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Interpreter Training Program Aims To Foster N.M. Industry

Courtesy of VCINM
Valley Community Interpreter students learn professional standards of practice in an interactive activity.

When a hospital or doctor’s office sees a patient who doesn’t speak English, federal law requires the institution to hire an interpreter. But the need for professional language services in New Mexico far exceeds the supply. An Albuquerque organization, Valley Community Interpreters (VCI), is hoping to change that.

When Cecilia Portal founded Valley Community Interpreters three years ago, she was shocked to find that New Mexico had no agency employing interpreters specifically for medical clinics, schools, and social services.

Portal says most places use over-the-phone language services, but having access to a local interpreter can mean the difference between life and death.

“There was a case of an over-the-phone company that gets a 911 call, and the call gets routed to an interpreter in Europe," said Portal. "The interpreter couldn’t guide the ambulance because they didn’t know the city, and by the time the ambulance arrived, the patient was dead. I mean, that’s the seriousness of it.”

Portal is working to make VCI into an agency to connect institutions to professional interpreters; she hopes to build a pool of interpreters with access to high-paying jobs.

VCI's next training course starts in early September. It's an intensive 60-hour course spread across ten Saturdays, plus 20 hours of paid practice in a local organization. The course is meant for people who are already bilingual, so applicants must first take a proficiency assessment. 

There’s a mandatory orientation session Wednesday evening, August 22, 2018. Visit VCINM.com for more details.


Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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