Professionalism: Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice, Commitment to Privacy and Confidentiality

On December 21, 2012, at 9am EST, I will be presenting a session to the members of the Certified PRO Network in, on yet another topic for professional translators and interpreters working in the Global Village of the 21st Century: professionalism, from the standpoint of codes of ethics and standards of practice.  This time I will place the stress on behavior, rather than technical knowledge or abilities. We, translators and interpreters, must exhibit professionalism not only in terms of our technical knowledge or artistry but also, very important, in terms of the way we behave. This behavior is founded on two pillars – Codes of Ethics and Standards of Practice.


But what is Ethics? Paraphrasing a recent study by the California Endowment, Ethic deals with the rules of conduct or expectations for what is considered appropriate or the right behavior with respect to oneself, others, and one’s environment. We try to find what the shared accepted principles of right and wrong are that govern the social group around us and which have become formalized. Ethical behavior therefore is a behavior that corresponds to the accepted and idealized principles expressing what is considered right and wrong, what we find acceptable or unacceptable.

The translation and interpreting industry has many Codes of Ethics and many Standards of Practice. There is no national or international consensus on what these codes of ethics or standards of practice should promote. Moreover, there are even differences in the definition of the terms among different users in different countries. There is an extensive overlap in content between different types of documents. They may be described as existing along a continuum from ethics to practice.

Lets talk about some core concepts that are common in virtually all codes of ethics and standards of

practice anywhere in the world:

Confidentiality—Accuracy and completeness—Impartiality Integrity—Best behavior

These are the topics we will be discussing in our Proz PRO session.  In accordance with the MERRIAM WEBSTER dictionary, Professionalism is the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.

Let me highlight the fact that Codes of Ethics and Standards of Practice promote your best behavior as a translator or interpreter. This best behavior includes preparing for your assignments and respecting the laws or requirements under which you carry out the assignment.  If you have contact with the client or the client’s customers, you must be polite, courteous, and discreet as well as patient and even-­‐tempered. I cannot stress this enough, especially if you are an interpreter and you will find very rude customers or LEPs or they may be in situations where they are rude to you. Just keep your calm and make sure they understand you are the interpreter and deserve respect, but without loosing your cool. The same goes for translators who have to deal with project managers and other individuals in language service providers.

In terms of best behavior, you should always try to stay in your roles but be flexible. Practice cultural competence at work. This is so important, because almost everything we do as translators and interpreters has deep roots in our ability to understand the cultural underpinnings of human communication and to understand and bridge the cultural differences that arise when individuals from different backgrounds try to form relationships or conduct business. It is up to us to ensure that we bridge that gap and become a conduit not only of ideas and concepts, but also of experiences, feelings and motivations.

Foster trust and mutual respect. Remember that many times the client’s business or even his or her life is in your hands. In your ability to appropriately convey the message needed. That trust and respect is quintessential to the role of the translator and interpreters. Just as with your doctor, if you do not trust your doctor, will you allow him or her to treat you?



Lets now talk about accuracy and completeness, or what we might call the competence level that any translator and interpreter should have. But what is accuracy? Basically it is defined as rendering your message in the target language with

  • No additions and
  • No omissions
  • Favoring meaning over literalness
  • And maintaining for each message its source Register + Style + Purpose + Spirit + Intention

It means that:

  • You are expected to have a mastery of the target language equivalent to that of an educated native speaker,
  • You are expected to have up-­‐to-­‐date knowledge of the subject material and its
  • terminology in both languages
  • You are expected to have access to information resources and reference materials,
  • and knowledge of the tools of the profession,
  • You must be able to carry out translating or interpreting tasks thoroughly and
  • responsibly.
  • and you should only accept jobs for which you are able to guarantee a proper standard of quality to their clients.



Codes of ethics also often talk about maintaining impartiality and keeping neutrality. Now then, Impartiality means treating all people and groups equally. So, regardless of what your personal beliefs are in regards to certain groups of people, as a translator or interpreter you should maintain impartiality when dealing with groups you would normally not engage in your daily activities. And that also entail avoiding discrimination and stereotyping. And if you are not able to do so because, for example, your personal religious beliefs, then you should withdraw from the assignment if you believe you might be biased in any way.

Impartiality also means the ability to exert no influence on parties and give no advice or insert no opinion. Interpreters sometimes step out of their role and become advocates, for example. But interpreter should NOT be advocates unless they are specifically requested to act as such or if not acting as an advocate would negatively impact the outcome of the encounter. In any other circumstance, the interpreter should hold their opinions to themselves and exert no influence on the parties.

