Non-Professional Interpreting: the Greek Case

by Zoi Resta

The terminology used to refer to interpreting in public services and community settings has been relatively inconsistent up to now, appearing in overlapping or contradicting terms such as: ad hoc interpreting, community interpreting, public service interpreting, dialogue interpreting, cultural interpreting (Furmanek & Tipton, 2016: 2-3), intercultural mediation and so on. As the scholarly interest on this topic has been emerging in the last 3-4 decades, international academic surveys and conferences for non-professional interpreters were being conducted as well. In this framework, many questions have been arising: Who are these non-professional interpreters? Which are their varieties (students, volunteers, conference interpreters etc.)? What is the point of studying non-professional interpreting? What is the benefit –if there is any- and what can we learn from it? How should professional interpreters act when they are called to work in a non-professional setting? How should professionals behave towards non-professionals? Which are the responsibilities, the liabilities and limits of actions of non-professional interpreters?

These questions point to the fact that, as services are being developed to respond to the multilingual interpreting needs of our world, the necessity for the definition of the roles of non-professional interpreters becomes more and more clear. Furthermore, the use of the adjective “non-professional” indicates that these varieties of professionals are being compared to and defined according to the terms and conditions of conference interpreting, which is being used as the reference point. However, are we defined by what we are not? Νo person wants to be called what he/she is not. The terms and concepts we use to describe people and practices can cause negative correlations and a negative impact for them on public opinion, even if they are well meant, which is obviously unfair. After all, the people that work in this sector, in these settings are the professionals of these new interpreting fields. That is why we should try to define the roles of these professionals taking into account the particular contexts and the society in which their interpreting practices take place.


In this context of concerns over non-professional connotations, I am going to try to depict the situation in Greece, using for convenience the term “community interpreters” throughout this text. More specifically, my colleague, Anastasios Ioannidis, and I have undertaken a survey in 2016, in order to illustrate the current professionalization status of this kind of interpreters in Greece, based on the five parameters for differentiating between community and conference interpreting that Erich Prunč  has applied to these two types of interpreting [a) cognitive differences, b) cultural differences, c) power differences, d) access to text and predictability and e) the possibility of interaction and conversation control]. We used this theoretical model (Prunč, 2011: 21- 44) in order to underline exactly this necessity to define the profile of these new professionals as a completely different one from that of conference interpreters. The results of our survey have been presented in detail at the EST Congress 2016 (Aarchus University) in an announcement with the title “Professionalization opportunities for community interpreting in Greece: a sociological approach.” We created a questionnaire of 45 questions, based on Prunč’es differentiating parameters and distributed it to interpreters working at hot-spots and other community cases that concern refugees and Greek public authorities. Through this, we tried to address issues, such as certification, education, code of ethics, roles and tasks of these interpreters. Our sample consisted of 35 people occupied on a daily basis as interpreters for the last two years in these settings.

As we have seen from the replies, these interpreters in Greece face many difficulties, while trying to act as professionals: Most of them are not properly trained at all. They are selected not according to their studies and their professional experience, but because of their origin or just because they state their interest in working as interpreters. There is no official authority or association in which someone can look for professional community interpreters. Τhis gap is filled in a fragmentary manner, with many NGOs usually undertaking the role of the official employer. Whenever an authority needs a community interpreter, they just post newspaper notices and usually find someone to occupy as an interpreter through word of mouth. They have no permanent positions; instead, they have 6-month or 1-year contracts with the Greek authorities. They are paid a monthly salary of around 650-700 euros by their employer for their services, which do not only include interpreting (and translation, of course) but also secretary, driver duties and many more. In most cases they are not paid for overtime work. Apart from these, because of the intensive refugee flows in Greece, the needs for interpreting services have reached their peak, as well as the number of those who claim to be able to serve as community interpreters; according to unofficial data of our research, while two years ago the number of people occupied as community interpreters in Greece was around 50-70, today they are around 700-800.


To conclude, the current practice regarding the professionalization level of the so-called non-professional interpreting in Greece is still in a nascent phase. However, given that Greece is a multicultural society, hosting millions of immigrants and asylum seekers annually, it is essential for the framework of the profession to be thoroughly reviewed, in order to safeguard reliable communication and the respect of human rights. Hence, concerted and serious action from all the interested parties is essential, focusing on the field as part of the society; as a developing new profession, on which the current social processes and structures have an impact. If we manage to properly define and study this developing profession, we will be able, in the long run, to proudly announce that we can teach our students how to become professional non-professional interpreters; in other words how to become professional community interpreters, as I personally prefer to call them.


Furmanek, Olgierda & Tipton, Rebecca (2016). Dialogue Interpreting: A guide to Interpreting in Public Services and the Community. New York: Routledge.

Inghilleri, Moira (2003). “Habitus, field and discourse. Interpreting as a socially situated activity.” Target 15 (2): 243-268.

Inghilleri, Moira (2005). “Mediating zones of uncertainty. Interpreter agency, the interpreting habitus and political asylum adjudication.” The Translator 11 (1): 69-85.

Ioannidis, Anastasios & Resta, Zoi (2016). “Professionalization opportunities for community interpreting in Greece: a sociological approach.” 8th EST Congress 2016, 14th to 18th September 2016, Aarchus. Book of abstracts: 215.

Pöchhacker, Franz. (2009). Issues in Interpreting Studies. Munday, Jeremy (eds). The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies. London/New York: Routledge, 128-140.

Pöchhacker, Franz (2007). Dolmetschen: Konzeptuelle Grundlagen und deskriptive Untersuchungen. Tübingen: Stauffenburg.

Prunč, Erich (2011). “Differenzierungs- und Leistungsparameter im Konferenz- und Kommunaldolmetschen.” Claudia Kainz, Erich Prunč & Rafael Schögler (eds). Modelling the field of community interpreting: Questions of methodology in research and training. Dunaj, Berlin: LIT, 21-44.

Tseng, J. (1992). “Interpreting as an emerging profession in Taiwan- A sociological model,” MA Thesis. Fu Jen Catholic University, Taipeh.

Dr. Zoi Resta has obtained her Bachelor degree in Translation at the Ionian University, her Master degree and her PhD in Interpreting Studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. During her studies she was offered academic distinctions and scholarships by the European Union, the Greek Ministry of Education, the University of Innsbruck and Thessaloniki. Since 2009 she has been working as a freelance translator and interpreter, since 2011 as a Conference Interpreters’ trainer at the Ionian University and since 2015 as a member of “The Language Project” promoting translation and interpreting to the general public. She has also participated in many international conferences.

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