Quality criteria required to improve public service interpreting

Publication date 22.9.2020 7.56 | Published in English on 22.9.2020 at 15.14
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A recent report proposes that ministries, together with the actors in the interpretation sector, should prepare national guidelines or recommendations for high-quality public service interpreting. The report focuses on public service interpreting in the context of immigrant integration.

At the moment, practices and procedures in the procurement and use of interpreting services vary, which may affect the equal treatment of immigrants. Consistent quality criteria would harmonise public service interpreting and facilitate competitive tendering.

Defining what quality means in public service interpreting is a key element for the competitive tendering process. In fact, many of the challenges identified in the report are linked to competitive tendering. The current competitive tendering process emphasises price over quality. There is no proper definition for quality criteria, nor is any information collected on service provision and quality. However, the clients analysed in the report (municipalities and TE Offices) by and large considered the quality of interpretation to be good. Hardly any feedback is provided on the quality of interpretation, which makes quality assurance and development very challenging. 

Investment required in interpreters’ competence development

According to the report, shared practices could contribute to making interpreting more professional. The report also suggests that interpreters feel that their work is not sufficiently valued and appreciated, even though interpreting services are essential for ensuring access to services provided by the authorities. The interpreter’s occupation is not protected or regulated by law, and the role of an interpreter is not defined as being included in the service.

The availability of interpreters is mainly a challenge in less common languages. The most common problem is that public service interpreters do not necessarily have any formal qualifications. Public service interpreter training is demanding and expensive to organise, and more people apply than there are places available.  If more financing was provided, training organisers could be encouraged to increase training opportunities.

There is a constantly growing need for public service interpreting. It is therefore important, the report suggests, to engage in a joint discussion on ways of improving the quality of interpretation and the professional status of interpreters. This requires a shared understanding of what quality means in interpretation and of the professional status of the persons providing interpretation services. 

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and prepared by Owal Group Oy and Simo Määttä from the University of Helsinki. The report makes nine recommendations on how to develop public service interpreting. The report describes the current state of public service interpreting from the perspective of legislation, compensation and procurement procedures, and training, as well as the experiences persons and organisations involved in public service interpreting.


Report on the current state of public service interpreting (in Finnish)

Varpu Taarna, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, [email protected]

Risto Karinen, Director, Owal Group, [email protected]

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