GNWT rearranges spending on language services

The GNWT will spend part of its $1.7 million language services budget for this year on a certification board for interpreter-translators.



Aboriginal language translators and interpreters who work for the GNWT in the future will likely have to be government certified.

But as layoff notices went out to GNWT interpreter-translators last week, Languages Commissioner Judi Tutcho wondered publicly how standards for certified language service providers would be set.

“It’s going to be a huge task, and that’s something the ECE needs to figure out ­ how to are you going to set this up?” said Tutcho.

Under the reorganization of the NWT Language Bureau, a portion of the $1.7 million in the GNWT’s 1997-98 budget for translation and interpreting services will be distributed to aboriginal communities for language promotion and development.

Twenty aboriginal language interpreter-translators on the government payroll are expected to be affected by the phasing out of the NWT Language Bureau over the next few months.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment is transferring responsibility for translator-interpreter services to government departments, boards and agencies.

Each department may choose

That means each department must use its own budget for translation and interpreting services. It will be up to them to decide whether to hire staff interpreter-translators or private freelancers.

Tutcho, whose job involves monitoring compliance with the NWT’s Official Languages Act, expressed concern last week that the privatization of interpreting and translating services could contribute to the general decline of many aboriginal languages.

She vowed to closely scrutinize the quality of work performed in the various government departments and agencies over the coming months.

“As long as there is consistency in the level of services, and the quality, that’s what my main concern is,” Tutcho said.

A committee of representatives from each of the nine aboriginal language groups in the Northwest Territories is supposed to convene in September to begin establishing a set of standards to which a future certification board would adhere.

Although she lauds the objective of establishing territorial-wide standards for interpreter-translators, Tutcho foresees difficulty reaching agreement.

“When you deal with a very wide range, for example the dialect differences in the east, how do you come to a consensus then?”

Language development and promotion

The native languages standards committee will also discuss how to divide up funding for language development and promotion.

Lesley Allan, assistant deputy minister with the culture and careers branch of the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, said that a small languages unit within ECE’s culture and heritage division will eventually be responsible for interpreter-translator certification and funding allocations.

Allan said the languages unit would maintain a registry of certified interpreter-translators, who will be held to rigorous standards, similar to other professional groups.

“What you would do is attend college, probably go out and work in the field, then apply for certification,” said Allan. “It’s like being a teacher. You go to university or teacher’s college and you pass, but you’re on probation. And you get your certificate once you’ve done work in the field.

“What this does is provide a follow-up on your training.”

Some laid off people may be re-hired

Some of the employees affected by the dismantling of the language bureau may actually find themselves hired to work in other branches of the territorial government, Allan added.

“It’s not necessarily all going to the private sector, although that is an option,” she said. “Under user-say, user-pay, it’ll be up to the different departments to determine.”

Former language bureau employees, meanwhile, are being encouraged to seek further training. The government has offered them career planning workshops and small business management courses.

“There are number of staff who are ready and willing to set up their own businesses,” Allan said.

The language bureau has always relied heavily on a bank of freelance translator-interpreters, in addition to staff. That list will be updated once the new certification process is established.

“It’s to ensure that everybody that’s on this list has a certain level of fluency, and that they can do interpretation and translation,” said Allan. “We have national standards for French. We would have a certification board that is similar to our national standards for French. It’s the same kind of thing.”

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