Certification is key to quality language access. It includes both interpreting and translation. Poor quality translations and interpreting events lead to serious risks. When patients leave a doctor’s office, if they don’t understand  the information they took home, they run serious risks. If a parent does not understand the Individualized Educational Plan for a student, that parent can’t support the school’s plan. When a person does not understand a letter of citation, it is impossible to appear in court at the right time and place. When attendees leave a conference without handouts in their language, they are not able to put what they learned into practice as much as the English speakers.

For best results, clients should work with certified translators and interpreters. Why?

The Department of Health and Human Services states that family members are not eligible to provide interpretation. The medical provider is responsible for providing a competent interpreter at no cost to the patient. Unqualified staff members are not acceptable. This is its description of an interpreter:

A qualified interpreter is an individual who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any specialized vocabulary required by the circumstances.

Certification exams, when available, prove that an interpreter is able to meet this requirement.
Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act states that institutions must ensure meaningful access for individuals with limited English proficiency. See the relevant factsheets in this page. How does it specify that?

Reasonable steps may include the provision of language assistance services, such as oral language assistance or written translation.
Covered entities are prohibited from using low-quality video remote interpreting services or relying on unqualified staff, translators when providing language assistance services.

Qualifications for translators and interpreters: Certification covers it

The Foreign Language Services Ordering Guide, published by the Government Services Administration in August 2016, states:

Qualified Translator means a translator who:

  1. Adheres to generally accepted translator ethics principles, including client confidentiality;
  2. has demonstrated proficiency in writing and understanding both written English and at least one other written non-English language; and
  3. is able to translate effectively, accurately, and impartially to and from such language(s) and English, using any necessary specialized vocabulary, terminology and phraseology.

Qualified Interpreter for an individual with limited English proficiency means an interpreter who via a remote interpreting service or an on-site appearance:

  1. Adheres to generally accepted interpreter ethics principles, including client confidentiality;
  2. has demonstrated proficiency in speaking and understanding both spoken English and at least one other spoken language; and
  3. is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressly, to and from such language(s) and English, using any necessary specialized vocabulary, terminology and phraseology.

In both cases, points 2 and 3 can be documented through certification exams.

The United States Government is recommending that its branches take no risks with the quality of their interpreting and translation work. Businesses should follow this example. Quality translation by certified translators and interpreters, in languages in which certification is available, leads to good communication and saves money.

The US Department of Agrigulture, the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Justice partnered to develop these Know your Rights brochures, available in ten languages. Knowing the rights of our community members allows us to meet them. The same page also has TIP sheets on how to hire a professional interpreter or translator.

Links, in order:

https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/faqs/may-an-lep-person-use-a-family-member-as-an-interpreter/709/index.html

https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/section-1557/index.html

https://www.gsa.gov/cdnstatic/Foreign_Language_Services.pdf

https://www.justice.gov/crt/fcs/fcs-publications-major-interest#KYRB