The Principle of Confidentiality – Do interpreters have the right to remain silent?

By Monica Lange

The Principle of Confidentiality

Members of our panel (L to R): Angie Birchfield, Andrea Hofmann-Miller, Johanna Parker, Robert Finnegan, moderator Olivia Reinshagen-Hernandez, Holly Mikkelson, and NCTA Events Co-Directors Monica Lange and Fernanda Brandão-Galea.

I will never forget my first meetup with the Linguists, Translators and Interpreters from the Bay Area. I had recently moved to California and wanted to connect with colleagues in San Francisco. It was there that I first heard about NCTA. I joined the association a couple of weeks later, and I dare say it was one of the best things I have ever done. I have learned so much and met so many amazing people at NCTA’s General Meetings, workshops, and meetups. Among everything NCTA has to offer, I personally believe the General Meetings are its most generous gift.

For the September General Meeting, NCTA brought together a panel of high-level interpreters: Angie Birchfield, Johanna Parker, Holly Mikkelson, Andrea Hofmann-Miller, Robert Finnegan, and panel moderator Olivia Reinshagen-Hernandez. The topic discussed was a very important one for interpreters and translators: interpreter–client privilege, or our right to remain silent. With the Global Climate Action Summit just a few days away, a crowd was protesting on the streets of San Francisco—and the big names on our panel brought a crowd of our own to the NCTA meeting, including a group of interpreting students from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who had driven up from Monterey.

Panelists Andrea Hofmann-Miller and Holly Mikkelson.

Panelists Andrea Hofmann-Miller and Holly Mikkelson.

To open the discussion, Holly Mikkelson read aloud from the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) Code of Professional Ethics, which states: “Members of the Association shall be bound by the strictest secrecy, which must be observed towards all persons and with regard to all information disclosed in the course of the practice of the profession at any gathering not open to the public.” Subpoenaing a statesman’s interpreter to divulge information about a private meeting would force the interpreter to violate this guideline. Other panelists noted that there is not much room for discussion when the subject is client–attorney or physician–patient confidentiality; why should this be different for interpreters?

Almost all of the panelists raised the issue of public perception of interpreters: as long as we are not recognized as a profession, our perspective will continue to be overlooked. It is true that we don’t look like other professions: many of us start in the field by chance, but I think that is the beauty of it. We fall in love with this fascinating field, bridging gaps in language and culture and helping people communicate in the hope to make this world a better place. We follow the opposite route of other professions: we start our careers before getting a degree. Nevertheless, we are all professionals, like lawyers, physicians, engineers, teachers, and nurses. We translate and interpret a vast array of documents, meetings, hearings, and conferences, and all these should be treated as strictly confidential.

So, what can we do to protect ourselves? For one, it is essential to correct the common misunderstanding of an interpreter’s role in an encounter: an interpreter is not part of the encounter, but rather the means of communication. Above all, we must educate clients and be the champions of our profession. We are blessed with countless opportunities for professional improvement. Distance learning is here to stay, bringing knowledge to us wherever we are. Social media can play an important role in teaching the public about what we do and the importance of the services we provide. Certification and professional associations are of paramount importance, so we can fight for better standards and the recognition we all deserve.

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Olivia for accepting the invitation to moderate the panel, and to Angie, Johanna, Holly, Andrea, and Robert—some of whom came from far away—for taking the time and sharing your knowledge and wisdom with us. It was a great honor having you all.

Translation Scams Reloaded and More – Translorial Fall 2018 Edition

Translorial Fall 2018 Edition

NCTA members can now enjoy the latest edition of Translorial in print and downloadable PDF versions, covering a variety of topics.

If you are not an NCTA member, you can join here.


Selected articles from Translorial Fall 2018, Vol. 40, No. 2: → continue reading

Protecting Interpreters and Their Clients: An Introduction to the Interpreters Guild of America

By Johanna Valle Sobalvarro

Protecting Interpreters and Their Clients

The Interpreters Guild of America (IGA) is a unit of the NewsGuild-CWA, a union representing journalists, interpreters and translators, social justice workers, and nonprofit and public-sector professionals. Its main purpose is to protect the rights of interpreters, who bear tremendous responsibilities and are vulnerable to a number of professional challenges.

IGA’s role

IGA assists freelancers in educating themselves about the business of interpreting through continuing education and helps them to understand the steps needed to improve working conditions. These aspects of interpreting practice are very important, because in many interpreter-training programs, the focus is mainly on techniques and vocabulary. That leaves new interpreters unaware of what is necessary to protect themselves against exploitation and fraud.

