Limitations of Interpreting Certifications in the US

There are 351 languages other than English (LOTE) spoken in US homes and over 25 million LOTE speakers.

In the US, the nationwide certifications that apply to medical interpreters are the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI). However, these only provide interpreting certifications in three (CCHI) and six (NBCMI) languages. 

Imagine only speaking Hindi and ending up in the hospital. The interpreter who shows up has not been given the opportunity to take a certification exam, so the hospital will not know if that interpreter is qualified to perform the job. It seems unfair that speakers of Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese who require interpreting services have an extra level of reassurance that their interpreter is a certification-holder. It also seems silly to expect that interpreters with any of the aforementioned language combinations have a certification when interpreters of the other 345 languages don’t have the opportunity to become certified because the certification exams for these languages don’t even exist.

Number of languages not available for interpreter certification


In order to strengthen the credibility of these certifications, it is important to consider including more languages. The threat, however, is that the certifications currently only exist for interpreters who cater to the over-supplied languages. This could be viewed as a mechanism to keep other interpreters out or hinder those interpreters from getting jobs, ultimately creating an elitist mentality.

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9 September 2019
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