Certified, Accredited, Qualified, Trained Interpreter and other designations-What each of these mean, and how to use them properly

By: Jack Xu

Every once in a while, I receive emails from language professionals signed “Certified Interpreter.” However, when I look at their credentials, they often don’t appear to be those of a certified interpreter. This designation is one out of an array of terms, including qualified, accredited, trained and tested, that are sometimes used interchangeably by our colleagues in the field. But should they be?

It is clear that there is a lot of confusion among some language professionals, language service providers, and consumers of language services about these frequently used designations. So what exactly do each of these mean in the context of the Canadian language services industry?

To answer this question, I will refer to the National Standard Guide for Community Interpreting Services (NSGCIS), information available in government websites, the input of some of my colleagues at MCIS, and my own experience as a freelancer in this industry where professionals span a vast spectrum.

Let’s use the National Standard Guide (NSGIS) as a starting point for clarification. Do keep in mind that this is not an assessment of which designation is better or more prestigious than the other, but is rather meant as an observation on the use of each of these designations while highlighting their distinguishing features.

First on our list is the Accredited Interpreter. According to the NSGCIS, an Accredited Interpreter is an interpreter who has passed the screening criteria of a particular organization and has been awarded a certain recognition or accreditation. An accredited interpreter is NOT necessarily a Certified Interpreter, a Certified Court Interpreter, or a Certified Conference Interpreter.

Who falls under this category?  Interpreters who undergo a screening, testing and selection process with institutions like the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) or the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) are considered interpreters accredited with those organizations. That is why we see people in our industry with the designation IRB Accredited Interpreter and MAG Accredited Interpreter. These interpreters become accredited with these organizations in order to perform services that are specific to those settings (e.g. immigration and refugee settings, or legal/court settings). These are not blanket accreditations and should not automatically trigger the assumption that the accredited interpreter is competent to work adequately in any setting. In this context, accreditation only means that they are qualified to perform adequately in those specific settings.

Similarly, interpreters working as contractors with community agencies like MCIS Language Solutions, also undergo a screening, training, testing and selection process. In the case of MCIS, these interpreters are awarded recognition or accreditation by MCIS Language Solutions for having completed at least 100 hours of community interpreter training and having successfully passed a standardised interpreter language assessment such as the Interpreter Language and Skills Assessment Tool (ILSAT) or the Community Interpreter Language and Interpreting Skills Assessment Tool (CILISAT). At MCIS we call these interpreters MCIS Accredited Interpreters, and as such, they are considered qualified by MCIS to perform adequately in community interpreting settings which include general legal, healthcare and social services settings.

Interpreters accredited by a group of organizations also fall under this category. An example of an accreditation supported by a group of organizations is the accreditation by the Ontario Council on Community Interpreting (OCCI).   This organization’s mandate is to oversee and regulate the accreditation of interpreters working in the community and public service sectors in Ontario.  Its requirements are more encompassing than those of the afore-mentioned accreditations. Passing a language interpreting test (ILSAT, CILISAT, CTTIC, OTTIAQ, and/or MAG) is only one of the necessary criteria. A candidate must also possess post-secondary credentials (or equivalent), as well as a post-secondary interpreter training, for example, a certificate of completion of the Language Interpreting Training Program (LITP) from a Community College or a Glendon Graduate Diploma in General Interpreting (GDGI). Membership in an eligible professional association of interpreters in North America is also a requirement.

Next on our list is the designation, Certified Interpreter. According to the NSGCIS, a certified interpreter is a professional interpreter who is certified as competent by a professional organization through rigorous testing based on appropriate and consistent criteria. Interpreters who have had limited training or have taken a screening test administered by an employing legal, health, interpreter referral agency are not considered certified interpreters.

In Canada, the designation of Certified Interpreter is offered by the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC)[1]. This body is concerned with the application of uniform standards of professional certification across Canada – with the exception of Quebec, where the OTTIAQ has its own certification process – and administers the exams that confer the right to use these titles. The title of Certified Interpreter, however, is offered by the provincial association (or a professional order) to which the candidate has applied for certification. Indeed, the title certified, whether it be applied to a translator, conference interpreter, court interpreter, terminologist, community interpreter or medical interpreter, is now protected by law in four Canadian provinces (BC, NB, ON, QC), and therefore cannot be used by other accrediting organizations without the permission of CTTIC.

However, this does not apply to sign language interpretation.  The professional membership and certification of sign language interpreters is done by the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC). AVLIC is the only certifying body for ASL-English interpreters in Canada by means of the Canadian Evaluation System. Among a variety of services, they offer a Professional Conduct Review Process to maintain quality and accountability to the field of interpreting.

The designations of Certified Medical Interpreter and Certified Community Interpreter by CTTIC were just added in recent years. In our view of things, the benefit for language professionals and the industry at large from these certification designations is still unknown; however, we at MCIS support any initiative that collectively leads us to further professionalization of the industry, as well as the increased access to critical information and services. Having said that, we hope this does not lead to further fragmentation in a profession where work is mostly “on call”, making enforcement of these designations even more difficult.  In short, we know little of their effect, but are hopeful it will be a positive one.  We encourage our readers and the public, in general, to share with us what their experience has been with the pursuit of these designations and the effect that it has had in your practice.

Finally, we have a collection of other self-appointed designations or qualifications I have seen as recruiters of interpreters in resumes and LinkedIn profiles. These include qualified, experienced, accomplished, trained and tested, and competent among others. I would say that these are generally subjective and mostly harmless. They simply represent the candidates’ own perspective of their competence; however, they carry little weight for the educated consumer of language services. What agencies want to see in general is a) a proof of technical and research competence, b) a proof of linguistic competence, and c) a proof of interpreting competence.

At MCIS, we commend all language professionals who pursue training, testing, accreditation and/or certification. We support you in your commitment to lifelong learning and professional development in recognition that languages, individuals, and institutions change and evolve over time.

Now, can all community interpreters in all languages and regions aspire to become accredited with an organization (or group of organizations like the OCCI), and subsequently pursue certification with CTTIC? Well, that is a topic for another entry.

Please share and comment. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

[1] Canada has some of the oldest translating and interpreting institutions in the world: the federal Translation Bureau which plays a lead role in terminology standardization within the government of Canada, standardizing the vocabulary used in various areas of government activity. The Translation Bureau was founded in 1934; The Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO) was established in 1920.

Alejandro Gonzalez, Resources Development Manager, Toronto, Ontario, May 10, 2017


AVLIC: http://www.avlic.ca/

NSGCIS: https://ailia.ca/National+Standards+for+Interpretation+Services+-+NSGCIS

CTTIC : http://www.cttic.org/

OCCI: http://www.occi.ca

OTTIAQ : https://ottiaq.org/en

MAG: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/

IRB : http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/Eng/BoaCom/interpret/Pages/index.aspx