Ongoing training is available to IGA members free of charge. Topics include reading and enforcing contracts as well as proper billing, collection, marketing, and accounting practices. As the only professional interpreters’ organization that tracks the reputation of language agencies that hire freelancers, we accomplish this by querying members about their interactions with agencies. In this way, colleagues keep each other informed about unscrupulous agencies that don’t pay for services provided.

IGA encourages certification to promote professionalism and simultaneously protect limited English proficient (LEP) clients by ensuring that they are being assisted by a trained professional. An untrained bilingual might not be familiar with interpreting techniques or understand the importance of the protocols and the code of ethics that bind interpreters.

In addition to offering educational opportunities, IGA also lobbies Sacramento for better work conditions for freelancers working in state courts and in the workers’ compensation system. In 2014, IGA helped pass Assembly Bill (AB) 2370, which requires that during court proceedings, the court interpreter’s certification number be read aloud and thereby become part of the proceedings. This has helped discourage uncertified and untrained interpreters from trying to work on legal cases for which they do not have proper credentials. This not only protects the work of certified interpreters but also helps protect the person using the interpreter by ensuring that a competent professional is presenting their case.

Currently, AB 2370 applies only to court interpreters, but the IGA is working to amend it to require certification for medical interpreters involved in workers’ compensation cases. In the present law (California Evidence Code section 755.5), there is a loophole that allows insurance company adjusters to “provisionally qualify and use” an uncertified interpreter when a certified interpreter is not available. Agencies use this loophole to avoid paying professional rates for certified medical interpreters and instead hire untrained persons for a third of the rate. These ad-hoc interpreters have no training in vocabulary, diagnosis, or protocols and can put injured workers at risk by misinterpreting their diagnosis, treatment, or legal case. This is especially true in medical-legal evaluations, which are the only opportunities for the injured worker to be heard and evaluated by an independent doctor. We argue that allowing “provisional qualification” of untrained medical interpreters disregards the well-being of the injured worker.

My role

As a member of the California Commission on Access to Justice and Chair of the Language Access Committee, I focus attention on certification issues in the California Division of Workers’ Compensation. This involves advocating actively with the Commission to ensure that the problems in the workers’ compensation system are recognized as a major violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. I am encouraging the Commission to support IGA’s efforts to amend AB 2370 to make medical certification of interpreters for injured workers mandatory.

I’m also working to direct more attention to the issue of the legal aid agencies across the state that are relying on untrained volunteers to act as interpreters, putting the legal cases of low-income Californians in jeopardy. Legal aid agencies rely heavily on funding from the State of California to help people in need: having access to credentialed interpreters is imperative to protect low-income persons, and in fact protects all Californians seeking legal aid

For more information about the Interpreters Guild of America, please visit

The Great War, Translating Macron, Looking Back, Thinking Ahead, and More – Translorial 40th Anniversary Edition Spring 2018

40th Anniversary Translorial

NCTA members can now enjoy the latest edition of Translorial in print and downloadable PDF versions, covering a variety of topics. This edition celebrates the 40th anniversary of Translorial, which was established in 1978. You can find the very first edition from May 1978 in the NCTA archive (members only). Publicly accessible articles from 1978 can be found here.

If you are not an NCTA member, you can join here.


Table of contents of the 40th Anniversary Translorial Spring 2018 edition, Vol. 40, No. 1: → continue reading

Case Study: How to Ensure GDPR Compliance When Undertaking a Translation Project

By Monique Longton

Please note: This document is for informational purposes only and must not be construed as legal advice. Both the client and the translator are advised to consult with their lawyers and legal advisers before they undertake a translation project that falls under the GDPR.


The General Data Protection Regulation (the “Regulation” or “GDPR”) will be enforceable as of May 25, 2018. The Regulation aims to strengthen the rights of European Union residents with regard to their personal data. → continue reading

Quality Control in Translation: Must-Dos for Success as a Translator

by Monique Longton

If you are considering starting – or have just started – a career in the translation industry, this article may be for you.

Here’s a challenge: if you had to choose a picture to describe the actual process taking place inside your brain when you translate, what would you pick? Personally, I would go for two pictures of one bridge: the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The old London Bridge spanning the River Thames in England

The old London Bridge spanning the River Thames in England

The London Bridge today, in Lake Havasu City, Arizona

The London Bridge today, in Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Photos courtesy of the Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau
→ continue reading