ITI and IOL Membership

IOL Logo Members

IOL Logo

In this week’s blog, I wanted to give some of my personal experiences as a certified member of the ITI and IOL. This is not designed to be an exhaustive comparison of the two groups. Instead it is just a comparison of some of the main aspects which have struck me as a member of both associations. I will give plenty of my own opinions and views on the various aspects of the associations. These are based on personal experience and may not be representative of the bigger picture.

About the Associations

The ITI is the Institute of Translating and Interpreting. It’s the professional association of practicing UK-based translators and interpreters. In order to join, I had to meet various requirements including passing a really difficult test translation. The test document was in my main subject area and was extremely specialist. Honestly, the test document was far harder than anything my clients send me normally, and wasn’t quite within my main area. With technical areas, even a fairly narrow area like chemical engineering can be split into dozens of related disciplines with totally different terminology. The categories offered by the ITI are too broad if the test papers are going to be as specialist as they were.

The IOL is the Institute of Linguists. This is more of an association for anyone involved in the languages industry. In order to join, I had to demonstrate several years of experience and a certain educational background. Luckily I always kept very careful records of all jobs I completed, with the total word counts, subject areas, and client feedback (if any). So it was a relatively easy job to make the application.

Online Database

ITI Logo

ITI Logo

Both the ITI and IOL provide online databases of registered translators. The idea behind these is that clients can go onto their websites and directly search for a suitable linguist. I am listed on both and have found that I get a lot more emails through the ITI link than the IOL link. However, the quality of email I get through the IOL link tends to be higher, with things like offers of jobs as a lecturer.

When it comes to these databases, I feel very frustrated with both the groups. Before I can explain why, I need to give a bit of extra background. The ITI and IOL are professional bodies with some kind of entry requirements. However, on the internet you will also find many directories of translators which require little more than the payment of a fee. I will refer to those as “directories”.

The professional associations do not do a good job in their SEO. When I Google search for “David Smith Chinese to English Translator”, the first article is my old blog, followed by this website, and then a bunch of listings from those Directories. Neither the IOL nor ITI listing is even on the first three pages.

In other words, a client searching for a translator is likely to find a Directory before they find the websites for the associations. This really undermines the mission and purpose of the website listings. The ITI and IOL either need to work with those Directories or improve their own search engine results.

That exact point was raised at an event I attended in Germany last year. The ITI representative on the panel seemed offended by the idea and gave a non-committal response. Generally I feel the bodies have a sense of self-importance. “We are the official bodies; we don’t need to work with those directories”. In fact, clients are just going online and looking for the first thing that looks authentic. Working with the directories would be a cheap and reasonable option for the ITI and IOL. There’s no point just saying “we are official” if no clients ever find the website in the first place.

The current situation is that the vast majority of clients only ever find the directories and never the professional associations. More often than not, they will then only meet poor translators who are forced to compete on price, since they cannot offer any quality or other services. This is a huge problem for the industry at the moment. Nothing I’ve seen or heard suggests that either the IOL or ITI are doing anything about this. Although I hope I’m wrong.

ITI and IOL Events and CPD

The two associations run various events. Obviously the ITI events are much more targeted to translators and interpreters whereas the IOL events sometimes focus on other aspects such as language teaching or policy. The events also include things like annual lectures and networking events, which may be useful. Generally I find the comparing the ITI and IOL, the events run by the ITI are more interesting to me.

Both the ITI and IOL also offer opportunities for continuing professional development. However, they may not be suitable for various language combinations. I tried to attend two separate training events run by the ITI, and in both cases I was told they didn’t have a trainer available in my language pair. With regards to the IOL, the problem for me has been that they have not offered courses in technical or engineering related areas; rather they have been focused on public services, literary translation and so on. So both groups run useful training, but it has not been useful for me.

Certified Membership of the ITI and IOL

The ITI and IOL have various categories of membership. I am a qualified member of the ITI and member of the IOL. These seem to be pretty much equivalent grades. Both institutes have one higher level – fellow, reserved for the really big guns with 10 or more years experience. They also offer various other levels such as student and associate.

The first thing I have to say about this regards associate membership. I regularly receive CV’s from translators who claims to be “ITI certified”, or “members of the IOL”. When I look into this quite a high proportion of applicants are only associate members. While the requirements to join as a “full member of the ITI” or “certified member of the IOL”, or whatever else you can call it are strict, as I described above, the requirement for joining as an associate member is just the payment of a small fee.

In other words people are joining as an associate member, paying the small fee, and then promoting themselves as “members” or “certified by”, or using other similar terms. The associations should tighten the requirements for associate membership and make clear what language is acceptable in marketing materials. A quick search of any of the well known translation directories gives a very clear picture of how widespread this issue is.

Overall Benefits of the ITI and IOL

The translating and interpreting industry is better off thanks to the efforts of the ITI and IOL. These groups are running with rather low budgets, but have been able to provide a great deal of value to serious professionals in the field.

However, there are still many issues. Firstly, the ITI and IOL are being hammered by the non-professional directories. Those directories make money by allowing translators to list their services. Therefore the directories will always be allocating a significant portion of their budget to SEO and website optimization. There’s no way our professional associations will be able to compete with this, so other solutions are required. Short of regulations and lobbying for legal status for qualified translators, a good solution might be to work with the directories for the time being.

Secondly, the ITI and IOL are not cheap, and the cost-benefit analysis is not clear. This contrasts with industries like Civil Engineering, where membership of the Institute of Civil Engineers is considered mandatory for any kind of work. Until a similar situation occurs for our industry, the bodies will not generate significantly more income for their linguists. Qualified membership of the ITI and IOL brings benefits but far more work is required bridging the gap between clients and linguists.

Tags: IOL, ITI,