By Nathalie Thorne

As a starter to this blog, and for information to anyone interested, I wanted to start with a bit of history as to why Leeds Met is now involved with Public Service Interpreting when a few years ago you would have been hard pressed to find any reference to us within the area.

Leeds Met’s School of Languages has been teaching interpreting in its applied language courses for many years, following pedagogical language teaching theory that says that using languages in ‘real’ situations is an excellent way of learning them. Research done by our very own Graham Webb has shown that employers want language graduates who can interpret and translate, so it makes complete sense to include it in undergraduate language courses. The School of Languages has also been building links with local businesses, not only providing the businesses with language services, but providing Leeds Met graduates with real-life working and study opportunities as the businesses provide projects for various undergraduate modules.

It was through one of these business links that a working relationship with a locally-based global language service provider (LSP), thebigword, was established. Many Leeds Met graduates choose to work at thebigword, who speak regularly at Leeds Met’s employability workshops and attend graduate recruitment fairs at both Leeds Met and the University of Leeds.

Discussions began about how to improve the training thebigword could offer to interpreters registered on its database, and in early 2010 a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) was identified as the vehicle through which this work could be carried out. KTPs allow for a business with an identified need and a knowledge base (in this case, a university) with the relevant expertise to come together in a project format and work together to transfer knowledge from the university into the business, and need from the business into the university. As such, universities are better informed to train their graduates in relevant areas, and businesses are better able to use university knowledge and research.The project also allows for the employment of a recent graduate (myself, in this case!) who gains important management experience as liaison between the two institutions and project manager.

The KTP project ran from September 2010 until March 2012, with the objective of “producing an online interpreter training and testing facility” for thebigword and its interpreters. Once the project had commenced, we soon realised that this project could potentially be a lot bigger than originally envisioned. Research into public service interpreter training revealed a huge gap- surveys such as the CILT Labour Market Intelligence and Scotland’s TICS show just how questionable training and indeed qualification within the interpreting world is. Our research into public service interpreter training showed that many interpreters did not undertake training because it was either not available in their area or not available in their language.

As a result, we decided that what we wanted to do was to create a non-language specific training course that with a skill the large majority of public service interpreters whilst remaining as accessible to all. This led to the development of the Professional Development Awards in Public Service Interpreting (PDA PSI), with the Vocational Certificate and Diploma in Interpreting being developed under the KTP project, and further funding being sought in order to develop the Professional Diploma and the Advanced Professional Diploma in Public Service Interpreting during a later project. give you more details about these courses in a later blog post.

As well as undertaking the creation of these courses to train public service interpreters, we also perform research. From November 2011 until January 2012, we conducted a survey aimed directly at public service interpreters in order to gauge their opinion on public service interpreting industry as it currently stands. at the beginning of 2012 we disseminated this research and our other findings and experiences from the KTP project in a series of research seminars which took place at Leeds Metropolitan University, the University of Central Lancashire and Heriot Watt University. We will hold further events later this year so please do get in touch if you’d like to have an invite.

We are pleased to be able to say that our KTP project with thebigword was graded ‘Very Good’ by the Technology Strategy Board, and we hope to enter for an award in the next round of KTP awards. Two levels of the course are currently live and have been receiving positive feedback not only from the students themselves but from fellow academics and other industry figures. I’ll blog more about the creation of these courses and the various issues involved at a later date.

One issue I would like to address in this blog post is the concerns many people have over working with commercial language service providers. I will provide a more detailed analysis of certain other industry issues regarding language service providers in another blog post, but our point of view here is that it is vital but all involved in the industry-whether that be academics, professional organisations, the interpreters themselves and language service providers-must work together to ensure a standardised high-quality interpreting services. We are keen to stress two points: that a) this type of collaboration must continue in order to develop and improve the industry via an academic and ethical underpinning; and b) that the Leeds Met suite of courses is entirely independent and does not reflect a singular LSP’s views or requirements.

We are now a few months into our second project to develop the level 6 and level 7 courses in the suite. Interest in this method of training is growing rapidly, and we hope that our work goes some way to aid the professionalisation of the public service interpreting industry.