Wherever people who use different languages meet and interact, interpreting is needed. This multitude of settings, each with its own unique characteristics and requirements, has led to the evolution of multiple sectors within the interpreting profession. Some are recognized almost as stand-alone professions, while others are still building the requisite infrastructure and struggling for broad recognition. As with any profession with multiple branches, such as medicine or law, there is often great overlap.
For its first event, the 1st North American Summit on Interpreting, InterpretAmerica is focusing on 6 main sectors of interpreting to highlight: community, conference, legal, medical, military and signed languages interpreting.
Interpreting as a single profession does not yet have a universal lexicon to describe and define each of its constituent parts. The descriptions provided here are not meant as authoritative definitions, but rather are offered as general and by no means complete descriptions of each sector.
Community Interpreting facilitates communication between individuals in community and public services that do not share a common language and promotes equal access to health care, education, government and social services. Community interpreting relies primarily on the consecutive mode and sight translation to ensure accuracy in the provision of public and community services, but the simultaneous mode (usually whisper) is also used in seminar and meeting settings where an individual client is interacting with multiple providers or a small group of people who do not understand the dominant language. There is increasing use of simultaneous interpreting with portable equipment for seminars, educational events or public meetings in the community sector.
Community interpreters may or may not have formal training, are often required to interpret as a secondary function to their primary job, and are expected to interpret into and out of their working languages.
Community interpreting is called by many terms around the world, including public sector interpreting, institutional interpreting, cultural interpreting, and ad hoc interpreting, although community interpreting is the most widely used in both the United States and Canada.
Medical Interpreting falls under the broader umbrella of community interpreting, but is widely viewed as the most developed area. Up until recently, legal interpreting was also considered to be part of community interpreting, but because of the unique characteristics and demands of the legal setting, its ethics code and standards of conduct have diverged significantly from those of medical and other community interpreting, leading some to consider it as a distinct branch.
Text compiled with the assistance of Marjory Bancroft, Cross-Cultural Communications, http://www.cultureandlanguage.net/home.htm
Conference interpretation is the faithful, accurate and objective transmission of a spoken message at a conference or similar event in another language and cultural context. The message may be transmitted by either simultaneous or consecutive interpretation. Conference interpreters are trained in "long consecutive" and consecutive note-taking techniques.
In this context, "conference or similar event" is meant to include meetings of all sizes no matter what the name (seminar, colloquium, symposium, congress, etc.), as well as press conferences, negotiations, television broadcasts, videoconferences, diplomatic meetings and the like.
According to the website for the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), conference interpreting is made up of different markets:
Conference interpreting is considered to be the sector where the modern interpreting profession got its start, arising out of the need for simultaneous interpreters during the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. Conference interpreting, as a sector, is highly organized in international diplomatic and political arenas, but less so in state and local markets. (http://www.aiic.net/ViewPage.cfm/article2305.htm)
Legal interpreting, also called court or judiciary interpreting, encompasses a range of settings in the justice system, including the courtroom, attorney-client conferences, investigations by law enforcement, depositions, witness interviews, real estate settlements, court-ordered treatment and education programs and administrative or legislative hearings, among others.
Holly Mikkelson, in "Interpreting is Interpreting - Or Is It?" defines legal interpreting in the following way:
Court interpreting: Also known as legal, judiciary, or forensic interpreting, refers to interpreting services provided in courts of law and in legal cases of any sort. According to Gonzalez et al (1991),
Legal interpretation refers to interpretation that takes place in a legal setting such as a courtroom or an attorney's office, wherein some proceeding or activity related to law is conducted. Legal interpretation is subdivided according to the legal setting into (1) quasi-judicial and (2) judicial interpreting or what is normally referred to as court interpreting. (25, emphasis in original)
In some jurisdictions, such as the State of California, a further distinction is made between court interpreters, who work in criminal and civil proceedings in courts of law, and administrative hearing interpreters, who provide services in hearings conducted by administrative law judges under the auspices of state government agencies. In the United States, most interpreting in legal settings is done in the simultaneous mode, although consecutive is the mode of choice for witness testimony (Gonzalez et al, 1991); but in other countries, interpreted court proceedings are most likely to use the consecutive mode (Driesen, 1989; Tsuda, 1995).
Medical or Healthcare Interpreting takes place in healthcare settings of any sort, including doctor's offices, clinics, hospitals, home health visits, mental health clinics, and public health presentations. Typically the setting is an interview between a health care provider (doctor, nurse, lab technician) and a patient (or the patient and one or more family members). (NCIHC-The Terminology of Health Care Interpreting, A Glossary of Terms-Revised 2008)
Some make a distinction between “medical” and “healthcare” interpreting, the former taking place in more strictly medical settings, such as hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices, whereas healthcare interpreting covers a broader range of settings, including public health, special education, disability, insurance and other health-related areas.
Due to increased enforcement of language access laws and the large wave of immigration across all regions of the United States during the 1990s, medical interpreting has experienced rapid professionalization and growth. It is increasingly recognized as a professional skill requiring formal training.
The need for interpreters in military settings and zones of conflict is certainly not new, but with current political realities, the demand for individuals able to interpret in such settings has soared. Interpreters working with the military may be civilians or members of the armed forces themselves. Neutrality and impartiality, two pillars of professional ethics in other sectors of interpreting, are often neither desirable nor expected. This sector of the profession poses many unique requirements as well as risks for interpreters and has garnered a great deal of attention from the media and academe in recent years. Standards of practice and training opportunities in this sector are slowly beginning to emerge, but much remains to be done.
Sign language interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear. They work in a variety of settings including education (all levels), government agencies, private businesses, mental health, medical, rehabilitation, religious, political, corporations and institutions, social services, courtrooms and other legal settings.*
(*There is specialized certification for legal interpreting.)
Qualified sign language interpreters interpret between American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English in both sign-to-voice and voice-to-sign. Interpreters may also transliterate between English-based sign language and spoken English in both sign-to-voice and voice-to-sign.
Some interpreters specialize in oral interpreting for deaf or hard of hearing persons who rely on lip or speech-reading with or without sign language support. Other specialties include tactile interpreting for blind or visually impaired individuals and cued speech interpreting, which is not very prevalent.
Interpreters provide services wherever a deaf or hard of hearing person needs to communicate with hearing people who either do not know sign language or may sign but not are professional interpreters. Interpreters may also work as video relay interpreters, where deaf or hard of hearing individuals use an interpreter to communicate with anyone in the world over the telephone by the use of a Web cam or video phone. Interpreters may specialize in one avenue or work in multiple settings. They must be versatile, flexible and skilled. Deaf individuals are also being trained as interpreters and can receive a CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreter)(From the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), Standard Practice Paper: Professional Sign Language)
Text courtesy of: Jody C. Gill, M.S., C.I., Director
Language, Cultural and Disability Services
NYU Langone Medical Center