Immigrants hindered by Sweden’s interpreter shortage

Despite its reputation as a haven for immigrants and asylum seekers, Sweden currently lacks authorized interpreters for more than three quarters of the languages spoken in the country on a daily basis.

And with the number of languages spoken in Sweden continuing to proliferate, the agency responsible for issuing interpreter licences is struggling to keep up.

“There are somewhere between 150 and 160 languages spoken around the country. We offer tests in 37 languages,” said Leena Carlstedt from Kammarkollegiet, the agency responsible for testing and authorizing translators and interpreters.

In all, Kammarkollegiet has 935 authorized interpreters on its books. But the most recent figures (2006) available from Statistics Sweden show that 1,646 people are registered in the country as translators and interpreters, while the number of unregistered interpreters is unknown.

“We are faced with two problems when it comes to providing tests in languages that are new to Sweden: one is demand, the other is finding suitable judges of linguistic competence,” said Carlstedt.

An occupational study conducted by Statistics Sweden in 2006 showed that 35.3 percent of all registered linguists, translators and interpreters were born in countries outside Sweden, making these some of the most popular professions among immigrant groups.

According to Leena Carlstedt, while official bodies are encouraged to use authorized interpreters, there is no law obliging them to do so. Though not all unregistered interpreters are guilty of incompetence, some clearly are.

“Just this morning I heard something on the radio about the damage being done by bad interpreters in the healthcare sector,” said Carlsted.

And, as The Local reported on Monday, the situation in the judicial sector is not much better.

But Thai and Urdu speakers may be pleased to note that they are the latest groups to be given the option of drawing on the services of authorized interpreters.