The same applies to translators, where this influence may be more difficult to trade but veiled by the use of certain terms or the way in which the structure of the idea is presented, to stress this or that concept. Or by adding translators notes that reflect the translator’s opinions and not just clarifications to the meaning of text in context. Just like translators should keep translators notes to a minimum, so interpreters should avoid engaging in any side conversations.


Codes of Ethics and Standards of Practice stress the translator and interpreter commitment to integrity.

The translator and the interpreter must honor their commitments and deadlines. Too often do we hear of translators that do not deliver their assignments on time or interpreters that fail to arrive on time. This is totally unacceptable. Translators and interpreters must work under a business model where a high priority is placed on meeting any commitment agreed with the client and fulfilling such obligations on schedule.

Another issue stressed by codes of ethics is to avoid malicious statements. This includes malicious statements not only about our clients but also about our colleagues, about our associations and about the profession in general. It is very easy nowadays in social media to express opinions that are harsh and many times unfounded or that might have a valid explanation if the other party was given the opportunity. Therefore, unless you are absolutely certain that it is the right thing to do, refrain from all sorts of malicious statements

We should avoid any conflicts of interest but if they appear, we should declare them to the client or withdraw from the assignment. A conflict of interest is a situation in which your decisions as a professional translator

Ethics mandate that you do not provide any services that are unnecessary and that you do not charge any additional fees to those actually required. This issue seems obvious but there are many translators and interpreters that will perform unnecessary services only because the client asked for them or did not specified that they would be unnecessary. Remember that many times your client is relying on you to tell them what they need translated or interpreted. Similarly, do not charge fees you have not incurred in. Avoid incurring in unfair practices or breaching the trust of your client, peers or the public in general.

Commitment to integrity also implies that there will be

  • No false advertising or No self-promotion while on assignment.
  • No referrals to third parties.
  • And that you will accurately represent your qualifications.

Exercise due care with property. Now, other people’s property includes the documents you receive for translation, the films, CDs, and other forms of multimedia. The computers you use if they are not yours, the equipment to which you may have access. And if you are an interpreter, you will most probably be inside their property working with their equipment or having access to it. Have the greatest care with it.

For interpreters, dress in appropriate attire. I know this may sound basic but believe me, many times the interpreter forgets they are a professional. I live in Miami and have seen interpreters arrive at Immigration to represent a client in a hearing, and they have been wearing shorts or a t-shirt or, on the other hand, dressed so provocatively that the people in the room are distracted by the interpreter’s looks. So, beware of business dress code any time you have an assignment.

And finally, you should be constantly pursuing your professional development by being aware of the developments in the field and constantly learning more in your areas of specialty. Additionally, it is important that you have a membership in at least one professional association. Associations sponsor numerous events throughout the year that allow you to connect with your peers. You can participate and have the opportunity to learn about breaking news in your career, learn “best practices” or new ideas, and meet and brainstorm with others who are also looking to share and learn new information. You can use of their career and information resources.



We have now seen how codes of ethics and standards of practice stress the need for accuracy and completeness, impartiality, integrity and your best professional and business behavior. Now lets tackle the issue of confidentiality, privacy and secrecy. You will handle huge numbers of documents and large amounts of information, most of it containing sensitive content and confidential information, at least from the client’s perspective.

For me personally, Confidentiality is a huge concern and a topic that I stress in all my training sessions.

Translators and interpreters have access to information that could be sensitive in many ways. So, one of our commitments must be to maintain confidentiality and disclose only what the client has agreed that we may or should disclose or that which we must disclose by law.

Confidentiality is a term that indicates preserving the privacy of the persons with whom you come in contact or the companies with whom you have any business relationship. This includes information gained verbally, in writing, from encounters, or by observation. All information is considered confidential when it pertains to medical care and client records, when it deals with most legal issues, and when it relates to financial data and business information. As a professional, at least 99% of anything you handle in life will fall into one of those categories and therefore you should treat it as confidential.

Let me repeat that in a different way. All translator and interpreters should ALWAYS act as if they had signed a strict confidentiality agreement for every single assignment they undertake, stating that they will abide by the strictest guidelines and principles of ethics, confidentiality, privacy and security. It does not matter if you are just translating a news release or a press article that has already been published.

