Can a Monolingual Oral Exam Level the Playing Field for Certifying US Interpreters?

Can a Monolingual Oral Exam Level the Playing Field for Certifying US Interpreters

An English-to-English (EtoE) exam developed by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) shows promise as a possible alternative to #bilingual oral exams, according to a study released May 15, 2021. 

CCHI, the national certification body for healthcare interpretation in the US, has offered entry-level healthcare interpreting certification since 2010.

To earn a certification, interpreters of any language must pass the CoreCHI, a test in English that assesses knowledge of the US healthcare system and interpreting best practices. Interpreters who work with Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish are also required to pass a CHI dual-language oral exam to demonstrate their interpreting skills.

Bilingual oral exams are expensive to develop and administer, so it is unlikely that any other language will have their own anytime soon. The monolingual oral EtoE exam is intended to measure the skills of interpreters working in languages of lesser diffusion without a bilingual oral exam. 

“While the EtoE exam cannot replace the CHI dual-language performance exam, it may have value if used as a component of an assessment portfolio for interpreters of lower incidence languages,” the study report stated.

The study analyzed results from 177 candidates (out of a total 249 participants) who fully completed all items on both the EtoE and CHI exams between January and November 2020.

The report compared candidates’ performance on the tests with the goal of identifying a potential correlation between a pass or fail on the proposed monolingual exam and the existing dual-language CHI exams.

Overall, 66% of candidates passed their CHI exam, although rates varied by language (68% for Spanish, 76% for Mandarin, and 42% for Arabic). Analysis showed a stronger correlation between scores on the CHI and EtoE exams for native speakers of the language other than English (LOTE).

The report pointed out that interpreters working in languages of lesser diffusion tend to be native speakers of the LOTE — meaning the EtoE exam is potentially most useful for these interpreters. The strength of the relationship varied by language.

Would a monolingual EtoE examination confer an unfair advantage to native English-speakers and heritage speakers of the LOTE? They do appear to have an edge, particularly with regard to earning a score of 60 or higher (87.9% versus 76.6% for non-native English-speakers).

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This is not expected to be a widespread issue, since most native English-speakers and heritage speakers work with Spanish (and would therefore not take the EtoE exam outside of the study).

Nonetheless, according to the report, “the Commission is planning to explore the possibility of compensating for this via an adjusted eligibility requirement of language proficiency in the LOTE for this subgroup of applicants.”

On a more granular level, the analysis also identified which specific item types had a potential correlation with overall interpreting ability (namely listening comprehension) and which did not (such as medical concepts, fill-in-the-blanks, and reading comprehension). The report recommended revising and eliminating items as needed, and then conducting another study with a larger sample size.

“Overall, the EtoE is a promising measure that requires additional revision and piloting prior to use for high-stakes testing,” the report concluded.