The Couch

The Couch – Feeling Discriminated Against

F.D.A. is on The Couch. Read the post and see if you can lend a hand.
Please note: Contributions to The Couch should be sent to the Editor and not entered in the comments. We will make sure that all data that might make the parties or case identifiable are removed.

Our colleague has not been able to find a way to reach the goals set. What do you think is needed, a new roadmap, new perspective? Give it a shot in the comments section.

Here is my problem: there is no certification for my language. Period. End of statement.

But I love my job and did everything I could to get the highest level of professional recognition I could and became a Registered Court Interpreter. To get there, I had to take the written English and a third-party oral proficiency exam, which I passed.

Step one taken care of. Let’s go to step two: finding jobs.

My language is rare. That means, there isn’t enough work where I live to help me make ends meet. Through methodical research, I found there was high demand for my language and skills in another state. And by high I mean 5,800 cases and only one interpreter for 58 counties.

To make the long story short, my request for reciprocity was denied because I did not pass the (non-existent) Oral Proficiency Test and because reciprocity is offered only in that state’s certified languages. They suggested I register with a very specific language provider. And no, there is no appeals process.

As interpreters, we give voice to LEP individuals so they can have fair and equal access to justice. How about us as Interpreters, should we be allowed the same FAIR & EQUAL ACCESS that we support? What are we to do when we feel that professional standards are used against us?

I look forward to reading your advice, so I can feel proud of my profession again.

Feeling Discriminated Against

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34 thoughts on “The Couch – Feeling Discriminated Against”

  1. Maria de Villiers says:

    Let’s begin with some missing facts: what is the “rare” language that you are specialized in, what is the state where you are living now, and what is the state where there is only one interpreter in your “rare” language for over 5,000 cases?

    1. Observer Editor says:

      Maria, that information was suppressed to protect our colleague’s identity. We could have used any rare language anywhere – Klingon, in Mars – as long as our colleague’s identity is protected. And all the data was provided by our colleague. Maybe the question is “over 5,000 cases in what period of time???” I was wondering about that myself…

    2. Marcella Alohalani Boido says:

      The name of the language and the current home state is not relevant. What does matter is the name of the specific state to which the person wishes to move. Even that does not matter that much.

      The problem of how to screen an interpreter candidate for whom there is no certification examination nor any Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) available is a serious problem. Different states solve this problem in different ways. Perhaps some states do not solve this problem.

      As a researcher, I would appreciate it if readers of this blog would write in and tell us about how this or that specific state solves this problem. I will write another entry about Hawaii.

  2. What is it that you are seeking, some type of certification or work as an interpreter? Many interpreters, in languages for which there is no certification, are hired as otherwise qualified by virtue off education and experience. If you don’t have the education and the experience somenone will have to take a risk to get you started (if there is that much demand.)
    Get your resumé out to all the language service agencies, courts and potential users of your particular language. You may be surprised.
    Don’t feel discriminated against at this stage of the game. There is more for you to do.

  3. Chris Verduin says:

    This is an issue of orientation/training of those who are
    hiring interpreters – they are cutting off their nose to spite their
    face (now there’s a good idiomatic phrase for those whose
    native language is not English).
    I know strides have been made in this area, but unfortunately
    a lot of misunderstanding still exists, and it’s hard to get to
    the “right person” in hierarchy to try and solve it, even if
    that person exists.

  4. I’d like to pursue this further. Can you tell what is your language combination?

    1. Observer Editor says:

      That can not be provided, Nicholas. Location and language are suppressed to protect the identity of our colleague.

  5. Cristina Gonzalez says:

    Sounds to me like that one service provider is monopolizing the market. If you can only work if it’s with them, seems a bit fishy.

  6. Alfredo Babler says:

    Latin Esperanto

  7. Alfredo Babler says:

    Ogham and Sumerian?

    Anybody? Badabing-Badaboom? Nothing?.
    Jeez! Tough room.

    1. Gio Lester says:

      I like the Klingon suggestion!

