Risks of Using Bilingual Staff Members in Public Service Interpreting Roles- Risks & Remedies

Risks of Using Bilingual Staff Members in Public Service Interpreting Roles- Risks & Remedies

Austerity and efficiency- contextual background;

Why untrained bilingual staff members are used as interpreters- Are Public Service Interpreters from Accredited Language Service Providers not worth the cost?

budget allocation
in an attempt to reduce national expense there has been a reduction in spending on auxiliary services.

There has recently been a change in government policy and budget allocation, in an attempt to reduce national expense on public provisions in the name of austerity and reducing the national debt. Consequently, there has been a reduction in the provision of auxiliary services, including professional interpreters and qualified translators, in preference of cheaper alternatives such as bilingual staff. This may seem like a reasonable method of financial resources while still:

Providing specialist services with limited budgets?

Maintaining the quality of their core services without compromising patient care/customer care.
However, there should be some consideration given to the effect a reduction on spending on professional translation services would have on the quality and security of the service and the ethical integrity of the organisation providing it.

One of the many ways organisations have coped with these budgetary changes is through a reduction in accredited language service expense. In particular, there has been a reduction in the number of qualified public service interpreter requests in preference of bilingual in-house staff members. Fundamentally, this is fine, however prior to delegating Public Service Interpreting roles to bilingual staff members in pursuit of financial efficacy; it may be beneficial to consider some of the costs that could be incurred further down the line.

Reputable Interpreting and Translation Firms (otherwise known as Accredited Language Service Providers), implement many safeguarding mechanisms to avoid the financial and professional risks, associated with Language Service Provision. When organisations replace qualified public service interpreters and translators with untrained bilinguals, they can become exposed to these risks. Such institutions may also wish to see how accredited language service providers safeguard themselves from such costs through the use of qualified public service interpreters.

Risk exposure and suitability;

Are institutions using untrained bilingual staff exposed?
While bilingual staff may be more than competent in their respective fields, there is more to public service interpreting than fluency in multiple languages. Having contracts with Local Authorities, NHS Trusts, as well as other major public sector organisations; accredited language service providers have an appreciation for the complexity and confidentiality of the information communicated between patients/end-users and professionals, as well as the intricacies associated communicating it well.

Thus, we strongly advise organisations to evaluate the suitability of their current systems for facilitating interpreting sessions by asking the following preliminary risk assessment questions which accredited language service providers would consider:

Are bilinguals enough?

Are institutions equipped with suitable insurance policies to protect themselves against possible legal actions and complaints derived as a result of using bilingual staff as interpreters?
Are untrained bilingual staff member trained and aware of Interpreters’ Professional Code of Conduct?
Are institutions able to accommodate for the risks associated with bias? Are institutions equipped to face the risks associated with conflicts of interest? It is natural for end-users/patients to be concerned about conflicts of interest knowing the person voicing their concerns is a member of the institution they are voicing their concerns to or against.

bilingual staff acting as interpreter
bilingual staff acting as interpreter

Are bilingual staff members familiar with the subject-specific jargon qualified public service interpreters often encounter? Are they able to interpret the jargon they are familiar with from English into the patient/end-users language?

Are intuitions able to provide their bilingual staff with sufficient public service interpreting training to ensure laymen end-users do not become excluded from the interpreting session? This often becomes the case when educated specialists converse. While virtually all professional sectors provide their staff with relevant ethical and procedural training for their respective professions. Do they provide specific ethical and procedural training to bilingual staff who take on public service interpreting roles within their institutions?

Regulation and Accreditation;

An Approved Language Service Provider implements safety mechanisms to avoid professional risks.
Are institutions using untrained bilingual staff prepared?
There are countless Language Service Providers in the current market, but only the ones able to receive accreditation last. There are many perquisites that Language Service providers need to meet before being accredited by any regulatory body. Thus, being or becoming a reputable language service provider in the current market is not only a professional challenge but also extensively regulated. However, given that providing certified translations and facilitating public service interpreting sessions is both complex and consequential, this needs to be the case, as is evident from the previous discussion.

