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Viterbo University’s Community Interpreting Certificate

04/25/2016 7:22 PM | Anonymous

Viterbo University’s Community Interpreting Certificate

By Michelle Pinzl, Coordinator of the Community Interpreting Certificate at Viterbo University, in collaboration with students Ashley Rink, Katie Hawes and Katie Rubin

An attractive program for undergrads and non-traditional students

Since 2009, Viterbo University has offered a Community Interpreting Certificate designed with the purpose of putting trained bilingual individuals into the professional field of interpreting, a discipline that is growing at an exponential rate in the US and around the world.

This certificate is an affordable path toward quality professional development, particularly for non-traditional students. Since the flat fee for this program is applied without discrimination based on state or country of residence, this certificate is an attractive opportunity for any resident of the US, including individuals with DACA status, as well as international populations looking for a reasonable way to receive higher education on interpreting in the United States.

Graduates of this program are able to facilitate effective communication between English and Spanish speakers, providing full and equal access to community members in healthcare, educational, legal, business, and social settings. Interpreting becomes a question of social justice in many realms both domestically and internationally, and our students are enthusiastic about becoming catalysts for positive social change in the world.

The course curriculum

Now in its sixth year, the Community Interpreting Certificate at Viterbo University is a one-year, thirteen-credit program designed to help bilingual students become qualified Spanish/English community interpreters. Recently converted to an online format with an optional face-to-face classroom component one evening per week, this program consists of four consecutive interpreting courses and a 40-hour practicum in interpreting. The course descriptions are as follows:

301—Interpreting Principles, 3 Cr.
This course introduces students to principles of interpreting, including the understanding and knowledge of the three different modes of interpretation, its code of ethics, theoretical aspects of the discipline of interpretation and their implications in the interpreting process.

444—Intercultural Competence and Ethics in Interpreting, 3 Cr.
This course is structured to facilitate the observation, recognition, and assessment of facts and overall patterns of the contexts for the behavior and actions of individuals, families, and communities within and across cultures, in order to promote appreciation, respect for differences, and effective communication. This course will also explore the role of ethics and ethical behavior when depicted against one’s own cultural and or spiritual beliefs.

456—Seminar for Interpreting in Healthcare and Social Settings, 3 Cr.
This intensive and highly student-directed seminar covers different aspects of interpreting in healthcare and social settings as a profession, including the training needed, job opportunities and the various paths available to becoming a certified healthcare interpreter. It includes extensive practical work in the three modes of interpretation used in healthcare and social contexts with special emphasis on consecutive interpretation, the professional code of ethics, and professional development activities. The course aims to provide a panoramic overview of biomedical and social-services cultures in the U.S., the U.S. healthcare system and social programs, body systems and anatomy, and medical terminology.

452—Seminar for Interpreting in Business and Legal Settings, 3 Cr.
This seminar focuses on legal and business interpreting by examining the training needed for working in business and legal contexts, job opportunities and sources of work, standard business practices and free-lance status versus staff interpreting. The course will also explore different aspects of legal interpreting as it may overlap into other areas of community interpreting. Extensive practical work in the three modes of interpretation is employed with a particular emphasis in simultaneous interpreting. We also examine the professional code of ethics for legal interpreters in detail and provide grounding in basic legal and business language and procedure.

481—Interpretation Practicum, 1 Cr.
The interpretation practicum is designed to bridge the gap between theory and practice by offering students the opportunity to practice and consolidate the sight translation, consecutive and simultaneous interpretation strategies that they have been learning in their coursework. The practicum, tailored to reflect the specific needs and skills of the student, also plays a key role in preparing interpreters for future interpreting work in a variety of settings. In close collaboration with selected community partners, students engage in supervised field work, and integrate and reflect upon their educational, personal and professional experiences.

Stepping into the profession

The practicum experience that students carry out in this program proves to be one of the driving forces that propels students into the field of interpreting after graduation. For many students, the contact they make during their practicum opens the door to employment opportunity with our partners who include major hospitals and smaller clinics, courthouses, non-profit organizations, local farms and schools. In addition, some students choose to carry out their practicum on medical and social mission trips in places like Guatemala or Nicaragua in collaboration with organizations like Global Partners and Gundersen Health System.

Students who enroll in the Community Interpreting Certificate are often able to share an array of professional experience with their classmates as practicing medical or legal professionals, farmers, teachers or even current interpreters. Since students can choose to do classes entirely online, this certificate is a flexible option for refining their skills.

While many of our graduates have gone on to work as interpreters at hospitals and clinics, in non-profit organizations or as free-lance interpreters, others chose to continue in their current professions but with the additional interpreting training as an extra tool they can apply to their current work.  

What current students have to say

“Not only do these classes offer a practical and hands-on approach to education by giving students the opportunity to apply their knowledge of the Spanish language, it also encourages cross-disciplinary connections. This program has presented me with countless ways to rise to the challenge and to use my Spanish abilities to better the lives of others by fostering my skills as a language facilitator, careful listener and cultural advocate. In all, the interpreting minor offered through Viterbo has truly allowed me to grow as both a professional looking for jobs related to my degree in Spanish. I have learned that being confident and remembering the professional code of ethics is key to presenting oneself with poise in any situation.”
–Ashley Rink, B.A. Major in Spanish, Minor in Interpreting

“Our experiences throughout our coursework were ultimately challenged when we were presented with the opportunity to interpret in the university’s simulation lab for nursing students. In these labs, we collaborated with Viterbo’s nursing program, and we interpreted for the nurse and the Spanish-speaking patient simulator.”
–Katie Hawes, International Logistics Coordinator at MacDonald & Owen Lumber Company, Interpreting Certificate Student
“This certificate program has been a thrilling and mentally stimulating experience. Our classes are technically online but local students have chosen to meet in person each week to practice building skills. We have studied important social justice issues such as human trafficking and immigration which we will undoubtedly come across in the field. After graduation, I plan to pursue both my medical and then legal certification.  I would love to help serve the Latino population in my area, and the need is definitely growing.”
–Katie Rubin, BIA Accredited Immigration Case Manager at Catholic Charities, Interpreting Certificate Student
The future

The Community Interpreting Certificate at Viterbo University continues to establish more community partners in the Midwest and across the nation to form highly-qualified professionals for this important field of work. The prospect of an ever more diversified and student population coming forward to serve as interpreters in our local and international communities provides the constant motivation to grow as a program and as an interpreting community.

This article was written by Michelle Pinzl, Coordinator of the Community Interpreting Certificate at Viterbo University, in collaboration with Ashley Rink, Katie Hawes and Katie Rubin, current students of interpreting. For more information on Viterbo University’s Community Interpreting Certificate, please contact Michelle Pinzl at or visit


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Midwest Association of Translators & Interpreters
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American Translators Association
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