Wydawnictwo Translegis



Interview with Dr Danuta Kierzkowska and Zofia Rybínska1

by Louise Rayar


TEPIS, the Polish Society of Sworn and Specialized Translators (Polskie Towarzystwo Tłumaczy Przysięgłych i Specjalistycznych) was founded in 1990 by a group of members of the Association of Polish Translators and Interpreters. In 2015, TEPIS celebrated its 25th anniversary. It is an independent organisation, which does not receive any subsidies.

This was not the only 25th anniversary that was celebrated in 2015, however. It was no coincidence that a partner publishing house was also founded in 1990 under the name of Unitranslex, later TEPIS Publishing and -since 2005- Translegis Publishing. The two initiatives are closely related. Louise Rayar speaks with dr. Danuta Kierzkowska, one of the founders and now Honorary President of TEPIS, and with its current President, Zofia Rybínska, to find out more about the past, present and future of both TEPIS and Translegis.

Text: Louise Rayar

Dr Kierzkowska, I wish to congratulate you on the 25th anniversary of TEPIS, the largest organisation of specialized translators and interpreters in Poland. What prompted you and a number of your colleagues to set up such an organisation?

“The Association of Polish Translators and Interpreters (STP), which was founded in 1981, included conference interpreters, literary, scientific, technical and press translators and sworn translators. It proved impossible, however, to enhance the legal status of these professionals through this association. Support of another organisation was therefore urgently needed. Moreover, as a result of the economic and political transformation in Poland in 1990, it became possible for the first time to legally register a professional association such as TEPIS (Polskie Towarzystwo Tłumaczy Przysięgłych i Specjalistycznych). Our initiative was welcomed by the STP and turned out very well for the profession. Since the earliest activities undertaken by TEPIS, both associations have cooperated fruitfully, especially from 1994 to 2004, when members of the Council of Polish Translators and Interpreters defended their interests before the Polish Minister of Justice.”

What were TEPIS’ objectives?

“TEPIS’ goals were to represent the interests of ‘sworn translators’, who may, in effect, practice as legal translators as well as court interpreters. The idea behind it was to improve their legal status, offer professional materials developed, compiled, edited and published by TEPIS itself, and to facilitate continuing professional development by running workshops, seminars, training courses and meetings. These goals were not only ambitious, but also unprecedented as these specialist translators and interpreters never had had these opportunities in the past.”

It must have been hard to start a totally new professional organisation. What sort of problems did you encounter in the beginning?

“The very early beginnings looked spectacular and promising, because the founders managed to obtain the approval and support not only from STP, but also from such important authorities as the Minister of Justice and the Presiding Judge of the Warsaw Court, who even for about a year provided a room in the Court building free of charge. Soon, however, it emerged that it was no longer possible for a private organisation to have an office in a state-owned building and from June 1992 up to the current time TEPIS’ office has been located in private premises in Warsaw. This proved an important test of our professional friendships and solidarity, which we passed with flying colours. Really important to us at the time was the feeling of freedom enabling us to act legally as private persons, without asking the authorities for permission. Problems of a different kind arose, however: how to build the structure of an association in such a way as to avoid organisational and financial troubles. As regards the organisational structure, fortunately enough I could rely on my experience as a former STP vice-president (1985-1989) so that as one of the founders of TEPIS I was quite aware what should be done to avoid some of the problems encountered by STP. We had no funds whatsoever apart from membership fees. These had to be very low, because the official rates for translation and interpreting were low as well. And so the noble Polish tradition of the XIX century was honoured, also in this case, as private resources provided by individual TEPIS members were used for public purposes.”

One of TEPIS’ aims was to bring about legal translating training at university level. What was TEPIS’ role in this and have you succeeded in realising such training? Is TEPIS still involved?

“Yes, we are quite satisfied that we, non-academic practitioners, were invited by many universities to teach legal translation and court interpreting. In 1997, inspired by TEPIS, the Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies for Translators were started at the Institute of Applied Linguistics of Warsaw University. It was the first time that an institute employed freelances to teach translation. Subsequently, in 2008-2015, TEPIS signed agreements of cooperation with fourteen Polish universities, including major ones. The purpose of the agreements is to inform the public at large that TEPIS members participate in translator training at university level.”

What about the status of legal translators and court interpreters? Are you happy with what TEPIS has achieved so far?

