Non-professional volunteer interpreting as an institutionalized practice in healthcare: a study on interpreters’ personal narratives


  • Maria Aguilar-Solano University of Massachusetts Boston


volunteerism, non-professional interpreters, healthcare provision, institutionalization, and focus groups.


This article discusses the process of institutionalization of a migrant-oriented NGO where volunteers work as non-professional interpreters and where this had led to the integration of volunteer interpreting services in two hospitals in the Costa del Sol region in southern Spain. It explores the processes of socialization of volunteers and institutionalization of interpreters, leading to the development of an official NGO, drawing on the personal narratives of volunteers collected through focus groups and participant observation. The article begins by looking at the early stages of socialization of volunteers, through which they internalize the field structures and a series of dispositions shaped by empathy and compassion, resulting in volunteers adopting different positions available to them such as interpreters, caretakers and patient advocates. After the initial process of socialization, a process of institutionalization was requested by the regional government for the official establishment of the NGO. Drawing up the constitution of the now official NGO entailed the bureaucratization of the volunteers’ position as interpreters, which provided them with a series of assets and the legitimization of their activity as institutional agents. This study demonstrates how in this particular case volunteer non-professional interpreting became essential for the institutions in which the services are provided. The volunteer interpreters of this NGO are now legitimate institutional agents with a strong degree of professional autonomy that allows them to adopt a series of positions that belong to the domain of intercultural mediators and cultural brokers.