;   Medical Translation Insight: Scandal in the language industry - pull up a chair and watch the train wreck - ForeignExchange Translations

Scandal in the language industry - pull up a chair and watch the train wreck (medical translation)Many of us who are not interpreters or who do not work in the UK may not ever have heard of Capita. But ever since Capita bought Applied Language Solutions (ALS), the company has been embroiled in a scandal.

It's a sad and unfortunate story but it provides a unique look at the ugly underbelly of the language services business.

The Pitfalls of Outsourcing Interpreters by the National Interpreter Action Network contains a good summary. According to the article, the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) privatized interpreter services, hoping to centralize and streamline interpreting operations. In 2012, MoJ awarded ALS an exclusive five-year interpreting contract for UK criminal courts.

From the get-go, chaos ensued. Apparently, ALS was (and remains) stymied by a lack of resources and seems to have not met basic standards, leading to countless courtroom fiascos. The National Interpreter Action Network article states that the company has been audited by the National Audit Office, which found many breaches of contract, including not providing the standard of service required for five consecutive months.

The company was boycotted by interpreters unhappy with low rates, poor working conditions, and bad payment practices (on this last point, see the recent post on the TCR List - subscription required). All this had predictable results: "ALS supplied an interpreter in 58 percent of cases in February 2012, with a target of 98 percent", according to the National Interpreter Action Network article.

The web is littered with complaints from interpreters, articles about how translation errors have led to trials collapsing, and calls to action. There is even an entire blog that seems to be dedicated to cataloging and publicizing every Capita/ALS misstep.

I don't have any knowledge of the situation but it fascinating to see all of this dirty laundry getting aired in public. Is this situation a result of poor management? Greed? Ungrateful linguists? Having sold a contract too low? Bureaucracy? Unrealistic expectations from the courts? Who knows but I would guess that as in most messy situations, there are many factors at play.

Will Capita/ALS be able to right the ship or will the MoJ pull the contract? I don't know but like a train wreck that you can't stop watching, I am following this story closely.

ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized medical translation services to the world's largest medical device and pharmaceutical companies.


  1. Kayla C. said...
    I'll be very careful if I ever become an interpreter. I don't want to ruin trials!
    Edwin den Boer said...
    The specifics are horrible, but not really decisive, I think. A more competent company would have caused less chaos, but any private monopsony would reduce the bargaining power of interpreters and lower their rates.
    Anonymous said...
    Interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract - PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE http://sco.lt/7S8rOz

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