Is There Really a Difference Between a Certified and Non-Certified Interpreter?

Many people don’t know the difference between an interpreter and a translator, so let’s start there. A translator converts written material from one language into another, while an interpreter does the same task with spoken material. The goal in both cases is the same. However, the process to reach such goal is very different.

Now that we understand this, let’s talk about certifications. There are many interpreters out in the field that are not certified, and many of them are good interpreters, but they have skipped a very important step for many fields of interpretation.

I, Veronica Diquez, President and Founder of Lingua Duo, have been certified as a court interpreter by the state of North Carolina. How does this differentiate me from other professionals in my field? Believe me when I say: there is a big difference! There are many things that an interpreter has to learn and practice before being prepared and able to pass a certification test. The passing rate of such examination in NC was only 14%for the year 2012. What does this mean? This shows that 86 out of 100 candidates were not able to perform the absolute minimum duties in order to execute this job.

Here is the important question for you, the person in charge of hiring a language service provider for your company: What system do you have in place in order identify the 14 out of 100 qualified interpreters? How do you make sure you are not hiring those that could not perform at a minimum level?  If you don’t have a system in place, why not let other responsible parties, such as departments that manage the NC court interpreter examinations, do this for you? You should always ask for certifications.

When you work with a certified interpreter, have in mind that this person is dedicated enough to have studied, prepared, paid a fee (or multiple fees), and went through a rigorous examination to proof that he or she could do the job. As I said earlier, there are always exceptions to the rule and there are good interpreters out there that are not certified. But, why risk it? If your company works in the legal or medical field, it is our advice that you only hire certified interpreters.

Unfortunately, our profession has a history of being undermined because of the lack of knowledge of what it takes to be an interpreter. Many people think that being bilingual is enough (my entire body cringes every single time I hear this). Felix Figueroa, Lingua Duo’s Co-Founder, states that “Believing that someone can perform a profession as demanding as interpreting only because he/she speaks two languages is as illogical as thinking that we can all play the piano because we have two hands.”

Have you ever noticed the difference between working with a certified and non-certified interpreter? We invite you to share your thoughts and/or experience!