For Entry to & Exit from Interpreting Preparation Programs

Commissioned unanimously by CIT Board: November, 2022

There are significant and fundamental differences between learning to communicate and learning to interpret. The primary focus of language learning in post-secondary settings is to achieve a level of fluency whereby one can communicate with people who use the language. Fluency for interpreting is far more expansive than communicating with users. Interpreters need to achieve a level of fluency in multiple domains, such as the world of work, or the world of education, in order to recognize the extent and variety of language functions in both languages. Interpreters have to know, for example, how actions are described, how people organize and express ideas, how stories are told, how to persuade and many more functions.

The primary focus of an interpreting education consists of learning how a vast array of communicative skills can be used to construct similar meanings in each working language. In order to do this, learners must first be able to participate fully and effectively in conversations on a variety of topics in formal and informal settings from both concrete and abstract perspectives in each working language. They must be able to explain complex matters in detail, to provide lengthy and coherent narratives, to present opinions on a number of issues, such as political and social issues, and provide structured arguments to support these opinions. Then, and only then, are they ready to learn to interpret.

Interpreter Education programs typically accept students who have no previous experience with American Sign Language (ASL) or its users, thus making the first two years of study language learning, rather than interpreting studies. Likewise, they often provide no further preparation in advanced language use for students in their first language(s). Although the goal of IEPs is to graduate students who can interpreter accurately and appropriately in professional and work-related settings, it is common knowledge that most students are not fully competent for professional practice in either language when they graduate.

It is time for programs who profess to teach interpreting skills to acknowledge that entering students should have a high level of mastery in the two (or more) main languages the program is preparing them to work with, in the US that will typically be ASL and English,  This means that programs who purport to teach interpreting must institute high fluency requirements for both entry to and exit from these programs. To this end, we make the following recommendations: