To Class, Interpreters!

updated from an article by Mario A. Flores

I have heard for many years the rumors that continuing education requirements for court interpreters would be instituted by the Administrative Office of the  Courts (AOC). However, year after year, Aesop's fabled "The boy who cried wolf" story would prove true: nothing happened. But wait! It's finally here.

If you are one of Washington State's 184 court certified interpreters, you should have received a letter from the AOC sometime in December notifying you that, beginning January 31, 1999, all certified interpreters will be required to submit a Continuing Education and Legal Interpreting Compliance Form reporting 8 hours of continuing education units and 10 hours of legal interpreting in court or administrative hearings each year.

These requirements were set by the Court Interpreter Administrative Committee, presided over by Justice James M. Dolliver of the Washington State Supreme Court. Other members include judges representing Superior and Municipal courts, along with the President of WITS, the Director of the Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the Chairman of the Asian American Affairs Commission, and the AOC's Director of the Court Interpreter Certification Program.

With these steps, Washington joins other states that have chosen to confirm the professional status of court certified interpreters in this manner. For example, California requires 30 continuing education credits every other year, an annual fee of $85, and 40 hours of legal interpretation assignments.

The then Director of the Court Interpreter Certification Program, Ms. Joanne Moore, said the Committee decided on 8 units after much discussion, contemplating not only educational substance but also struggling to keep it from becoming a hardship. One important consideration was the availability of continuing education programs outside the major urban centers.

In this respect, AOC and WITS have joined forces to offer classes to interpreters throughout the state. AOC also hopes that other organizations will be interested in providing this sort of classes as well. The first such educational program was offered by WITS on January 31, 1998, at the University of Washington in Seattle, awarding 2 credits to its numerous attendees. And Ms. Moore's office is already working on an upcoming project for the spring.

In addition to credits earned for classes attended beginning in 1998, the AOC will award up to 4 units from each of two previous educational programs: the 1992 Advanced Interpreting Course for Certified Interpreters held at various community colleges throughout the state and the 1995 Certified Court Interpreter Conference at Ellensburg. In order to be given credit for these two programs, interpreters need only to list them in the Compliance form, and the AOC will verify attendance against the official records.

The first Compliance form indicating 8 earned units needed to be submitted by January 31, 1999. Even though interpreters who did not comply with these new requirements did not have their names removed from the certification list circulated to approximately 600 courts and agencies, a notation indicated they had not complied with certification requirements. Current policy allows a non-complying interpreter to make up the basic units after the deadline but he or she may be required additional classes.

For the 1999-2001 compliance period, the requirements were set at 16 hours of continuing education of which at least 2 hours must be from an approved Ethics course. The required number of court hours is 20. The Court Interpreter Certification Advisory Commission made no provision for the late filing of compliance forms, nor it has made any provision for the granting of extensions in which to meet continuing education and court hour requirements.

These requirements are aimed directly at ensuring high interpretation standards. Our skills need to be kept honed and updated. Language is forever evolving, hand-in-hand with society and culture. Since language is what interpreters specialize in, a professional interpreter's skills cannot remain stagnant. If we do not keep abreast of changes then we run the risk of losing touch with the reality of the language used, perhaps hindering or barring the non-English speaker from effective communication. This would be a dangerous position to be in, since court interpreters are looked upon to ensure equal access to the legal system. I commend the Court Interpreter Administrative Committee for establishing these core requirements and look forward to attending interesting and relevant workshops with my colleagues ... at a reasonable cost!

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