“Certainly, an historic achievement of TEPIS was the 2004 Act governing the Profession of Sworn Translator by which a state examination was provided for candidates and the status of the sworn translator and court interpreter, that of assistant to the court, was elevated to a separate, autonomous profession. This had come about as a result of close cooperation with STP during the debates with the Ministry of Justice within the framework of the Council of Polish Translators and Interpreters in 1996-2004. In addition, TEPIS became a statutory representative of the profession, which entitled its members to sit on the Examination Board and the Professional Accountability Commission for Sworn Translators at the Ministry of Justice. Unfortunately, no increase of official rates for translation ensued from the new law. The official rates for sworn translators have not been increased since 2005. They remain at the same deplorable level despite our numerous protests (see: Box). As this matter falls within is the responsibility of the Minister of Justice, this failure does not diminish TEPIS’ achievements in other fields. The Professional Development Board of TEPIS, for instance, has organized translation workshops in Warsaw four times a year, whereas in other TEPIS chapters such meetings were held at least once a year, usually in cooperation with local universities.

A very special success was the 2005 Sworn Translator’s Code, the successor of the 1991 Court Translator’s Code. The new Code was elaborated in 2011 in cooperation with the Interinstitutional Consultation Board, which included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, leading Polish universities and other important institutions dealing with sworn translators in their daily activities. As a result, the Code is respected by the Professional Accountability Commission for Sworn Translators at the Minister of Justice as an authoritative source of knowledge.”

In 1992, TEPIS organised the first International Forum of Legal Translation in Warsaw. What was the idea behind it?

“The purpose of that first Forum was to bring to the attention of the Polish and European authorities the lack of training opportunities and the poor status of legal translators and court interpreters, not only in Poland, but in many other countries as well.”

Seeing that it was a truly international forum, probably the first of its kind in Europe, how many colleagues participated in this first Forum and from which countries did they hail?

“Our colleagues, 80 in total, came from Austria, Belgium, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Poland and Russia. That was a success in itself, but another achievement was that the Forum attracted representatives of several important institutions , such as Alan Clarke and Bruno Libert of the Translation Service of the Commission of European Communities, Dr René Haeseryn, the then FIT Secretary-General, Liese Katschinka of the AIIC Commission for Court and Legal Interpreting, the President of the International Organization of Unification of Terminological Neologisms, Zygmunt Stoberski, as well as a number of eminent persons from Poland: Professor Barbara Kielar of the Institute of Applied Linguistics of Warsaw University, Professor Eugeniusz Piontek of the Institute of International Law at the same university and our colleagues from the Association of Polish Translators and Interpreters (STP), Slawomir Bialostocki and Krystyna Kopczynska, who represented STP President Ewa Karska. The Netherlands was represented, as you know, by yourself, Louise. Even then, you were a very active TEPIS collaborator.”

In hindsight, what do you consider TEPIS greatest achievement of the past 25 years?

“The promotion of the status of sworn translator/interpreter to the rank of profession, recognized by law, as well as due recognition of these experienced practitioners by academia at Polish universities. I consider the awareness of the current Polish authorities of the value of continuing professional development as a permanent element of their professionalism and the appreciation of this by the translators themselves of equal importance. This result could be achieved thanks to the extraordinary professional solidarity and personal perseverance of all my TEPIS collaborators, including those running TEPIS today under the leadership of my unusually dynamic successor, Zofia Rybínska. She is also highly appreciated for her international activities, especially in her capacity of Vice-President of EULITA.”

Zofia Rybínska, I wish to congratulate you as well with the 25th anniversary of TEPIS. Late 2014, you took over as President of TEPIS from dr. Kierzkowska, but since its foundation you were quite involved as its Vice-President. Are you happy with what has been achieved?

Thank you. The achievements listed by Danuta Kierzkowska, my visionary predecessor and initiator of many activities undertaken by the TEPIS Society, speak for themselves. Let me add TEPIS‘ long-term international involvement with the activities of the FIT Committee for Legal Translation and Court Interpreting and TEPIS‘ initiative to organize bi-annual International Forums of Legal Translation and Court Interpreting. Five such Forums were organised by TEPIS in Poland; three in Warsaw (1992, 1994 and 2006), one in Craców (1996), and one in Poznań (2000). In addition, TEPIS participated in their organisation abroad. This initiative has become a true tradition, which is continued by the FIT Committee referred I just mentioned. The 12th and most recent Forum was held last year (2015) in Lima, Peru.

