certification for healthcare interpreters, health care interpreting, Interpreter Training, medical interpreting, new interpreters

Certificates and Certifications: Stop the Madness

The misunderstandings surrounding certification for interpreters reached a fever pitch in my world this week. The whole cloud of confusion surrounding translation and interpretation is nothing compared to the certification issue.

I’ve been having the usual blast I have teaching Bridging the Gap this week, and I’ve also been hearing the usual questions about being a Bridging the Gap certified interpreter after we finish the training.  Bridging the Gap certified? Nope.

CCHI cert selfie!
CCHI cert selfie!

When you take Bridging the Gap, or Medical Terminology for Interpreters, or any other training like that, at the end you receive a certificate of completion or a certificate of attendance.  You have to pass a written test at the end of BTG to demonstrate that you learned what I taught you from the curriculum, and then you get a certificate of completion. The certificate doesn’t ever expire. It’s simply proof that you attended a training, and maybe passed a test at the end–A test that evaluates your knowledge of the curriculum content of that specific training, but that does not attest that you’re competent to interpret, and does not attest to your language skills.

If you go looking for an interpreting job, and present yourself as a “Bridging the Gap certified interpreter”, and the employer knows that there is no BTG certification, imagine how that information is received. Most people don’t do it intentionally, but the last thing we want to do is misrepresent our credentials, or represent ourselves in a way that shows we’re not clear on the credentials for the very field in which we work.

Which brings us to certification. A whole different deal. In my state of Indiana, we don’t have state healthcare certification for spoken languages, so our option is at the national level. There are two certifying bodies, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. First you have to meet eligibility requirements to take the certification exam. You take a written and an oral exam (if your language is available in the oral exam), and when you pass them, then you’re certified. That means that you passed a test that attests you’re competent to work as an interpreter. And they send you a document that says so, and add you to the list of certified interpreters on their website.  You have to maintain the certification with continuing ed credits. Of course, this is my super-simplified version, and the oral certification exams aren’t offered in every language, so I recommend checking out the details by clicking on the links above that will take you on over to the websites for CCHI and NBCMI.

Getting certified isn’t a walk in the park, and I dig that. I don’t want to feel like I got a certification that just anyone can get. I’m proud of my accomplishment and feel it was worth my time and money. As an interpreter services supervisor and as an interpreter trainer, it adds more weight to the work I do. And I like the fact that I need to maintain it.  It motivates me even more to learn and grow as a professional, and helps me to accomplish that in a structured way. My message is not that only certified interpreters are good interpreters. My message is, let’s all make sure we’re accurately representing our training and credentials.

That’s my two cents! Any ASL interpreters or spoken language interpreters that speak a language other than Spanish want to chime in?

7 thoughts on “Certificates and Certifications: Stop the Madness”

  1. Hey,

    thanks for the informative blog posts! I work as a translator now and have been dabbling in interpreting for a while. I wonder though: are classes and certification worthwhile? In my state, for example, one agency works with virtually all hospitals, and they’re a pretty cut-rate scum-bag lot that will hire pretty much anyone who walks in (you can only guess what they pay.) I don’t know if the situation is different in other states, but it seems to be a growing phenomenon. That being said, while certification would increase my qualifications, would there be anyone willing to recognize those qualifications and correspondingly pay more for them?


  2. Hello. Thank you so much for the article, it was very honest. I am an experienced translator from Argentina (I live in USA) and would really love to become an interpreter, maybe a medical conference one., but I have found it very difficult to find a place to study near where I live (I have a family and need to work too!). I would also like to interpret in hospitals (I don’t know if you need certification for that). I live in South New Jersey Any ideas? .

    1. Hi Viviana. My name ya Aquillia, and I am going to be teaching a course called The Community Interpreter in Hudson Valley, New York. All the information that you just read about a certificate apply to this class. Much like BTG, it is a program that will give a certificate after completing an exam. Please email me if you would like more details. Anaplservices@gmail.com

  3. I passed the written exam for medical certification, now preparing for the the oral one. I heard that it’s hard. Can you please give us some tips? I am stressed about it now. Thanks 🙂

    1. Sure! I’d start by looking at the website of the certifying body–CCHI or NBCMI if you’re doing national certification–and see what their handbook recommends for preparing. I’ve written about this in a post called Oral Exam Prep for Interpreters, which will give you an idea of how you can prep either alone or with a partner. There’s no magic solution for exam prep. I’ve taken many exams in many different settings and the key is to set goals for yourself, and practice, practice, practice!

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