  8. LiliAna says:

    My advise is to take the English is a second language, learn how to comunicate. It is free, to most colleges, then go and try to take your test. You will pass, then everything will work great for you. When I firs arivd in the U.S.A. after my 1st interview I was told, “You can’t even speak our language,… how you expect to work with people if you can not communicate with them in their own language. I was really upset, sad,etc…. but then I learned the English communication, went back for the interview, got the job, then many blessings come after, with open doors to greater opportunities. Just get the courage and do it… Liliana

    1. Observer Editor says:

      Lilian, that is not the issue. Our colleague’s command of English is not into question. She is looking for advice on how to overcome the barrier this one State Court is placing on her: “If you want to work here, you have to use this one service provider we use; and we only extend reciprocity to languages for which WE provide certification.” Those are the questions.

      We look forward to your input, Lilian.

  9. Alfredo Babler says:

    In all seriousness, which is a nearly impossible feat for me on a Friday afternoon, isn’t “discrimination” a little bit of a harsh word for this particular scenario? And our patient does have fair and equal access to red tape, which we all get without crying language-rooted racism, or whatever the underlying unappealable thing happens to be here. And yes, the mystery language thing is a tad obnoxious and I’ll tell you, right off the bat, unless it is some sort of Africa Tongue Clicking and you post a video of it, whatever happens to be your answer to this inquiry is going to be rather disappointing. given the seriousness of your indignation. I mean, indifference, maybe. But discrimination? Really?

    1. Gio Lester says:

      You say //tomEYto//, I say //TomAhto//… It is all relative, isn’t it? Especially when the subject carries such an emotional baggage.

  10. Suzelle Aghamalian says:

    No need to be cynical or mean about this issue. I sympathize with the author, because it is a real problem in some states. I think the solution is to have training and certification in all the languages that the courts use, regardless of the number of cases, so that all aspiring interpreters have a fair and equal chance of getting certified and all LEP’s are guaranteed a qualified interpreter.

  11. Mercy Martin-Crouse says:

    Why use Discrimination as a way of telling others your frustration at this moment for not having your Interpreter’s Certification..!!!!! I came to this Country when I was 19 years old had to learned the English language. Then I went to Arizona University to take courses to become an interpreter. After many years working for the Court System, attending classes and educational courses I finally passed the Interpreter’s Certification Test. Instead of feeling down for not having the certification, I suggest to you to please do something about that…for example :study go to any court in town and learn all the procedures…learn the Legal terminology…just because you are bilingual trust me you are not qualified to work in the Legal field or the Medical field or pass the Interpreter’s test. I remember very well one of my teacher’s comment when we graduated in Arizona …The Sky Is the Limit…Lets say that The National Center for Interpreters does not have a test for your language at this moment that’s telling you that it is not a need for your language as an interpreter at this moment, trust me they will have a test in your language soon if they see the need. Then what do you do,.???? try to become a qualify interpreter with the court that is in your State. One suggestion for you study,study and study some more…that’s the only way to pass the test and be able to become a Certified Interpreter. Proud to be one…!!!!!

    1. Gio Lester says:

      Mercy/Nicholas, that’s not at all the issue. Read the post again. Our colleague has done all the possible things she can, but there is no certification in her language. Period.

  12. Natalia Postrigan says:

    Dear OP,
    I am somewhat familiar with this problem because there is no federal certification for my language pair, and it is my understanding that if I wanted to get on court rosters in several states, I would have to pass each state’s own certification/registration process. Reciprocity would be irrelevant to me.
    My advice is to embrace their recommendation and sign up with the interpreting agency. In New York the agencies I work with in the field of legal interpreting pay handsomely. The rate matches or exceeds the court rate. Once you start going to their hearings, your foot is in the door and you are on the county’s roster, whether it exists officially or in someone’s secret drawer. If you find out, however, that there is only one agency that monopolized the market in your target state and they have unfair rates due to this monopolistic position, this is a serious issue that we interpreters should object to, possibly by complaining to AG. It is not the matter of discrimination though. Reach out to me if you need support.

