Below is a letter written to my professional association, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), which regrettably they chose not to publish in their magazine "The Bulletin":
What does the ITI mean by "ITI-Assessed"?
In late 2013, I decided to sit the Institute of ITI membership exam in Portuguese to English; little did I know that my decision to state a preference for Brazilian Portuguese would open a can of worms.
Having passed the exam, I was asked to complete a form for my directory listing and was surprised to be told that I could be listed as assessed for Brazilian Portuguese but not for Portuguese. These, I was told, were viewed by the ITI as separate languages not variants, with the same criteria being applied to Belgian French, Austrian German etc. This made no sense to me so I decided to investigate further. After exchanging some e-mails and speaking to a number of colleagues, it transpired that the issue went deeper, to the very core of the ITI’s assessment procedure and its various changes over the years.
I understand that when the Institute was first set up, there was no formal examination procedure in place. The founder members, most of whom had already sat translation exams elsewhere, therefore essentially vouched for one another; one or two had to wait longer to qualify for full membership. New applicants were asked to submit samples of work for assessment and, these having been approved, became an MITI enabling them to offer services as a Qualified Member in any number of languages they wished. Several members have confirmed that there were no rules regarding the number of languages one was able to offer, nor was there any requirement to submit work for assessment or sit an exam for additional languages. It does not appear that there was today’s distinction between “ITI-assessed” and “Not ITI-assessed”.
Moving on a few years to when the directory was set up, I am told that variants began to appear, but members were still free to tick as many languages or variants they wished, despite not having formally been evaluated in them – a system that some might argue amounted to self-assessment. The net result of these organic changes over the years is that we now have a two-tier system, in which members who joined some years ago have multiple directory entries for language combinations in which they have apparently been “ITI-assessed”, while newer members have one, and in some instances only in a variant of a language.
The issue of variants is separate but part of the same problem. The way they are dealt with at present seems illogical. Portuguese, for example, has Portuguese, Portuguese (African), Portuguese (Brazilian) – as an aside, “Portuguese (African)” is a rather odd variant to include at all. I have tried to explain to the ITI office and the Board that in my experience a potential client might not know which variant they were dealing with and, presented with this choice, would probably pick “Portuguese” assuming it to be some generic or “official” version of the language. I suggested simply adding “(Portugal)” to the generic option for clarification but that wasn’t accepted.
Instead, I was offered a free exam in “Portuguese” as a way of rectifying matters. I should add that I have been a translator for over twenty years so the directory is not a vital source of work for me, not enough to warrant putting aside a few days to sit yet another exam. However, a directory listing could be a more important consideration to others and is often the only reason someone will apply to become an MITI. I decided not to take up the offer as I felt it would not resolve issues for other members in the same situation. I believe the status quo is misleading to potential clients who are in all likelihood opting for a translator who appears as “ITI-assessed”, assuming this to be a mark of quality and/or competence, but who may quite possibly be selecting someone who was never assessed in that language combination. It calls into question the value of ITI assessment.
If we are to differentiate between “assessed” and “not assessed” then it has to mean something, otherwise why have an exclusive directory at all? We could list everyone including associates – an idea I would support. Ultimately, the existing system is unfair to newer members who were assessed in a particular combination and currently rank alongside those who were not assessed in that same combination; it is unfair to affiliates and associates who cannot be listed because they haven’t been assessed, and it is unfair to anyone considering applying for membership and paying for an exam that they believe will distinguish them from colleagues who haven’t been assessed.
Various possible solutions have been mooted, including doing away with variants, specifying all variants, doing away with the distinction between ITI-assessed and not assessed and/or requiring members to be listed as assessed only in the language and variant combination(s) they have genuinely been evaluated in. Whatever is finally decided, it is time to look into this and address the issue, ensuring an outcome that is fair, ethical and treats all members equally.