EOC Releases Findings of A Study on Potential Model for Accreditation and Regulation of Interpreters and Translators in Ethnic Minority Languages in Hong Kong
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (25 December 2021) released the study findings of “A Study on Potential Model for Accreditation and Regulation of Interpreters and Translators in Ethnic Minority Languages in Hong Kong”.
Language can be a major challenge for Ethnic Minorities (EMs) in gaining access to public services. While there are services providers of translation and interpretation services in EM languages, their recruitment and qualification requirements, skill training and quality assurance may be different. This may affect the confidence of EM community members in using the translation and interpretation services.
Mr Ricky CHU Man-kin, Chairperson of the EOC said, “The EOC has always been supportive to the setting up of a regulatory system to promote the quality of interpreters and translators which is conducive to EM communities’ equal access to public and private services .”
“We understand that under the improved Administrative Guidelines on Promotion of Racial Equality (the Administrative Guidelines) overseen by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau in April 2020, increased efforts have been made by public authorities to proactively offer appropriate language services for EM service users with language barriers to have equal access to public services. It is also encouraging to note that the Government is studying the recommendations in the Direct Investigation Report by the Office of the Ombudsman on Government’s Arrangements for Engaging Outside Interpretation Services in July 2021 concerning the establishment of a central database of foreign language interpreters,” Mr. Chu said.
Mr. Chu continued, “The recommendations in this study are in line with spirit of the Administrative Guidelines to ensure equal access to public services by EM communities. It serves as a reference for further studies, with a view to moving in the direction of exploring an accreditation and regulation system of interpreters and translators in EM languages suitable for local circumstances.”
A research team from The University of Hong Kong was commissioned by the EOC to conduct the study. It employs a multi-pronged approach to gather qualitative and quantitative data to understand the views and experiences of different stakeholders concerning the establishment of an accreditation and regulation system for interpreters and translators (I/Ts) working in EM languages and how such a system should be implemented. The study includes three parts: (i) a literature review of overseas accreditation and regulation models, including those of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States; (ii) an online survey for EM language I/Ts in Hong Kong and institutional users of translation and interpreting services in EM languages; and (iii) focus group interviews with some of the stakeholders, including service operators to narrate their experiences and to triangulate the quantitative data from the online survey in order to explore issues at a greater depth.
Review on overseas accreditation and regulation models
The findings reveal that all or most of the overseas models under the study share the following features:
- The principal accreditation and regulation bodies in all four countries are either I/T professional bodies themselves or work closely with provincial or national I/T professional bodies;
- I/T accreditation in all four countries is not mandatory but widely recognised especially by the institutional users; and
- All or most of the principal bodies in the four countries uphold the following functions to varying degrees:
- All conduct assessment and examination;
- All maintain a publicly accessible register of practising I/Ts; and
- three accrediting bodies handle complaints and can take disciplinary action when necessary.
Findings of online survey
Among the I/Ts, 65.4% of respondents preferred a compulsory type of accreditation system, while 34.6% preferring an optional accreditation system. The majority of respondents (66.7%) believed there should be different levels of accreditation such as general and specialist streams and most (64.1%) wished to have different types of accreditation, for example in the legal, medical or other fields. An overwhelming 86.1% wanted the establishment of a publicly accessible register.
In respect of institutional users, over 70% of respondents (71.4%) preferred a compulsory system to an optional one (28.6%). Most (85.7%) considered it necessary to have different types of accreditation according to the specialisation of each I/T, since each field required a specific set of knowledge about terminology, cultural awareness and sensitivity. A great majority of respondents (95.2%) agreed to the creation of a publicly accessible register of I/Ts who have passed the accreditation test.
Views gathered from focus group interviews
Among the I/Ts, all I/Ts interviewed supported the idea of setting up an accreditation system, while more than half of the I/Ts interviewed preferred a compulsory system — with some proposing that it be optional in the first stage — and with different levels of accreditation. Half of the I/Ts interviewed suggested that the profession be regulated by a public body.
As regards institutional users, all respondents were in favour of setting up an accreditation system, half of them preferred an optional system.
Service operators interviewed believed in establishing an accreditation system as it would benefit I/Ts professionally. They preferred an optional system in the beginning in order to have a grace period of at least a few years before the final model of accreditation became mandatory.
Concerns were raised by the service operators about a potential shortage of accredited I/Ts in the short run if accreditation was mandatory.
Having reviewed the overseas models for I/Ts, and having considered the online survey findings and focus group interview results, the EOC has come up with a total of 14 recommendations and below are some of the features of a potential accreditation and regulation system:
- An optional system shall be adopted initially and reviewed after a certain period of time.
- The system shall be in place in both a general stream for public service settings and specialist domains in legal and medical interpreting.
- Languages to be assessed for accreditation shall primarily include the eight high demand South Asian and South East Asian languages.
- Non-language-specific training courses on interpretation and translation skills, cultural awareness and professional practice and ethical issues should be provided to prepare candidates for the accreditation tests.
- To enable a smooth transition to accreditation, existing practitioners can be given a Registered Interpreter or Translator status and the title Registered I/T can be a prerequisite for and a pathway to accreditation.
It is also recommended in the study report that an accrediting and regulatory body shall be established to administer the accreditation and regulatory system. It shall serves the functions of registration, conducting assessments, maintaining a directory of registered/accredited I/Ts, developing a code of ethics, handling complaints and exercising disciplinary actions. One of the feasible models identified by the research team is a partnership formed between a tertiary institution and a professional body/organisation with considerable experience in this industry.
The EOC will submit the study report with recommendations to the Government for reference and consideration. While the study has identified the common elements of an accreditation and regulatory system based on overseas practices and models and set out the views by various stakeholders, further studies may be needed to make the accreditation and regulation system workable at operating level in Hong Kong.
Equal Opportunities Commission
25 December 2021