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Standards from ASTM

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)

November 5, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

The Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association (MMIA) is pleased to announce the endorsement of the ASTM Standard Guide for Language Interpretation Services (Standards F2089-01), a critical document developed in 2001 that has furthered the understanding of the standards for all professional interpreters.

This document identifies the components of quality language interpretation services in several settings, including healthcare. It establishes criteria for each component defining the minimum standard of quality services in the language interpretation industry. Components include levels of speaking and listening proficiency, interpreter qualifications, and needs assessment for healthcare interpreting, as well as elements common to all interpreted events and technological requirements.

The ASTM Standard outlines a code of professional conduct for all interpreters, as well as the responsibilities of health care organizations departments that hire or contract interpreters to provide the required interpretation services. The strength of this standard is that it evaluates the interpreting industry as a whole, with the understanding that there is one industry and one interpreting profession operating in varied settings.

Fluency Level for Professional Interpreters
The ASTM Standard is the second standard that defines oral fluency levels for professional interpreters (The first being the MMIA Standards in 1992). High level is explained as educated native or full functional speaking and listening proficiency. It also states:
"Interpretation is a complex, demanding task that requires an excellent command of languages, possession of skills and abilities specific to interpretation, and knowledge of the subject matter being interpreted."

Therefore, the standard acknowledges that the interpreter may incur liability for a lack of accuracy in interpretation.

Educational Requirements for Interpreters
The ASTM Standard is the first to address the educational requirements of professional interpreting work. It asserts that, in addition to knowledge of the subject matter and corresponding terminology, the interpreter should have a �broad general education�, which may include the following:

(1) Post-secondary education or its equivalent

(2) The ability to familiarize him/herself with new fields rapidly and thoroughly, and

(3) In-depth knowledge of one or more fields of specialization, which in certain fields, includes certification through testing (for example, in legal and medical interpreting)

Use of Simultaneouse Interpretation in Healthcare
The ASTM Standard cites the MMIA Standards of Practice, acknowledging that
simultaneous interpreting is used in the healthcare setting when �it is inappropriate to interrupt a patient communicating in a highly emotional state, or when there is no logical transition between ideas, making it difficult for an interpreter to follow the flow of communication. Simultaneous interpretation is used in, but is not limited to, mental health settings, group discussions, and teaching demonstrations.� (ASTM Standard & (MMIA Standard A � 5C)

The needs assessment process declares the importance of the environment (lead time, duration, preparation), technological needs (appropriate equipment), and documentation (background materials, sight translation needs) for professional medical interpreters to perform accurately. It states the importance of providing an appropriate and adequate working environment with the view to facilitating the interpreter�s performance and avoiding professional burnout.

The ASTM Standard builds on the work of interpreter associations such as the MMIA. It is an important tool in the training, hiring and performance evaluation of all interpreters, including  medical interpreters. The MMIA recognizes this work as being definitive and serving as an international standard guide for the industry. We recommend that all MMIA members familiarize themselves with the ASTM Standard, as it this will greatly advance the rendering of qualified interpretation services to our culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) patients. The document is available for download on the ASTM website at  at a cost of $41 per copy.


Izabel S. Arocha, M.Ed., MMIA President

Allen So, MMIA Vice President

Vonessa Phillips Costa, Secretary

Jordan Coriza, Treasurer

Lulu Sanchez, Boston Regional Director

Rachel Herring, Cambridge/Somerville Regional Director

Maria Mello, Metro Suburban Regional Director

Lisa Morris, Central Mass Regional Director

Fanny Tchorz, Southeast Mass Regional Director

Maria Gatej, Northwest Regional Director

Cynthia Schenck, North Shore Regional Director


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