Client confidentiality is the conscious effort to keep private all information revealed from the client while rendering services.

I would say that just like physicians have their Hippocratic oath, so translators and interpreters should have an oath to confidentiality and privacy. Such oath would say something like

I will do no cause harm and I will take no gain

with or from any information obtained from or on behalf of my client.

To ensure confidentiality means to have in place rules and protections to preserve the privacy of the persons, information or documents in your care (gained verbally, in print or electronic formats) and that you will keep them in strict confidence for use only by those specifically authorized by the owner of the information or document.

Remember that what we “share” may affect lives.

  • WHAT do we “share”?
  • With WHOM do we “share” it?
  • HOW do we “share” it?
  • Could this material cause “undesirable effects” if publicly available?


ISO-17799 states that Minimum Necessary means “Ensuring that information is accessible only to those authorized to have access.” You are bound to know or disseminate the “minimum necessary” information to perform your job. This means that you should only access information at a minimum necessary level to be able to carry out your duties. The same applies to everyone else who might have access to the information under your care. Therefore, it is expected that you make reasonable efforts to limit confidential information to the minimum necessary to accomplish the intended purpose.


Excerpts from Claudia Brauer’s presentation to the Certified PRO Network:

Dec 21, 2012 13:00 – 18:00 GMT (9 a.m. EST)

Professionalism: code of ethics, standards of practice, commitment to privacy and confidentiality


Our Tribal Mentality in the Global Village of the 21st Century – Part 1

I train translators, interpreters and bilingual personnel. As such, cultural competency is at the root of our profession, where we transfer content from one language into another, either verbally or in writing. In that context, I stress my alignment with the thought that we humans STILL today function under a “Tribal Mentality“. This Tribal Mentality is a trait that was extremely useful for the development of the species, but which should have become progressively obsolete in the 21st Century. But that has not happened yet, or at least not to the level that our presumably civilized society should require .

Such Tribal Mentality is, in my opinion, one of the largest triggers of conflicts, wars, hatred, and injustice. The “us” Vs. “them” mentality is an “inherent” and “inherited” trait that today prevents our growth as human beings in our interconnected, multicultural world.  We must therefore consciously work to expose this trait, if we want to overcome it one day. There are very strong underpinnings of thought and subconscious beliefs, attitudes and feelings that are reflected in our Tribal Mentality, many of which are indeed taught to us by our childhood tribes: family, school, neighborhood, church and the like, to ensure their own continued existence.

Since Culture represents the “models” of things we have in our mind (how we perceive the world, relate with it, interpret things, and even understand ourselves), the fundamentals of Culture may be found in the collective programming of our minds, which differentiate the members of one group of people from another.  We are of different races and many ethnicities, different genders, social classes, nationalities, and religions.  We have thousands of mother languages. We have huge ideological differences and if we were to talk about something like politics or religion, we might end on opposite sides of the discussion.   Some of us might have beliefs and behaviors that are totally unacceptable to others.   And yet, when we go out into the world and have to relate with each other, we must find common traits that unite us.   Or we must understand the sources of our differences and the origin of our thoughts and our “gut feelings” about others.

What is it about our mind that makes us believe so strongly in the “right” and “wrong” of categories such as race, gender and ethnicity?   Why do we feel kinship towards some groups of people and aversion towards others? Why do we sort everything into groups, or kinds of things or events? The answer is that we are “hardwired” to associate in categories.  Like computers, that is the “software” we are born with. By default. Our nervous system is predisposed to organize perceptions into groups. This is at the core of one of the fundamentals of humanity:  We mostly think in terms of WE vs. THEM (“we” the xyz Vs. “them” the abc — fill in the blank with anything and you will find “opposing” groups we could come up with).  As noted earlier, this at the center of most religious conflicts, political adversities, and most rivalries.  It is at the core of the concepts of country and culture.

Concepts that denote “my” group or “my” religion or “my” race or “my” country are the true root causes of an incredibly large proportion of conflicts in societies past and present, where mostly one group believes that their “my” is better than the other group’s “my” (known as “their” position).  Now then, these issues exist because a long time ago, the Tribal Mind was vital for our survival, because we were surrounded by wild animals and needed to hunt, so group identification and cohesion was important for survival.

But by carrying these thought processes into the 21st Century, what are we really “preserving”? Whose thoughts are we expressing, provided to us in our formative years and remaining with us without challenge? How can we overcome this hardwired structure of thinking in terms of “my” tribes and choose our own way of processing our perceptions?

