Final version of ISO 13661 set for release

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is set to release the final version of ISO 13611, Interpreting--Guidelines for community interpreting. This is a landmark document for our profession and the culmination of years of hard work. 

Angela Sasso, Critical Link President, helps to bring us up to date. She was a member of both the International (2011) and Canadian Advisory (2010) Committees to ISO/TC 37 as an expert working on the development of ISO International standards in the field of Translation, Interpretation and Terminology.

What is the significance of ISO guidelines? 

It’s an enormous accomplishment. 35 countries were involved, including delegates from the European parliament. The ISO has been looking into all areas of translation and interpretation services but decided Community Interpreting is the most urgent area to address.


Simply put, the need for community interpreting has grown dramatically over the past few years but there has been no commonly agreed way of doing what we do. In a sense many Community Interpreters are working in isolation with no overriding set of goals and standards. ISO 13611 establishes criteria and recommendations for both oral and sign languages. 

The critical importance of community interpreting is that it links vulnerable populations with the necessary and vital services they need. Community interpreting happens everywhere in the public and private spheres - community interpreting facilitates equity. However, The competent provision of public services, including health and justice, for minority language speakers is measured by the quality of language services that link consumer to provider. A weak system will, at best produce inefficient and ineffective results, and, at worst horrific consequences. That’s why ISO 13611 and other anticipated standards in interpreting are important.

5 questions about ISO guidelines answered

  • What will be included in the guidelines?

The Guidelines outline the skills and qualifications interpreters should be expected to have.  It describes best practices and basic principles to ensure quality services for all involved. It informs requestors of what should be considered when requesting interpreter services. It covers terminology and definitions so we are all “speaking the same language.”

  • Are these standards going to be enforced?

No, they are what they say – guidelines.  The ISO recognizes that community interpreting happens in so many diverse situations and regions it is impossible to have a rigid set of rules that could apply to all.  Rather, they recognize we all want to do the best job possible and they provide us with a roadmap to follow.

  • What will it mean for provides and requestors?

Providers who can show that they follow the ISO guidelines will gain even more credibility and legitimacy.  Interpreters who have the suggested skills and qualifications set out by the ISO will be able to market themselves more effectively.  These guidelines are an important step on the road to getting the recognition our profession deserves.

  • How will Critical Link members get access to the ISO Guidelines?

We will be posting links to accessing the guidelines on our website. Look for tweets and notifications once the document is published. 

AuthorCritical Link International