  13. Liviu-Lee Roth says:

    My 2c,

    I am in the same situation and although I am on my state’s list of registered court interpreters, the courts in neighboring states obtain my services only through different agencies. Since your language is rare, it is up to you to ask for a reasonable rate. If they answer that it is to high, your answer should be “go fish” ! It is their loss.
    You mention that one interpreter covers 58 counties (easy to figure out the state, because it is only one 🙂 ). That means this one interpreter is able to fulfill the needs of the market. Same thing about the only agency: It seems that they are able to cover the needs.
    Maybe you should expand your searches and contact the courts close to your location and let them know that you are a registered/qualified court interpreter in your state and that you are willing to travel to the court if they need you. As my colleagues mentioned above, “discrimination” is a little harsh.

    1. Liviu-Lee Roth says:

      sorry for the typo, I meant “too high”

  14. Maribel Pintado-Espiet says:

    I would suggest writing directly to the Chief Justice of the state court. Provide a copy of your CV and whatever certification you may have. Depending on the state, you may approach the Attorney General{s Office with a complaint.

  15. Pamela Allyn says:

    I feel like some commenters are not respecting our frustrated colleague. She says she has done everything she can to register and have appropriate credentials; let’s believe her. I don’t really have advice for her, but I remember I was living in Washington state, was already a state certified court interpreter, and the courts in my small town were using two non-certified interpreters who had served there for a long time, and refused to give me any work. I even spoke to the judge, and brought him a copy of the relevant law saying certified interpreters must be given precedence. He didn’t care. These kind of obstacles can be very frustrating.

  16. Alfredo Babler says:

    LOL Giio. I think you’ve solved the riddle. It has to be Klingon in the 11th Venusian Circuit… those Venusians are like the KKK of language, I tell ya.

    1. Gio Lester says:

      KKKKKK (translation of “LOL” into Brazilian Portuguese).

  17. Benoit Akoa says:

    War profiteering. The issue that our colleague is going through here is prevalent in the translation and interpretation industry and is no different than war profiteering. Exclusive contracts, backdoor negotiations, quid pro quo situations, and the list goes on. All this at the detriment of quality interpreting.

    This is how it goes in some states; person A has a friend in a Government agency responsible for providing interpretation services. Person A goes out and creates an Agency and hires poor quality interpreters at $17 an hour, and literally abusing interpreters. Person A is given $110 an hour for his agency’s services.

    No other agency or interpreter will ever be able to provide services for this government agency regardless of qualifications, even though Executive Order 13166 requires the use of the most qualified interpreter available for the job.

    Corruption, territorialism, paying to play, war profiteering, preferential treatments, Czarism, and zero oversight. Welcome to America

  18. Vicki Santamaria says:

    I feel your pain. Many years ago, I moved from one state to another. Even though I had state and federal certification for the first state, the second state wouldn’t list me as an approved interpreter until I attended their interpreter orientation in the state capital. The problem? The next orientation wasn’t for many, many months and the state capital was hundreds of miles from the city where I was living. And this was for Spanish, a language in great demand in the second state.

    When I moved to a third state, I was granted reciprocity. Go figure!

    This kind of snafu happens in other professions as well, such as teaching, so the problem isn’t discrimination, it’s bureaucracy.

    In the second state, I worked at non-court jobs and in the federal court where I lived. There are many sources of work outside the courts, You should check with school districts, worker’s compensation, social services, etc., etc.

    1. Marcella Alohalani Boido says:

      Vicki, I find your experience interesting. It may be fairly common.
      The original Consortium was created to make reciprocity possible. However, recprocity is not required.
      Each state can set its own procedures for eligibility to be on their court roster. As part of that, each state can set its own minimum passing score on both the Written English and parts of the oral certification tests.
      So, reciprocity is something that no one should take for granted.

