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Indigenous Interpreting Training Arrives

Published November 14, 2016

Interpreting in this country faces a crisis. There is an exploding need for trained, professional indigenous language interpreters. Indigenous migrants from all over the globe have left their native lands and come to America and Europe. They live, work and now access services in their new homes and we need a way to talk to them.

The problem? They speak languages previously overlooked by our profession. And they come from cultures often so profoundly different from our own that current interpreting training practices are not enough to bring new interpreters into the field.

InterpretAmerica Co-President Katharine Allen has dedicated a large part of the last several years working on projects as part of dedicated and talented teams to change that reality. Most days we labor in quiet. The projects we work on build incrementally and the world moves on around us. But some days are special. On some days, we get to shout our accomplishments from the mountaintops and celebrate something new in the world.

Today is that day for indigenous interpreting. Today, we are profoundly happy to announce a singular and essential new initiative:

The Indigenous Interpreter℠: A Credentialed Training Program

sponsored by Indigenous Interpreting + ℠ and licensed through Cross-Cutlural Communications.

Before there were trained interpreters, many people would stay home and not come to the hospital. Now, when the patients and doctors say ‘thank you’ to me for interpreting, I feel happy and amazing. I think I did a great job helping a patient. II+℠ Triqui Interpreter

The Indigenous Interpreter℠ is a 21-module, 63-hour training program created specifically to address the unique challenges indigenous interpreters face in the field. This program was initiated by Indigenous Interpreting+working in close collaboration with members from the indigenous community and the Natividad Medical Foundation. (See below for the program's history.)

The training is designed for all indigenous interpreters. It is not limited to any particular languages. The inaugural session, taking place this coming January 9-20, is offered FREE OF COST to interpreters.

This is the first curriculum of its kind to train indigenous interpreters on consecutive relay interpreting in community settings, adapt healthcare interpreting protocols to relay interpreting and address simultaneous interpreting for indigenous languages, among other innovations. Every module includes targeted guidance for overcoming the barriers indigenous interpreters face daily when interacting with providers, patients or clients, and the many service settings they work in.

In addition, Indigenous Interpreting+℠ is investing in creating the first national credential for indigenous interpreters. Interpreters who go through this inaugural training are elegible to obtain the II+℠ Level 1 Qualification. 

Cross-Cultural Communications, the nation's leading training program for community interpreters, is the licensing agency for this training. 

The training specifics:

Where:  Salinas, California

When: January 9-20, 2017 (Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm daily)

Instructors: Katharine Allen, MATI, and Victor Sosa, CMI 

Hosted byIndigenous Interpreting+℠, a service of Natividad Medical Foundation

Interested right now? Contact Judith Pacheco, Indigenous Interpreting+℠ Interpreter Coordinator, at (855) 662-5300, or by email at, for more detailed information about training content, travel, lodging, proficiency testing, and any other questions you may have.

Preliminary program information is available on the II+℠ website here.


How did this astonishing new resource come about? Through a determined effort by a small group of people with a vision and blessed by the kind of significant philanthropic support our profession rarely sees. Here is a bit of the story...

Navitidad Medical Center is a small, publicly-funded hospital in Salinas, California, widely known as America's "salad bowl."  Nestled in one of central California's beautiful coastal valleys, this area is home to the state's second largest population of indigenous immigrants from southern Mexico and Central America. These communities speak ancient languages such as Mixteco, Zapoteco, Triqui, Maya, Chatino and many more. Starting over a decade ago, the hospital found itself increasingly unable to communicate with its own patients. No indigenous interpreters existed to bridge the communication gulf between patients and providers.

This hospital, however, is lucky. It has the support of Natividad Medical Foundation, a charitable non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to raise money to support hospital programs. The Foundation mobilized to find solutions to its language access problem. It researched, networked and ultimately created a strong team made of indigenous community members, healthcare interpreting experts and interpreter trainers.

The result? In 2014, Indigenous Interpreting+℠ (II+℠) was launched. Sponsored by the Foundation, this organization has the following mission:

Indigenous Interpreting+℠ helps healthcare providers, community based organizations, public agencies and courts meet regulatory requirements for language access, minimize costs and ensure quality services with competent, interpreters. Indigenous Interpreting+℠ meets the need for community and medical interpreting in indigenous languages that are not available through traditional interpreting services.

II+℠ is systematically building its own solution to bringing hard-to-find, hard-to-train and hard-to-retain indigenous interpreters into the interpreting profession.

This step-by-step process has included:

  • Recruiting and training an initial group of indigenous interpreters to work for the hospital.

  • Launching a full-service interpreting services program, with face-to-face, telephonic and video interpreting, now available nationwide.

  • Creating The Indigenous Interpreter℠, a program to provide professional interpreting training focused on the unique challenges indigenous interpreters face.

  • Offering an ongoing 6-month internship program for trained interpreters at Natividad Medical Center to retain this new talent.

  • Providing mentorship and support for II+℠ interpreters who work in challenging and diverse medical, legal and community settings. 

Unusual Philanthropy

Essential to every part of this effort has been generous philanthropy from an unlikely source, employers of indigenous patients. Funding for the program comes primarily from companies that hire indigenous immigrants, especially The Agricultural Leadership Council (TALC), which includes Driscoll’s – the world's leading purveyor of fresh berries.

The result is something new. Never before has the magical combination of philanthropy, training, internships and a language service business combined in quite this way. Without this funding, money for creating training programs, providing internships and ultimately, interpreting services would not be available.

This funding has given the program the critical breathing room it needs to create something from nothing, with no model to recreate, no pioneers to follow. We had to be those pioneers. 

InterpretAmerica Co-President Katharine Allen has been Senior Advisor to the program since the beginning. She will co-train this January's inaugural run of The Indigenous Interpreter with Nativdad Medical Center's Interpreter Director, Victor Sosa, co-founder II+℠. Katharine and Victor are co-authors of the followup textbook for the program (due out spring 2017).

Throughout all the long months and years it has taken this amazing team to bring this project to life, nothing is more humbling than to contribute, in a small way, to helping give voice to our nation's rich and beautiful indigenous communities. 

This program has impacted the indigenous community because we give them a voice. II+℠ Mixteco Interpreter

 To learn more about this great program, PRI just published an in-depth article and podcastWhy a hospital is taking farm workers out of the field and training them as medical interpreters. 


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