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Community Interpreting Training Begins to Come of Age

Published August 4, 2015

Community interpreting, often seen as a poor stepchild to other branches in our profession, is stepping into the limelight - and nothing makes that clearer than the sudden mushrooming of training programs and resources that have appeared over the past few years, especially in the US and Canada. This blog highlights four new additions to community interpreting that ultimately strengthen the entire field. 

To avoid confusion, let's first define what is meant by community interpreting:

Community interpreting is defined here as interpreting that facilitates access to community services. Depending on how community services are provided from country to country, they can be delivered by publicly funded organizations, for-profit entities, nonprofit organizations or any combination of the three. Typical examples of community interpreting include medical, mental health, educational, social services and faith-based interpreting. Community interpreting may also encompass some of the interpreting conducted in conflict and disaster zones and interpreting for refugees.(1)

Community interpreting is the largest interpreting specialization, even if the least-developed in many places. Court interpreting is typically not considered part of community interpreting, but many areas of the larger field of legal interpreting definitely overlap with community interpreting. Medical interpreting is a sub-specialization of community interpreting that has professionalized more rapidly in the US and Canada than other areas. 

In short, community interpreting touches people's lives when accessing critical public, health and legal services. Community interpreters navigate some of the most complicated, high-stakes and high-stress settings as a matter of course, and they do so with the least amount of pay, training, support and resources. 

For this reason alone, the proliferation of training programs and resources for this specialization is good news indeed. 

Four significant recent additions to our profession are: (Full disclosure: the author of this blog has been involved in two of these developments.) 

1. Glendon College's Master of Conference Interpreting(established 2012): Don't be fooled by the name. The first year of this program, offered entirely online, runs students through 24 weeks of language neutral and language specific courses in medical and legal interpreting. Students are introduced to medical, legal and conference simultaneously. As an instructor in the program, I can personally attest to the unique skill set students acquire during the first year, before going on to concentrate on conference skills during the second year. This may be the only program in the world that graduates students ready for the international conference market with solid training in the ethics, standards of practice and protocols required in the top three interpreting specializations. Glendon's program is chronicled in Dr. Andrew Clifford's excellent blog.

2. The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey's Spanish Community Interpreting Graduate Certificate, Specialization for Community Interpreting (for MA degrees) and Community Interpreting As a Professioncourse: Launched in 2014, these programs mark a major shift at MIIS, renowned as a top-notch training institute for conference interpreters. The curricula cover legal, medical, social service and educational interpreting. Similar to Glendon's program, the Graduate Certificate is offered as a hybrid online/onsite program and taught by some of the top interpreter instructors in the field. It's hard to overstate the significance when institutions such as MIIS and Glendon, invest the time, money, personnel and infrastructure to create graduate-level curricula for community interpreting. These are new resources for North America and they join only a handful of other institutions around the world to have done something similar.

3. The Community Interpreter®: An International Textbook by Cross-Cultural Communications: At the other end of the training world, Cross-Cultural Communications has been offering The Community Interpreter for over a decade as a 40-hour short-course training program. Last month, it published The Community Interpreter®: An International Textbook, the first comprehensive textbook addressing community interpreting anywhere in the world. Written by a team of 5 authors from the US, Spain, Cuba and Italy (myself included), the textbook provides an in-depth training framework not only for The Community Interpreter, but for community college and university programs as well. 

4. Community Interpreting Masters Level and Certificate Programs at US Universities and Community Colleges. In the US, we have become accustomed to community colleges offering certificate programs for legal and medical. Lately, many community and 4-year colleges have added community interpreting to the mix. Boston University, Laney College, Viterbo University, Bristol Community College, and Brookdale Communtiy College are just a few examples of certificates specifically geared towards a broader community interpreting emphasis, as opposed to strictly medical.

Of note, both the Office of Extended Studies at the University of Maryland and the University of Illinois Center for Translation Studies have new MA degree programs in translation and interpreting. The University of Maryland offers a specialization in Publich Service Interpreting and the University of Illinois offers a degree that includes specialization in Conference and Community Interpreting. 

These developments are really just a taste of the momentum building around community interpreting. There have also been major developments around the world, such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) creating the first international standard for community interpreting, and the 2014 launch of ENPSIT, the European Network for Public Service Interpreting and Translation.

As a 20-year veteran of the field, I can say that the changes are palpable and it feels like a tipping point is being reached. An essential hallmark of an established profession is a defined academic pathway to acquiring an agreed-upon body of knowledge. No doubt, community interpreting has a long way to go. But the increase in top-level academic programs and at least one comprehensive, research-based textbook surely indicates a corner has been turned on the road to professonalization.

Let us know what is happening in your corner of the world? What new resources or programs have you seen? Leave a comment and join the discussion. 


(1) Bancroft, M.,A., García-Beyaert, S., Allen, K., Carriero-Contreras, G., & Socarrás Estrada, D. (2015). The Community Interpreter®: An international textbook. (M. Bancroft, Ed.). Columbia: Culture & Language Press. p.4


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