  19. Alfredo Babler says:

    All right, wait a second now. I can tell you, for a fact, that there’s very little corruption when it comes to awarding government contracts in our industry. The system is just a bureocratic cluster coitus, but the one thing they do look for with ardent fervor is the lowest bidder. A lot of translation mill-type companies do nothing but bid on government requests for quotation at ridiculous prizes that don’t jive at all with reality. However, that happens in every industry that provides services to the government. The Contract Specialist Level Whatever knows how to write an RFQ based on other administrative-type services and whatever homework they’ve done calling around for prizing and looking at past contracts, etc. The Benoit “$17.00/hour” paying agency while charging $110.00 is truly an urban myth, especially in the legal arena. We have standards now. We have a Code of Ethics from this organization that is truly well thought out and respected across the board by all serious agency operators in our industry. The fly-by-night opportunists vanish fairly quickly because we don’t put up with their crap and the professional agency owners/operators blackball their butt lickety-split and don’t enable their disruptive, immoral behavior. And listen, I can be one cynical, opinionated, somewhat jaded SOB, if you haven’t noticed by now, but Benoit, dude, you taken the cake. Czarism and zero oversight? Good grief! I hope I don’t get to experience that as the norm in America, ever. That’s why, always fish on the RIGHT side of the boat, no matter what. Free market capitalism is the way. The whole “back door negotiations and quid pro quo situations,” to quote Benoit, takes you to Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba and, apparently, Maine. LOL – I can’t help myself.

  20. John says:

    Thank you for the post, I understand you very much, because I myself got into a similar situation, I was learning a foreign language to get to the company I dreamed of getting into and, as a result, I was not taken there because I did not attend an oral colloquial test (which in fact does not exist). I will say so, we in the camp have a very serious problem in the educational system, because after the graduation the students start having a problem with getting a good job.

  21. Marcella Alohalani Boido says:

    I have found a state, namely Maryland, that does require what they call a Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) in both English and the Language Other Than English. See:

    There are more details here:

    However, Maryland has twenty-three (23) counties. The blog refers to a state with 58 counties.

  22. Marcella Alohalani Boido says:

    I wrote that I would explain how Hawaii deals with the situation of an interpreter candidate for whom there is no certification nor Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) available. To date, Hawaii is not making use of any OPI from any company. Whether this will change in the future, remains to be seen.

    Briefly, to be on the Hawaii State Judiciary Interpreter Registry, a person must first meet other requirements, such as attending a two-day Basic Orientation Workshop, and passing two written tests. One is the Written English (WE) test provided by the “Consortium,” and the other is a written test on ethics.

    The Consortium’s recommended minimum passing score on the WE is 80% correct. After the first round of testing, Hawaii dropped its required minimum passing score to 70% correct.

    Those who meet these requirements are listed as “Tier 1, Registered” interpreters.

    After that, a person can take the LionBridge test that was intended for EOIR interpreting. The Hawaii Judiciary does not name this test on some of its materials, but that is in fact the test, or rather, the group of tests, currently in use. The information available on these proprietary tests is limited. Testing in simultaneous mode is available in some, but not all, languages. I think the same is true for sight translation.

    The lack of a sight translation section for some languages does not trouble me, depending on the language. Not all places produce many written documents that would be used in court. In fact, some of the languages needed in the Hawaii court system originate in places where people may not have a birth certificate, much less other documents. For some countries, I have been unable to even find a version of the official constitution and laws in any language other than English.

    A person who passes the LionBridge test in their language combination moves up to “Tier 2, Conditionally Approved.” For some languages needed in Hawaii, that is currently the highest tier level available.

    If anyone knows of another state court system that is using the LionBridge EOIR exams to screen interpreter candidates, I would appreciate hearing about it.

  23. Marcella Alohalani Boido says:

    So far, I have found three (3) states that use an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) as part of their testing and credentialing procedure(s) for court interpreter candidates. They are: California, Maryland, and Washington State. Each of these states has significantly different procedures.
    All of them require a minimum score of 80+% correct on the Written English test.
    Compared to the amount of information available to interpreter testing candidates in languages which have an oral certification test, none of these has much information on their web site about the OPI.
    Does anyone know about any other states using an OPI?

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