Zofia Rybińska, Danuta Kierzkowska

Zofia Rybińska, Danuta Kierzkowska

Inasmuch as Poland is a member of the EU, TEPIS has been active and will remain so, of course, at European level. It has participated in many European Union Projects, such as Grotius 98R/131, Grotius 2001/GRP/-15, AGIS (2003-2005), Reflection Forum (2008-09), EULITA (2009), AVIDICUS (2008-11), TRAFUT (2011-12) and LIT Search (2014-2015). TEPIS also played a part in the founding of EULITA, a historic event that was met with much enthusiasm and created expectations with rgeard to improving the legal, social and professional status of LITs in Europe. TEPIS Society has been an active member since the very launch of EULITA and has a representative on the EULITA Executive Committee.

We are also proud of our cooperation agreements signed with the Union of Translators of Russia (1996), the Colegio de Traductores Públicos de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (2009), the Associazione Italiana Traduttori e Interpreti Giudiziari, ASSITIG (2012) and the Österreichischer Verband der allgemein beeideten und gerichtlich zertifizierten Dolmetscher, ÖVGD (2014).

In view of your past and present experience, Zofia Rybínska, how do you envisage the future of TEPIS and how do you envision your role in it as its President?

The 25th TEPIS anniversary provided an opportunity for us to take stock. We are deeply aware that our future activities need to be driven by the same unshakable commitment to our cause and have to be underpinned by the objectives laid down in our articles of association. We should not underestimate the significance of past achievements, but neither must we rest on our laurels. If we, members of TEPIS, wish to raise our profession to greater heights, we must continue to expound the key role of legal interpreters and translators in the search for the truth and show how their work may affect the lives and rights of others, both nationally and world wide. We wish to do so in cooperation with other legal professionals. Hopefully, the Member States’ obligation to implement EU Directive 2010/64 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings will be conducive to our efforts to reach that goal.

We believe in the need for a continuous, constructive dialogue between the authorities and associations of translators and interpreters. This would lead to better understanding and further development of the working conditions and the status of legal interpreters and translators in Poland. For this reason, we have welcomed the establishment, at TEPIS’ initiative, of a team composed of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the translators’ organisations TEPIS, STP and BST,the Chairman of the State Examination Board and the Chairman of the Professional Accountability Commission for Sworn Translators at the Ministry of Justice. This team has been given a mandate to review and assess the operation of the Act governing the Profession of Sworn Translator and secondary legislation over the past ten years. We do not only regard this as a message of hope, but also as a process that should ultimately lead to sworn translators and interpreters in Poland being genuinely happy with the result.

I am working with a group of fantastic and devoted colleagues and friends, both on the TEPIS Board and TEPIS Chapter Boards. This is the reason why I look to the future with great hope, a future in which I expect more achievements by TEPIS Society.


Dr. Kierzkowska, 2015 was also the year that the publishing house Translegis celebrated its 25th year. This was no coincidence. What exactly is the connection between Translegis and TEPIS and what were the reasons for setting up this publishing house?

“Even before TEPIS was formally registered as a society in 1990, I was a proponent of close cooperation between a professional translators’ organisation and a publishing house that developed and disseminated specialist books for translators. My previous experience had taught me that no business should be carried on by a voluntary organisation, so I kept TEPIS away from activities that required external funding and involved financial risk. This was why TEPIS publishing house has always been a separate enterprise, fully financially independent from TEPIS. The two organisations nonetheless formed an ideological unity. The solidarity of TEPIS members who were not only well-motivated to achieve the same goals, but were involved in publishing activities as well, was of fundamental importance in this context.“

What types of publication and other activities were undertaken by Translegis during the past 25 years?

“The first book published in 1990, under the auspices of TEPIS, was “Selection of English Documents”. It turned out to be a hit, as the Iron Curtain had efficiently withheld basic sources of knowledge from Polish sworn translators. It was the first collection of original documents that were representative of the sworn translator’s practice. This was followed by the publication of German, French, Russian, Italian, Polish and Spanish ‘parallel texts’, but without their translation.

An important activity was the publication of books on translation studies, including the Polish classics and works by contemporary scholars, as well as a series of commentaries to ‘The Sworn Translator’s Code (Kodeks tłumacza przysięgłego) and the LSP journal ‘Lingua Legis’. The journal was published under the auspices of TEPIS from 1994 to 2014. Its editors received academic support by Professor Barbara Kielar. In 2015, Translegis transferred Lingua Legis to the Warsaw University Institute of Applied Linguistics in order to preserve the pragmatic profile of the journal, as it should serve practitioners as well as academics. The journal is exclusively published online now, but its “paper history” will always available to be enjoyed and consulted. Another section of Translegis’ activities is ‘The Polish Law Collection’ based on the ‘PolTerm’ terminology.”

