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Knowledge Centre on Interpretation

Public Service Interpreting - Definition and context

What is public service interpreting, and what does it mean in this context?


Public service interpreting (PSI) 'is the type of interpreting that takes place between residents of a community. It is carried out in the context of the public services, where service users do not speak the majority language of the country. It was in 1995 that the world came together to share experiences, debate concepts, and establish a hybrid international network of PSI practitioners, educators, and researchers. Conflicts in PSI could arise, as the participants of interpreted interactions, including the interpreter, are ignorant of each other's needs, roles, goals, and ideas. Research in the field of PSI is still developing. There is dire need of training of professionals in the field of PSI. It is also crucial that there be a cross-fertilization between research, training, and practice where each aspect informs the other.'

Source: Hale, S., 'Public service interpreting', in The Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies, eds. K. Malmkjaer and K. Windle. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 343-356.


Public service interpreting, for the purpose of this Knowledge Centre, is the type of interpreting that enables national and regional authorities to communicate with persons with a migrant and/or refugee background who do not speak or understand the national language(s) (sufficiently well), in order to screen their status as (potential) asylum seekers or to allow them to have access to public services such as health care, municipal and police services. It enables a clear dialogue between migrant and the host country authorities, by offering two-way communication through one single interpreter.


Over recent years, the PSI services market in the European Union has been on the rise, in particular since the number of migrants has increased dramatically. DG Interpretation therefore places the focus on PSI within this migratory setting. Demand has grown, yet to date PSI is essentially a non-regulated profession that lacks uniform standards when it comes to quality, training, ethics, remuneration or a shared definition. Apart from the term PSI, other, overlapping terms that are in use are community interpreting, dialogue interpreting, cultural mediation or ad hoc interpreting, often performed by a relative, which may entail the risk of bias.

PSI interpreters often do not have the necessary professional training or indeed access to training that is commonly recognised. The shortage of trained PSI interpreters may explain why Member States had difficulties organising interpretation during the exceptional migratory flows of 2015/2016, for example in the hotspots that were created in a joint response at European Union level. To overcome the shortage of trained PSI interpreters, more education centres and universities have started to develop specialised interpreting courses. Some of these establishments have turned to DG Interpretation for support in standard setting and development of a curriculum.


The core mandate of DG Interpretation of the European Commission lies with conference interpreting for the European Union institutions. Public service interpreting does not fall within its realm of competence and DG Interpretation does not aim to organise or provide PSI services, which is an exclusive competence of the Member States of the European Union. The competence for standard setting in the field of interpreters' education lies with Member States. The purpose of the Knowledge Centre platform is merely to provide stakeholders with a space to share information and exchange best practices. Stakeholders may wish to use it to nurture communities of practice and more generally to enhance the bottom-up approach in standard setting in the field of PSI.


The PSI chapter of the Knowledge Centre is thus meant as a meeting place for everybody involved or interested in PSI - interpreters, students, teachers, researchers, professional organisations, agencies and public authorities. Stakeholders are encouraged to share information and contribute content so as to create a database and meeting space for stakeholders across the globe.

Are you part of a PSI organisation that is not mentioned? Does your region or country have a law or code of conduct in the field of PSI? Please help us to complete the information we have by using the contribution form, so the knowledge can be shared and put to broader use!

To join or create a community, please go to the Collaborative Space - Communities

Let’s interpret!

A series of videos on Public Service Interpreting has been produced by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona with the financial support of DG Interpretation of the European Commission: Public Service Interpreting and the Challenges of the New Millennium.

Hereunder you will find the introduction.

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