Applied Language Solutions Exposed by an Insider
I will honestly tell you that I was quite happy with working for ALS before the new arrangements got implemented. Why? Because I was hardly getting any direct bookings through the NRPSI (2-3 times per month does not count). I probably live in the wrong area. The main workload (police and courts) comes from ALS. Realistically, I could only ever “taste” what an NRPSI earns, but I can still imagine how the NRPSI interpreters who took bookings on a frequent basis were affected by the loss of their regular income. However, it’s not about that.
You could almost call me an ALS veteran, and I am constantly in contact with their other interpreters. I have formed a mixed opinion about their work throughout this whole time and I find many things absolutely outrageous, so I have decided to share my experience and my observations. I will only discuss hard facts.
1. The most important and outrageous aspect is the new so-called Tier system. I do not know whether the MoJ realise what they have got themselves into, but the fact is that they themselves have offered ALS an opportunity to send inexperienced and unqualified interpreters to work for the Police and courts. When they recruited me, I was asked whether I held a DPSI or whether I was going to sit one in the future (I was then studying on a DPSI courses), but it looks like those days are long gone. I was recently interpreting for a lengthy trial in XXX and had a chance to chat to one XXX newbie during lunch at the court. Until recently she had been working in a hospital (don’t assume that she worked as an interpreter - she was mopping floors there) being paid £8 per hour. When I mentioned the rather low hourly wage, she bulged her eyes and shook her head, implying that we have actually been living a life of luxury. She was recruited by ALS three months ago and immediately thrown in at the deep end. I must say that her English was sound, but she kept asking me so many questions on legal terminology and the etiquette of court, that my hair stood on end – I struggle to comprehend how she has been coping so far and how she managed to translate essential terminology. For example, she asked me what the difference between “conditional discharge” and “conditional sentence” was, while the term “tagging” was translated as a “bracelet” to her client. She was also very outraged when the clerk asked her to affirm without providing her with the written text. This interpreter belongs to Tier 2.
The point is that according to ALS’ new system, all Tier 2 interpreters can be sent to the Police and courts (and even interpret for trials!). The only thing that they are not trusted with is taking written statements from victims, and such tasks are indeed appointed to Tier 1 interpreters only (although it is possible that some exceptions are made, since last month I was asked to check the statements translated from Russian into English, where a translator translated the word "slut" as “slug” instead of “slag”). The following was arranged regarding these Tiers: not only interpreters, but also all the assignments are divided into those useless tiers, and ALL Court / Police assignments fall into Tier 2 (with the exception of statements, as I have already explained). ALS claim that this idea comes from the MoJ, but I think that their story is hard to believe.
I do not know whether the MoJ are aware of what is going on, because according to this system any unskilled amateur person can work at the same level as me. It's not even about the money but about the professional pride. I have never met a single Tier 3 interpreter in court, but I think they are almost non-existent as I know that many Tier 2 interpreters work for the NHS and get paid as much as court interpreters!!! There are very many XXX interpreters who failed the DPSI exams, or haven’t even taken them at all. I do not care about star wars between titans, but I do feel very sorry for the system. I must emphasize that those ALS interpreters who were going to sit the DPSI exams have abandoned their plans a long time ago because this certificate would not give them anything. It is now completely discredited because skilled interpreters, as well as those that are "not quite" skilled, all get paid the same, and they can easily work for courts without the DPSI but under the wing of ALS. I personally regard this as the beginning of the complete degradation of the profession.
2. I interpreted in XXX Magistrates court very recently. The accused man thanked me for the excellent interpreting and said that he had been living in England for seven years, speaks very bad English but understands everything, and last time (I think it was February the 13th) he refused the services of a young ZZZ ALS interpreter who, according to him, produced utter nonsense and barely interpreted 50% of what was said in the courtroom. She was asked to leave.
3. Yesterday I interpreted for a young girl at XXX Court. For one of her court hearings she was sent a YYY (Language 1) “interpreter” from London (the client girl herself is WWW (Language 2)). The interpreter's WWW was appalling, she only studied it at school long time ago and put it down in her CV to show off; she even mixed up the cases, arrived to the courtroom with a guy who stank of alcohol. When she was asked to leave the court building she had the audacity to request a payment.
4. On New Year's Eve 2011/2012 I received a phone call from ALS asking me to go to XXX Police Station. I refused twice (dumplings getting cold, champagne going flat, etc.), but then they appealed to my civic conscience saying they could not find anybody, and will have to release 5 (oh yes!) arrested thieves. So I went. Interpreted. No excuses and no apologies. Interestingly, the duty sergeant told me that since the new contract was implemented (which had been in place for about one month), they have had seven occasions at the police station where they could not get hold of an interpreter, and the detainees were released. I thought: now this is a complete mess.
5. The ALS assessment. It's not a secret that the tiers were assigned to us solely on the results of their so-called “assessment”. There was no written task as such, we only had to answer three questions in writing. One of the questions was: If another interpreter approaches you during your court assignment and starts asking you about your qualification and experience, and then tells the court that you are not competent, what actions would you take? The questions is this – if an interpreter is assigned Tier 1 on the basis of such an experiment, and they have the right to take witness statements at the police stations, what can be said about the quality of such statements? During the consecutive and simultaneous interpreting tasks we were sat in individual booths with headphones (all professionally and as it should be), except the tape stopped somewhere in the middle and we had to start all over again, the same text - it was not changed. Nobody has seen the results of the tasks. I know several interpreters who, according to them, flunked the simultaneous interpreting, however they still continue to work at Tier 1.
I do not even wish to mention the Linguist Lounge – it is all over the place, the invoice system has sunk into oblivion, it is impossible to do any accounting, the payments are constantly delayed, and regarding this I systematically arrange my own personal strikes and refuse to go out to work unless it is sorted out. I have refused all XXX and XXX court booking because I cannot afford the luxury of paying for the excruciatingly expensive daytime parking there, and the company does not pay for it. Now I am slowly shifting towards written translations and work with corporate clients. I have collated an impressive list of these through my registration with CIOL. It is a pity because I do love working for courts.