Interpreter Certification, Why Bother?


Interpreters should bother with getting certified because certification has nothing to do with them. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.

Certification is not about the interpreter.

Certification is about the people who rely on (aka trust) the interpreter.

Let’s explore that a bit more…

In 2012 I made the decision to get certified. I admit, I could have had a better attitude about the whole thing. At that time, I had nearly a decade of experience interpreting exclusively in healthcare settings. I was involved in training interpreters. I was involved in professional organizations and conferences on a regional and national level. And nobody had ever died or gotten fired because I messed up an interpreting assignment. All the evidence suggested that I was doing pretty alright in my professional responsibilities. So, why bother step out of the healthcare environment just to have my knowledge and skills tested in a testing center?

But, it was what all the cool people were doing and I was curious enough about the exam experience, so I figured I ought to give it a shot.

When I took the two-part exam (There was a written exam followed by an oral performance exam.) and passed them, my first reaction was, “Yay! I passed!” (Who doesn’t like passing tests?) My next reaction was, “So what?”

You see, at that time, I thought certification was about me. That earning the certification credential made me a better professional. I knew that wasn’t the case. I was just as good in my professional skills one minute after taking the exam as I was one minute before taking the exams. So, I again found myself asking why did I bother?

I guess that is a question we all have to ask ourselves in any of our professional endeavors. So, I reflected on the parallel that other professionals experience whenever they have to pass an exam to get a professional certification, license, etc. Take doctors for example. My physician was just as knowledgeable on the test content of the board exam a minute before and a minute after he took the exam, and yet, without having taken the exam, he wouldn’t be practicing today. And somebody else would be my physician.

Sure, some places don’t require interpreter certification at all. Some have it as a preference. Few others have it as a requirement. But when I ponder the question “why bother?” I’m stuck with this true anecdote that one of our interpreter team members shared with me:

Our organization had recently begun providing interpreter services for a particular clinic location. He was on his first assignment at the location, and it was the patient and family’s first time meeting an interpreter from our team. As part of his pre-session routine, our interpreter made the point to introduce himself as a certified interpreter. He shared with me that prior to that moment, he sensed some trepidation on the part of the patient and family as they eyeballed him from head to toe. Once he shared that he was certified, however, the family relaxed, and the patient even commented that it was good to know that he was certified.

It was an instant rapport builder. Communication is much more effective when everyone is starting from a position of trust, rather than mistrust.

Especially since that moment, I’ve thought about certification as less about what it does for and says about me and more about what it does for others.

So, if you’re on the fence about earning a certification credential, consider what it will do for others. You might be just as awesome, dedicated, skilled, and proficient in your professional performance whether or not you have a few extra letters after your name. But those few extra letters after your name just might make a difference to the people who are trying to figure out whether or not they can trust you with their professional reputation, wellbeing, or life.

Make it easy for them to decide that yes, they can trust you.


Statement of Transparency: As of the publication date, the author of the article is a Commissioner for the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters. The blog host, Connecting Cultures, Inc. is not a certifying body. Interpreters are encouraged to research certifying bodies independently in order to select the organization that best meets their professional aspirations.

© Connecting Cultures Inc. 2018

Posted on February 9, 2018 and filed under Interpreter, Manager, Medical Team, Newbie, Trainer.