The Language Interpreter Center and Interpretation in Alaska

The Language Interpreter Center and Interpretation in Alaska

"The Language Interpreter Center and Interpretation in Alaska" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 26(4): 10-11 (Winter 2010). The Language Interpreter Center (LIC), an Alaska multi-agency collaboration, now has a pool of 115 trained interpreters speaking 36 languages. The LIC works in cooperation with its many partners to meet the need for qualified interpreters in legal, medical, social services, and educational settings statewide. The web version of this article includes an additional figure and table which could not be included in the print edition for reasons of space.

The Language Interpreter Center (LIC), an Alaska multi-agency collaboration, now has a pool of 115 trained interpreters speaking 36 languages (see Table 1). Established in 2007 and under the auspices of the Alaska Immigration Justice Project, the Language Interpreter Center has partnered with the Alaska Court System, the Anchorage School District, government agencies, non-profits, and private entities to provide services statewide. The LIC is unique in being one of the few interpreter organizations in the nation that serves a variety of community and statewide groups and individuals, rather than only one segment, such as the courts. (Federal courts, including those in Alaska, have their own certified court interpreter service.)

Table 1. Language Interpretation Services Provided by the Lanaguage Interpreter Center of the Alaska Immigration Justice Project

The mission of the LIC focuses on providing qualified interpreters through training and certification, educating clients about the use of interpreters, and connecting clients and their interpretation needs with interpreters of the appropriate skill level. Interpreters are needed in legal, medical, social services, and educational settings statewide. In addition to interpreting spoken language, the LIC provides translating services for written materials.

The LIC responded to over 600 requests for interpreters in calendar year 2009. Spanish is the most often requested language, but a crisis in a given language community can suddenly increase the demand for interpreters in that language. The highest number of requests in 2009 was from public agencies such as the public defender agency, state court system, social services agencies, and the Anchorage School District (see Table 2). The need for interpreters is impacted also under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, "Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons" and Executive Order 13166. Agencies receiving federal funds are obligated to examine and work toward providing interpreters for limited English proficient (LEP) persons to ensure these persons have "meaningful access" to services. (Limited English proficient is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as "limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English.")

Table 2. Language Interpreter Center Interpretation and Translation Requests, 2009

Interpreters for the LIC are given a background check and receive basic overview training on responsibilities and ethical rules of interpreting. Professor Holly Mikkelson of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a state and federally certified interpreter and a national consultant, conducts the LIC interpreter trainings. There are several legal certification programs nationwide including those by the federal courts and the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts (the Consortium). Alaska is participating in this multi-part certification testing by the Consortium. However, there are only a limited number of languages available for certification, and there are no tests currently for Alaska's indigenous languages.

The unique interpreting challenges in Alaska include its diversity of languages and geographic distances. Telephonic interpretation is often used when appropriate. For telephonic interpretation, the Alaska Court System currently utilizes a private company, LanguageLine based in Monterey, California, which is available 24 hours per day. The court system made close to 200 requests for interpreters in over 20 languages during 2008 (most recent data available). The top languages requested were Spanish (84 requests), Korean (20), Tagalog (17), Russian (15), Laotian (13), and Hmong and Vietnamese with 10 requests each. The LIC can also provide telephonic interpreters upon request, but is more focused on in-person interpreting.

The Alaska Court System has developed a statewide Language Access Plan to insure that LEP individuals accessing the justice system have trained and qualified interpreters. Ultimately, each judicial district will have its own plan based on the language needs of that district and the most current census information. This plan will address statewide language needs, interpreter training, and court staff training on the use of interpreters. The Alaska Court System is a significant partner with LIC, and the LIC is an important part of the court's plan to meet the increasing need for interpreters in legal proceedings.

Recruitment for bilingual individuals interested in participating in the LIC's interpreter training program is ongoing; the Alaska Court System website links the individuals to the LIC training programs, and the LIC works to get the word out to the statewide community. The LIC roster of interpreters is made up of trained, bilingual individuals, some of whom are "heritage speakers"-people who speak English fluently, but grew up in a home where English was not the dominant language. In addition to the overview trainings which are presented regularly, the LIC has also held training for interpreters in Barrow through Ilisagvik College, and has met with interpreters and service providers in Bethel and Juneau to learn more about interpreter needs in those areas.

Costs for interpreting services vary depending on the type of interpreting requested by agencies, but the range is from $30 to $80 per hour. Who pays for the interpreter depends on the type of service needed and agency requirements.

The LIC is developing its central registry of interpreters and working on implementing certification testing and standards for interpreters in legal, medical, and social services settings. The program was highlighted in a National Center for State Courts report, Future Trends in State Courts, 2008: "… language centers such as the one created in Alaska may be the wave of the future."

For more information on the LIC go to their website or contact Barbara Jacobs, Program Manager, 907-279-2457. Additional tables including languages represented in Anchorage schools are on the Justice Center website at