Our Tribal Mentality should progressively start to serve no purpose in the world of tomorrow – which is already here today. In our Global Village, we need to consciously reflect on our responsibility of owning the US-Vs-THEM concept instead of allowing it to dictated our way of seeing the world. Much of “common sense” is actually totally contrary to nature; for example, in the past, slavery was “natural”; and it was “normal” for women to be the property of their husbands; and more recently, only heterosexuals deserved “respect”. All these concepts were created at one point in history to preserve the “superior” position of a group over another, and later became a prevalent attitude (with corresponding actions) among large groups of people or, as I like to call it, large tribes.

Therefore, in our Global Village of the 21st Century, where our Tribes should be much more homogeneous, in many ways the Tribes have multiplied and have become more aggressive and “territorial”. How many of the “common sense” thoughts and attitudes we hold today as dear are really outdated, unjustified, unfair, and detrimental to our relationships as human beings?  How much of our Tribal Mentality is simply wrong? Culture is in essence how we “perceive” our world and how the world “perceives” us.  How much of our Cultural perception needs to be revamped?

Remember that our perceptions are hardwired as part of our Tribal Mentality, which is fostered and fed in our earlier years by our family tribe, our religious tribe, our neighborhood tribe, our school tribe, our social-class tribe, our race and ethnicity tribes, our country-of-origin tribe, our language tribe, our gender “ tribe… Each of these tribes is interested in its own survival and thus, in time creates a series of concepts that transcend reality and which serve to define that tribe in society.  How many of these concepts do we carry as truths that we never even question, that we are not even aware we have in the background of our mind? Remember it is kind of the “software” that we came into life with by default, which keeps running “in the background” of our heads unless we “update” it to the new values and concepts that we may develop on our own.

Because there are, of course, other tribes we “subscribe” to, either personally or professionally, voluntarily or forced by circumstances, such as our higher education tribes (university students, for example); trade and business tribes (associations, clubs, coalitions, corporations, and the like); country-of-residence “tribe”; social class tribes (chosen in adulthood); technological tribes (user of landlines Vs. smartphones, for example); our secondary languages tribes, our age tribes (Veterans, Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z), and even the tribes we associate to on the basis of our personality types (Extroverts vs Introverts, etc).

The Tribal Mentality tells the members of that tribe what is and what is not possible within the structure of their reality.  Since it ensures the survival of the respective group, it strongly imposes values, rituals, symbols, heroes and shared memories to promote group identification and thus loyalty to the “tribe”.  In today’s world,  the purpose of the Tribal Mentality is no other than to “indoctrinate” each member of that specific tribe on the tribe’s beliefs and rules, to make sure that ALL members of the tribe believe, and agree, and behave accordingly.

There are many other tribes besides those mentioned above, to which we belong by birth, by choice, or by circumstances.  What is important is to start understanding and identifying the different tribes that are influencing our “perception” of our reality.  Once you start identifying this, you will be able to understand your world much better, and then make your own choices about your own thoughts and actions.

Interpreters in the 21st Century


In an interconnected world, the ability to communicate in “my preferred language” (whatever that may be) has become a crucial component of our world. In less than a decade we have gone from simultaneous or consecutive interpreting, to over-the-phone and remote video-interpreting (simultaneous or consecutive), to web-based instant message delivery. Technology is transforming our profession at the speed of light, literally. The term “medical video interpreting” is so new that many in the profession don’t even know of its existence, yet the technology it is based on (and already commercially available) is sure to change the entire profession. Professional associations are scrambling to get to speed with the changes to better serve their members; certification and credentialing is becoming more urgent than ever; education and training are flourishing; and technology surprises us with so many and fast innovations, that it is hard to keep up with it.  I believe there is an urgent need for us to be extremely aware of the world in which we live and the fascinating digital revolution taking place around us at the speed of light. I stress the fact that instead of resisting technology, we must embrace it and learn to use it to further our professional advancement and intercultural communication.  If we do not become part of the digital revolution, we will soon be left out of the loop of progress… similar to what happened a few decades ago to office workers and freelancers (including translators) who refused to learn how to use a computer … they quickly became professionally obsolete because they were no longer able to interact in the modern interconnected world. This is an attempt to be a “wake-up” call to current and future interpreters about the state of the industry in our Global Village of the 21st century