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Interpreter Testing


With the increase in the number of people providing interpretation services, it's more important than ever to be able to distinguish the bilingual person who interprets informally from the person who is formally trained and skilled in the language, techniques and ethics of interpretation. That's exactly what testing does!


Panoltia has developed a comprehensive English/Spanish interpreter testing program designed to ensure that interpreters are competent and capable of performing effective and ethical interpretation services.



What the Exam Covers


The exam tests knowledge and skills in four basic areas:


Language Proficiency

  • Must demonstrate fluency in both English and Spanish

  • Must know and be able to properly use relevant vocabulary, acronyms, expressions, and a variety of language constructions


Culture Competency

  • Must thoroughly understand both the American culture and the Latino immigrant culture, including the acculturation process

  • Must understand and be able to address culture issues relevant to their field of responsibility


Ethics & Professionalism

  • Must thoroughly understand and apply the standards of professional conduct and the interpreters’ code of ethics


Applied Interpretation Skills

  • Candidates must pass an oral interpreting examination while fulfilling all other responsibilities of the interpreter; for example, they must demonstrate:

    • That they know how and when it is appropriate to explain cultural issues,

    • That they know how to handle unusual or difficult situations,

    • That they know how and when to ask for repetition or clarification,

    • etc.



Exam Overview


The interpreter certification exam consists of two parts, a written exam and an oral exam. Each part is comprised of multiple sections.



Part 1 – The Written Exam

The written exam contains approximately 300 questions of various types, including multiple choice, true/false, and various others. Questions are designed to challenge the candidate without attempting to mislead, or “trick” them. The written exam measures candidates’ knowledge in five basic areas:

Section 1 - Technical Language – The first part of the exam tests the candidate's knowledge of the vocabulary and terminology necessary to interpret in their specific discipline.


Section 2 - Generic Language - To function as a skilled interpreter, basic language proficiency is required. This section tests the degree of general literacy in both English and Spanish, including comprehension and fundamental language skills.


Section 3 - Interpreting Fundamentals - Interpreting requires more than language fluency - much more. This section tests the candidate's knowledge of the concepts, skills, techniques, and terminology required to function as a professional interpreter.


Section 4 - Ethics and Professional Conduct - The fourth area of knowledge addressed by the written test is knowledge of ethics and standards of professional conduct.


Section 5 - Cultural Competency - In this section candidates are tested on their knowledge of Latino immigrant culture.



Scoring the Written Exam

Each question will have one correct answer. A score of at least 70% correct on each section of the written exam is required to pass. To qualify for “Advanced Certification” the candidate must score at least 90% correct on each section.


Note: The candidate must pass the written exam before he or she qualifies to take the oral exam.



Part 2 – The Oral Exam

The oral exam measures the candidate’s ability to properly apply their knowledge while accurately and clearly rendering meaning from target to source language in each of the three modes of interpreting that are required of interpreters:

  1. sight translation,

  2. consecutive interpreting, and

  3. simultaneous interpreting.


The candidate must demonstrate the following:

  • the ability to speak both Spanish and English fluently and without hesitation,

  • the ability to transfer all meaning faithfully from the source language to the target language while sight translating or interpreting, and

  • the ability to speak both Spanish and English clearly and in a way that does not systematically interfere with meaning and understanding.

  • That they are able to continuously keep everyone in the communication loop

  • That they know how and when it is appropriate to explain cultural issues

  • That they know how to handle unusual or difficult situations

  • That they understand and can adhere to the interpreter’s code of ethics and professionalism

  • That they understand and can correctly apply all of the other skills and knowledge relevant to interpreting in either Health and Human Services or School settings, depending on the discipline for which they are testing


The oral exam consists of three sections:


Section 1 – Sight Translation

  • Spanish to English – This part of the exam simulates an interpreter reading a Spanish language document aloud in English to an English-speaking person. The document is approximately 200 words in length.

  • English to Spanish – This part of the exam simulates an interpreter reading an English language document aloud in Spanish to a Spanish-speaking person. The document is approximately 200 words in length.


Section 2 – Consecutive Interpreting

During this portion of the exam, the interpreter interprets English language questions, comments, statements, conversation, etc. (segments) into Spanish, and the Spanish responses into English.

The examinee may ask to stop the dialog up to four times to ask for repetition, clarification, definitions, etc. The interpreted bilinguaal conversations can be either recorded or read live by the examiners.


