Is the UK trying to re-write the interpreting profession?

Some articles in the press today led me to write this article.

It is interesting to see the news on the problems the MOJ are having with this contract for interpreting services within the judicial system in the UK. I don’t these news as surprising at all. I have no sympathy towards the MoJ or ASL. In my opinion, they think very little of the interpreting profession.

The feeling I have is that the UK government and some private companies are trying to re-write the interpreting profession.

Somehow, a lot of companies and people here do not seem to understand that:

  • One is not an interpreter just because one speak two or more languages
  • Interpreting skills is not something one learns within three days
  • The legal system of at least two different countries is not something one will fully understand as a result of a two-hour presentation
  • Professional ethics and commitment to the job is as important for a real professional interpreter as it is important for a judge.

If one can’t conceive the idea that one becomes a judge just because one can read law books and have a good sense of fairness, one shouldn’t be capable to believe that one can become a court interpreter just because one can speak more than one language and went on to attend   ‘one-day interpreting ‘non-accredited’ certification courses’.

The choice was to be an interpreter, not a dentist

Not all of us are born to be interpreters, even we if we speak 10 different languages. I know I am an interpreter because I didn’t want to be a dentist. Most professional interpreters are the same: at 17, they decided they didn’t want to a doctor, or a solicitor, or a chef, or a florist, or a businessman with talent to convince the government…

Before the culmination of this contract of ALS-MOJ I’ve heard and read many implying that court/legal interpreters earned too much and that the service should cost less. Some even justified such notion by suggesting that there were a lot of foreign people in our communities anyway. All these foreigners, they added, could be trained to do the same service that a qualified and professional interpreter does in courts and police stations.

I think some in the UK are trying to re-define what takes to be an interpreter. Instead of talent and vocation, they seem to think that to be a legal interpreter one needs only to emigrate and speak the language of the host country (to some extent). Of course, they probably also assume that every foreigner who comes to UK is specialised in the legal system of the countries they’ve left behind.

For those like myself, who didn’t become an interpreter just because I happen to live in the UK, it is offensive the notion that someone with a talent for business opportunities (I am talking about the ALS founder) should dictate how much I, with my legal interpreting hat, can or should earn .

Interpreters are not losing;  the  UK legal system and the taxpayer are losing

If the legal system can’t see the value of the work provided by a qualified and professional interpreter, why should such interpreter give the legal system his/her time for free?

As an interpreter I always see that my clients get my time for free. However, to get my time, clients have to pay for having my skills at their disposal.

I suggest that interpreters are not losing. They can take their skills elsewhere – to another industry; when they choose to do so. However the legal system is not in such a lucky position: they are losing because now they can’t get the skills and, with that, the time of a large pool of qualified, professional interpreters who have been passionately doing legal interpreting for years . The government and some private companies are failing to understand that many interpreters choose not to work under such conditions or at such rates,  because they don’t want to lose their dignity as professionals.  The UK legal system is losing, not the intepreters….

Legal interpreting & the news today:

 Iris Griffiths is a qualified, experienced market research and cross-cultural communication specialist and also a translator and conference interpreter. Iris has been working in the combined fields of market research, linguistic and cross-cultural communication for the last 23 years.

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