern of a profession in its infancy. In the beginning it is characterized by a lack of standards for training and practice, disorganization and disunity among practitioners, a lack of recognition of the profession among clients and the public, and poor working conditions. These circumstances improve as practitioners unite and form professional associations to impose discipline and standardization and to achieve recognition through education, legislation and public relations.”
Professional certification alone does not guarantee professionalism. According to the Theory of Control, the more control practitioners are able to exert over their work and the marketplace, the more professionalized the occupation becomes.
When practitioners range from full-time service providers to unpaid volunteers, the service they provide is rarely recognized as a separate occupation and is likely to be performed by employees as an adjunct to their normal duties. In the case of languages of lesser diffusion (LLDs), interpreting is frequently provided by family members including children with no training whatsoever who are not members of any relevant professional associations. As a result, these ad hoc interpreters feel no sense of commitment to interpreting as a profession.
Under the conditions described above, practitioners receive little recognition and low pay, and therefore have no incentive to obtain specialized training. Consequently, training programs are rare and underfunded. The low prestige and limited earning potential makes community interpreting unattractive as a career option for talented, well-educated individuals with bilingual skills.
A critical factor in professionalization is the creation of professional associations where practitioners can work collectively with other colleagues to exert their influence over their job description and the behavior of their colleagues, control admission into their circle and appeal to end users and, requesters, payers the public at large for recognition of the profession. The enforcement of a code of ethics functions externally as one of the bargaining chips to earn public trust and internally as an indispensable tool for internal control.
Interpreters United Local 1671 is committed to raising the standards of the interpreting profession. Since its inception, our union has been involved in several efforts to uphold the value of professionalism. At the national level, it actively participates in the development of industry standards at the ASTM F43 Technical Committee on Language Services and Products. At the local level, it holds permanent seats at the DSHS/LTC Advisory Committee. In conjunction with its quarterly statewide meetings, Local 1671 hosts four free workshops to assist its members in the maintenance of their professional credentials. Check out the Events Calendar to find out when and where the next workshop will take place.