Certificate vs. Certification for Interpreters, part 2

All 50 states have well established prerequisites, testing and certification processes for their court interpreters. To find out the requirements for your state, look for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) site for your state. If you Google “AOC interpreter certification” and the name of your state, you will be directed to the site for additional information and the testing dates that are relevant for your area.

Unlike court interpreting in the U.S., where all 50 states have a process overseen by their respective AOCs, medical interpreting has only had state certification since 1991 for one state. The State of Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) certified medical and social service interpreters. National healthcare interpreter certification is only available for specific languages, and has only been available since 2010. Oregon has skipped implementing a state process and requires national certification for healthcare interpreters working in state hospitals. This is a growing trend in many states.

For more information regarding Washington’s state certifications for medical and social services interpreting, visit:   https://www.dshs.wa.gov/fsa/language-testing-and-certification-program

DSHS-WA currently certifies medical interpreters in the following eight languages:

  • Cambodian
  • Chinese Cantonese
  • Chinese Mandarin
  • Korean
  • Laotian
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Vietnamese

DSHS currently certifies social service interpreters, medical interpreters, translators, DSHS active and potential bilingual employees and licensed agency personnel in the above languages.

For all other languages, The Department authorizes social service interpreters and medical interpreters using a screening test.  All other languages are screened and authorized by DSHS, but only the eight languages listed above are certified languages for medical interpreters in the State of Washington.

The national certifying bodies also certify only in specific, high demand languages. Beginning in 2010, two national certifying bodies, Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Certification Board for Medical interpreters (NCBMI) began certifying interpreters whose second language is Spanish.

Each year since then has resulted in the introduction of an additional language certification test. Currently, CCHI has certified approximately 1,800 healthcare interpreters nationally as CHIs, and NBCMI has certified approximately 1,300 medical interpreters nationwide.

Combined, both of these national certifying bodies, CCHI and NBCMI, offer healthcare interpreter certification for seven languages: Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean. Pre-requisites to register for the written and oral proficiency tests include a high school diploma and a minimum of 40 hours of medical interpreter training.

For the Deaf community, the certifying body that assesses and certifies ASL interpreters is known as Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Although there is currently no medical sub-specialty training for ASL interpreters, they do offer specialized training in interpreting for mental health. However, contrast their number of certified interpreters with the spoken language certifications and you will be impressed.

Currently in the U.S. there are more than 16,000 RID certified ASL interpreters! The prerequisites for obtaining and maintaining certification are stricter for ASL interpreters than for spoken language interpreters. Among the stricter prerequisites for ASL are a college degree plus six units of CEUs every year to keep ASL certifications current.

(source:  http://www.rid.org/continuing-education/certification-maintenance )

If you are an interpreter, I urge you to pursue national certification. If you supervise a program or own an interpreter agency, I strongly urge you to encourage your staff and agency interpreters who work for you to pursue national certification.

Eliana Lobo, 

Special for IEO

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