Public Service Interpreting in Denmark – a Certification Design Proposal

Susanne Frank

Student thesis: Master thesis


The aim of this thesis is to provide a proposal for a certification design in the field of public service interpreting in Denmark. In Denmark, there is currently no possibility for public service interpreters to attest their skills. In fact, any individual who claims to speak two languages may accept assignments in the public service sectors. There is a large demand for competent interpreters in minority languages, and although there are at least four categories of highly professional and qualified interpreters in Denmark (conference interpreters, authorized translator/interpreters, army- trained interpreters and sign language interpreters), they tend not to work in the public sectors, primarily because their working languages do not coincide with the ones needed. In addition, since being a public service interpreter is not a professional occupation and formal training, it is usually regarded as an ad-hoc low status job.
The thesis provides an overview of the current situation in public service interpreting (court and police, health care and social affairs). The minority languages that are most often requested by the health and social sectors are Arabic, Bosnian, Dari, Farsi, Mandarin Chinese, Kurmanji, Pashto, Polish, Somali, Thai, Turkish and Urdu. These languages differ greatly from the languages currently offered for interpreter training at tertiary education level, which are limited to English, German, French and Spanish. Thus, minority languages are usually interpreted by unqualified individuals, typically native speakers of these languages, who in some cases have no real command of the Danish language or the specific terminology required.
Although it is impossible to obtain professional qualifications for minority language public sector interpreters, which are therefore not tested, the legal system does officially require candidates to demonstrate minimum standards. Currently, the Danish National Police maintains a list of interpreters who have been approved to work in the courts and several other institutions under the Danish Ministry of Justice. It is the only formal register of interpreters, and any other organization, public or private, not associated with the Ministry, is unable to access it. Subsequently, health and local authorities rely heavily on those standards and consider interpreters approved in the legal system safe to use, and do so via agencies that advertise their freelance interpreters as police approved. However, the National Police’s approval and registry procedure entails testing the candidate’s language skills in Danish only and no knowledge of the legal system, its principles or terminology an, even if it did, the terminology would not be relevant to these sectors.
Interpreting by individuals who have no insight or training, demonstrably puts citizen’s rights and health at risk, as poor interpreting is inefficient at best and very harmful at worst.
By drawing on experience from countries that have already implemented varying degrees of certification procedures, the solution offered in this thesis is that a potential certification procedure for Danish public service sectors should encompass an initial candidate competence screening. This may result either in exclusion or further participation in the procedure. A positive screening will take the candidate through tests entailing Danish and foreign language competence, sector-specific knowledge and it’s associated terminology, as well as interpreting skills. It is also argued that exams are conducted by professional interpreters, preferably also from a diverse range of relevant professions, such as legal experts and clinicians, to ensure the candidate’s comprehension of sector- specific concepts and terminology. It is argued that the inclusion of a wide range of professionals in the examination as well as the development of the test, will ensure the test’s applicability and improve the overall quality of public sector interpreting.

EducationsCand.ling.merc Erhvervssprog og International Erhvervskommunikation (Multikulturel Kommunikation i Organisationer), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages77
SupervisorsInger Mees