All the accreditation and memberships that language service providers strive to achieve are necessary to assure the work being done is being done well and therefore being done safely.

See below a list of 8 accreditation and safety mechanism reputable language providers will have, what they mean and why you would want whoever catering for your language needs should have them.

Translation and Interpreting Accreditation?

Any firm worth their money would have some received some form of accreditation from relevant regulatory bodies. One of the most commonly cited regulatory bodes cited is the ISO who make international standards to assure quality concerns are answered when acquiring services from across borders. However please note ISO standards are often very subject-specific. Thus, there are a lot of different types of ISO certificates and you should expect better firms to have more than one.
Relevant ISO certifications for language service providers include ISO17100:2015, ISO9001-2015 and ISO 27001 in terms of data safety and security.

Insurance to provide interpreting and translation?

Legal action is a scary prospect; no one really wants to think about what should happen should things go wrong. However, especially in fields such as important fields dealing with consequential subjects such as language service, things can go wrong, in big ways. Thus, it’s important that firms be equipped for such situations, which is why all the best firms will be insured.

In house assessment:

Absolute Interpreting and Translations Ltd providing Interpreting Courses at Aston University
Absolute Interpreting and Translations Ltd providing Interpreting Courses at Aston University

Due to the quantity of interpreting work replaced with unprofessional “language brokering” interpreting work is sometimes viewed as unremarkable. This has led some Untrained Bilinguals to feel they are capable of Interpreting/Translating when in actuality, they are not suitably trained or qualified. As such, better firms will always perform their own assessments on interpreter’s competency as well as look through past experience and qualification.


Better Language service providers will all be accredited members of relevant linguistic associations and registries which provide assurance of higher standards of service. Such associations include The Association of Translation Companies (ATC) or EU ATC.


Nothing proves a satisfying Language service like satisfied clients. Thus, any Reputable Translation Company will have records of past clients commending their service. Obviously, the more experienced and therefore competent an Interpreting and Translation Company is the more happy clients and therefore testimonies they will have.

Code of Conduct/ Good practise

Is vital for a successful interpreting session; therefore all professional Interpreting and translation agencies would have a practical set of quality assuring procedure for their interpreters and translators to follow.
As a prerequisite of ATC membership accreditation, such a set of the procedure is necessary.

Code of Ethics:

Aside from practical guidance on how to conduct oneself when interpreting, accredited Language service providers would also equip their qualified Public service interpreters with a correct ethic. Considering, the complex and morally significant nature of their work, ethical guidance for them to work effectively, especially in social service contexts which involve the security of vulnerable individuals.

Use of Professionals:

Ultimately the largest safeguard against the risks associated with using bilinguals to do the work of qualified interpreters and certified translators, is simply to use the professionals! Interpreting is a profession, just like teaching or law, therefore it is imperative for Language Service providers to recruit and only used qualified professional interpreters to provide interpreting/translations services.

Cost-Benefit Analysis;

Replacing Public Service Interpreters from Accredited Language Service providers with untrained bilingual staff members- are the savings worth the risks?


It may be possible for institutions to safeguard themselves from the professional risks associated with interpreting by implementing the above-mentioned precautions (alongside many more) and by setting up a relevant ombudsman to deal with mishaps (such as the ethics committee offered by associations such as the ATC). Though to do so would be incredibly costly, politically difficult and counter-intuitive when orienting policy to cope with austerity cuts. This is especially true given the competitive, tried and tested alternative in the private sector.

Given how highly competitive the current Language Service provider market is, competitive tending proves more than sufficient to drive prices down to as low as they can be, without compromising the quality of the Language Service. Clearly, replacing the qualified interpreters with untrained bilinguals comes with its own potential costs, as illustrated in the previous discussion. Therefore the current system may be the safest and most practical one available.

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