Section 3 – Simultaneous Interpreting (optional) *

This part of the exam is two monologues, one in English and one in Spanish, of approximately 400 words each, at an approximate speed of 120 words per minute. (One hundred and twenty words per minute is slower than most ordinary speech.)

During this portion of the exam, the candidate listens to each monologue and, while listening, interprets aloud from the source language into the target language. This part of the examination takes approximately ten minutes, including instructions and preparation.

 * The simultaneous interpreting portion of the exam is optional. Candidates who choose not to take it or choose to take it and fail can still be certified if they pass all other parts of the exam. Their certification documents will indicate that they are only certified to interpret consecutively.


Scoring the Oral Exam


The oral exam will be scored in two ways:

  1. objectively, by the number of scoring units interpreted correctly, and

  2. subjectively, by an overall subjective evaluation.



What are scoring units?


Scoring units are particular words and phrases that are selected to represent various features of language that interpreters encounter in their work, and that they must render accurately and completely, without altering the meaning or style of speech.


The types of scoring units that are distributed throughout the exam include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Grammar - words or phrases that might be interpreted incorrectly due to an inadequate command of grammar

  • False cognates - words that sound or look alike in both languages, but that have different meanings

  • General vocabulary - a range of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

  • Technical vocabulary - special terminology frequently encountered in discipline-specific situations

  • Idioms and expressions - words or phrases in the source language which will usually result in lost meaning or nonsense if they are interpreted word-for-word into the target language

  • Numbers, names, dates - these must be accurately preserved during the interpretation

  • Modifiers, emphasis - adjective, adverbs, exclamations, etc. in the source language that must be accurately preserved in the target language

  • Register/style - words or phrases characteristic of a style of speech (formal, casual, informal) that must be preserved in the interpretation, for example, “yeah” and “yes” mean the same, but make a different impression on the listener

  • Position and special function - words or phrases that might be overlooked or left out because of their position in the sentence, such as embedded phrases or tagons, or because they are “fillers,” such as false starts, stalls, etc., and

  • Slang/Colloquialisms - words or phrases that are slang or colloquial language.


How many scoring units must a candidate get right to pass the exam?

Each section of the exam has a fixed number of scoring units. There are 50 scoring units in the sight translation section (25 scoring units in each of the two sight translations), 75 scoring units in the simultaneous interpretation section, and 75 units in the consecutive interpretation section, for a total of 200 scoring units that are used to calculate the objective score for the oral examination. The candidate must score at least 70% correct on each of the three sections of the exam in order to pass, and at least 90% correct to qualify for “Advanced Certification.”


Overall Subjective Evaluation

In addition to the evaluation of a candidate’s scoring unit assessment, each section of the exam is further evaluated by the examiner for consistency in interpreting and language skills. This is a subjective, structured assessment of interpreting and language skills that may not be captured within the framework of the scoring unit assessment. It is used to evaluate any consistently repeated mistakes, difficulty understanding a candidate due to speech habits or accent, and significant changes in meaning in non-scoring unit phrases of the exam. For example, on rare occasions a candidate might “hit” the correct interpretation of scoring units enough times to achieve the minimum acceptable score in an exam section, while routinely misinterpreting the entire unit of meaning within which the scoring unit has occurred. Candidates might also manage to correctly interpret many keywords, but frequently embellish the text or “make-up” words. These are serious breaches of professional conduct and may result in an unacceptable rating on that dimension of the evaluation. The subjective evaluation functions as a corrective measure of the quantitative performance criteria associated with the point score earned through interpretation of the scoring units.


Using this evaluation, the examiners will assign one of three values to the candidate’s performance on each of three dimensions: English Language Skills, Spanish Language Skills and Interpreting Skills. The values are Acceptable, Borderline, and Unacceptable.


Assignment of an Acceptable score occurs when the examiners believe that the candidate’s overall performance is competent or better. In such circumstances the scoring unit scoring will determine whether the candidate passes or fails the exam.


A Borderline classification is an indication to the candidate that his/her performance on the exam demonstrated weaknesses that concerned the examiner. This rating does not affect the objective (scoring unit) score, so a candidate will not fail the exam if a borderline rating is received and the candidate passes on the point score.


Examiners will assign an Unacceptable rating when a candidate's performance clearly does not meet minimum standards for interpreting. Usually, Unacceptable ratings are matched by scoring unit scores that do not meet the minimum standards for passing the exam. However, if an Unacceptable rating is given on any of the three dimensions of the subjective scoring system, the candidate will receive a failing grade for the exam, even if the objective (scoring unit) score is in the passing range.


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