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What is the difference between community interpreting and non-community interpreting?

Ad Astra Blog Header What is the difference between community interpreting and non-community interpreting

What is the difference between community interpreting and non-community interpreting?

Interpreting has taken on an even more critical role since the pandemic and taken center stage in many of the political talks, negotiations and debates that so many of us follow on a daily basis.  

But did you know that there are distinct separations in the types of interpreting fields that interpreters find themselves in?  

In this piece we’ll explore the differences between community interpreting and non-community interpreting.  

Let’s give a refresher on what interpreting is 

Interpreting is a linguistic process involving finding meaning for meaning of what speakers say across two different languages or from spoken language into signed languages for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people that sign. 

Interpreting becomes particularly significant in international conferences, whether political or economic. It has special importance in covering and relaying information about events of a global nature. One of its most valued roles appears in community interpreting, which helps people to better communicate with service providers, in courts, hospitals and other community organizations.  

This is prevalent in dealing with local schools, authorities and government agencies, for interviews for asylum seekers, tourists, as well as with diplomatic delegations. 

Types of Interpreting 

Let’s give a quick refresher now on the two major modes of interpreting! There are two main modes of interpreting: simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting. The first takes place at the same time while the speaker is speaking, as in conference interpreting and the interpreting of live TV interviews. 

The consecutive interpreter has the opportunity to hear a certain part of the speech and then starts to render what they heard to the audience while the speaker pauses.

What is Community Interpreting? 

Let’s get in to explaining what exactly community interpreting is. Also called cultural interpreting, it means interpreting that allows people who are not fluent in the official language of a country to communicate with public service sector employees to get access to legal, health, education, governmental and social services. Some consider community interpreting as an umbrella term that comprises court interpreting and medical interpreting, while viewed by others (mainly legal interpreters) as an entirely separate sub-field. 

The community interpreter facilitates communication between people with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, mostly in the narrower sense between members of a vulnerable population (especially migrants) and representatives of the majority culture in the respective country. Community interpreters are mainly hired in the non-profit sector. 

Task Description of Community Interpreting 

The job types that community interpreters are required for are broad! Each assignment will have different responsibilities, but all will require competency and care to best support the linguistic needs of the community member.  

Community interpreters often appear as companions at appointments with the authorities, or in medical or social institutions. Some situations that you might need a community interpreter are: 

Other Names to Call a Community Interpreter 

A community interpreter is also named with many other phrases, such as linguistic and cultural interpreter, public service interpreter, or liaison interpreter. In Switzerland they are called intercultural interpreters, while in Austria they are municipal interpreters. 

Non-Community Interpreting 

Non-community interpreting includes all other types of interpreting: conference interpreting, seminar interpreting, military interpreting, escorting interpreting, media interpreting, business interpreting, court interpreting, medical interpreting, educational interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting, and others. 

In all these non-community interpreting roles, although cultural knowledge is important and assumed, it is not the foundation on which the two parties structure the assignment. These fields require interpreters to have a deep knowledge of industry lexicon and phrases.  

Similar But Not Equal – Conference Interpreting 

Despite the many similarities and the use of similar interpretation techniques, community interpreting should not be equated with conference interpreting. 

A community interpreter is in direct contact with people and is not under the same pressure as the conference interpreter – seated in their cabin, far from the listeners and lecturers, interpreting what is said simultaneously. 

For conference interpreters, the risks are typically higher, and the atmosphere is significantly different from that of community interpreters (i.e., international, political or commercial events, vs. police stations and classrooms).

Community interpreters do not need a conference interpreter’s accreditation or training, as they receive training on community interpreting techniques after their general studies and any general training from the language service provider they work with.  Community interpreting essentially serves the purpose of facilitating communication, disseminating knowledge, and specifically assisting those who lack language skills in conversing with others about matters relevant to their own personal lives. 

Conference interpreters frequently use highly specialized interpreting technologies, such as booths, headsets, and more. In contrast, that kind of gear is not necessary for community interpreters. 

In Conclusion 

Community interpreters with cultural knowledge can bring a positive impact on persons dealing with social services and schools, as they enable providers to deliver services that respect and better respond to cultural and linguistic needs. 

Alternatively, non-community interpreting is more terminology-based and specialized, in combination with cultural.  

We hope this primer helps you get a better understanding on the key differences between the two!

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