Mary Phelan, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, Dublin City University
In response to lack of training for interpreters in Ireland I set up the Graduate Certificate in Community Interpreting in 2004. We have trained interpreters for French, Spanish, Polish, Russian and Romanian. But as time goes on and there is no drive for quality from the authorities, we find that our trained interpreters are not necessarily prioritised for work. In addition to that, the rate of pay for court interpreters has been reduced. Indeed, the overall volume of interpreting work appears to have reduced due to the recession. For example, the income of one of our Polish graduates has been halved this year compared to last year. This raises the question: Is it worth training interpreters if they cannot earn a living in this area?
Meanwhile there is pressure from the university for greater numbers of students and an unwillingness to run modules for small numbers of students. The temptation could be to accept students who are unsuitable purely to increase numbers.
If we concentrate on languages that are widely spoken in Ireland then interpreters who work in other languages get no training. For example we have trained interpreters in 5 languages but over 170 are spoken in Ireland. We can continue with a purist approach and an emphasis on Interpreting Practice by language or we can consider a more generic approach. Or a combination.
Finding lecturers to teach interpreting practice in unusual languages is not easy. We need people who have worked as interpreters in Ireland, who are familiar with the system here, who have undergone some interpreter training themselves, understand interpreter ethics and who can teach. It can be very difficult to find suitable people. Even if we can tick all these boxes, examinations can still be problematic because very often this will be the first time that the lecturers have assessed interpreters. It is essential to have capable external examiners who can provide feedback.
Meanwhile, other low level courses are springing up around the country. It is difficult to justify low level initiatives to train members of the community when fulltime interpreters find it hard to make a living. At the same time, if we cannot cater for more languages, then it is perfectly understandable that people would take these courses.
Another issue is advocacy – rather than doing research on Interpreting, a lot of time is spent writing submissions, raising awareness and campaigning.