What is ‘The Polish Law Collection’ and what is PolTerm terminology?

“The very idea of a PolTerm terminology collection was born from the need to develop unified terminology glossaries. It was premised on the following rule: one equivalent per term. This has resulted in a Polish-English body of private law and business terminology, which nowadays covers terminology from 50 Polish Acts of Parliament. The PolTerm Collection has been included into the EuroTerm Bank as a professional product.”

It was your husband, Maciej Kierzkowski, the owner and manager of Translegis, who set up this publishing house together with you, a legal translator and his “natural” business partner. Could you tell me a little bit more about his personal involvement in TEPIS activities?

Maciej Kierzkowski, Danuta Kierzkowska

Maciej Kierzkowski, Danuta Kierzkowska

“My husband, who is neither a member of TEPIS nor a translator, has been the director of the Translegis Publishing from the very start. Because he was deeply convinced of the public benefit of his business activities, he supported the TEPIS Society on various occasions by publishing non-profitable items or simply offering books for free. Of course, I cannot deny my personal influence on his attitude in this respect, but without his devotion the profession may not have benefitted as it did. He has always been ready to promote and disseminate its achievements. His efforts have been broadly recognized, I am glad to say. TEPIS has honoured him by awarding him with the TEPIS Award of Merit.”

Dr Kierzkowska, it has come to my attention that Translegis is now closely cooperating with the C. H. Beck Verlag as its new partner in addition to TEPIS as its earlier partner. Could you describe the cooperation with both partners?

“Translegis is a commercial enterprise and therefore has needed to take into account the profitability of its activities. At an ideological level, Translegis has always collaborated with its partner TEPIS Society. A collaboration which, I hope, will continue long into the future. Unfortunately, as a result of internet piracy and other crisis factors, Translegis had to look for other partners who were prepared to lend their material support to these activities. C. H. Beck Verlag is a renowned German publishing house with a tradition dating back to the 18th century. It specializes in legal publications. Not long ago, it decided to extend its collection to include books for legal translators. This is the reason for our cooperation. It is still in its early stages, so I cannot say much about it, but both partners hope their cooperation to be successful in the near future.

Whatever the future may bring, I am sure, that both organisations, TEPIS Society and Translegis Publishing, will leave their mark on the professional progression of Polish legal translators and court interpreters. They will do so by representing and defending their interests before the government and by bringing these activities to the attention of the professionals themselves as well.”

I thank you and your colleagues at TEPIS for all your important work on behalf of legal translators and court interpreters inside and outside Poland. I wish TEPIS, Translegis and you personally, as the unflagging advocates of our profession, a very bright future.

Louise Rayar, B. tr is a legal translator Dutch, English and Spanish


The Society has currently around 900 members in Poland. Its head office is located in Warsaw with Chapters in Szczecin, Wroclaw, Krakow, Bytom, Bialystok, Zielona Gora and Lublin.

On 1 October 2005, the 6th General Assembly of the TEPIS Society took the historic decision to change its legal status from a regular NGO to a public-benefit organisation. This entitled it to cooperate with the government in performing public tasks. It also enabled taxpayers to assign one per cent of their tax due to be paid to the TEPIS Society.

The 2004 Act governing the Profession of Sworn Translator applies to legal translators and court interpreters officially sworn in by the Minister of Justice. The Act does not distinguish between the two types of professional activities: it is one profession. In Polish, one term is used for both translator and interpreter: tłumacz. For ‘translator’ (tłumacz) read: interpreter and translator, and for ‘sworn translator’ (tłumacz przysięgli): legal translator and court interpreter.

Since 2015, the law provides that graduates of higher education with the degree of licencjat have access to the profession. However, only holders of the higher magister degree are eligible to join TEPIS.

According to TEPIS, translation rates in Poland are “deplorable”. For translation from Polish to a foreign language the rate ranges from 4.6 and 7.5 Eurocents per word and from a foreign language into Polish from 3.4 to 5.1 Eurocents per word. The hourly rate for court interpreters varies from 9 to 14.7-0 Euros. (L.R.)

Additional sources:


1 This interview was originally published in Dutch in: Linguaan, 27/1-Spring 2016, pp. 14-20.

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