Interpreters for speakers of Indigenous languages

Thanks to Kazuko Obata, thanks to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald , thanks to a media release (19/4/2011) from the Commonwealth Ombudsman, I came across the report Talking in language: Indigenous language interpreters and government communication [.pdf].

The report contains an interesting table detailing how various government agencies are currently deploying (or not) interpreter services. As they indicate, having good policies is a good start. What’s important is whether the people charged with carrying them out know how to carry them out, can carry them out, and do carry them out.

Here are some of the good recommendations and observations that struck me:

3.2 The starting point for effective communication in the Indigenous setting is awareness that members of the population may require an interpreter to understand, or be understood by, a government agency or service provider. This two-way process often appears to be forgotten – not only must an interpreter be used so that English language information from the government is accurately conveyed and understood, but also so that the Indigenous person is able to convey their information and ask questions. (p.10)

3.10 Not all agency responses demonstrated the same level of awareness of the importance of using Indigenous language interpreters. One theme which was evident was the idea that interpreters are not necessary if the information being discussed is simple or at least some people present speak English and are willing to interpret for others. This is not appropriate. Apart from the complexity of the information, other issues to be considered are:

  • information that appears simple to an agency or service provider may be difficult for someone who is not familiar with government processes and terms 
  • irrespective of complexity, an Indigenous person may need to use an interpreter so they can ask questions or provide information. (p.11)

3.30 When there is a large scale roll out of a new government initiative or a program requiring community level consultation, agencies need to consider that the interpreters and their families may be directly affected by that same initiative or program. Also, if Indigenous language interpreters are likely to be required in order to implement a program or service, it is important to engage with interpreter providers as early as possible and preferably in the design stage. This will allow interpreter services to provide early advice on the messaging and ensure that providers have sufficient time to consider how complex terms and concepts can be appropriately and accurately interpreted. All associated costs and implications for the time required to do this effectively will need to be built into the program from the outset. (p.15)

3.31 Training in the key concepts and terminology to be interpreted before the interpreting starts is useful for all languages, and particularly so in the Indigenous context. In this way cultural issues can be considered, literacy and numeracy requirements can be addressed and specialist terms are better able to be accurately translated. (p.15)

1 thought on “Interpreters for speakers of Indigenous languages”

  1. Yes, I skimmed the report and was particularly pleased they made the points in 3.2 and 3.10 that interpreting is not just about getting government messages across to community mob but that it’s equally about allowing them to ask questions and provide information in the language they are confident speaking in. I’ve recently become an accredited interpreter and many many professionals I talk to overlook this point. When I ask if they need/ed an interpreter, many say, “no, I’m confident they understood me”, without considering at all that the Aboriginal language speaker might have wanted to ask for clarification or tell them something.

    I mean who doesn’t go to hospital/Centrelink/court/government service provider without having to ask half a dozen questions. Drives me bonkers, the ignorance of using interpreters (although there are a good number who do ‘get it’).

    It also makes being an interpreter not so enjoyable because often a lot of time is spent advocating and educating others about what it is you do and why you are useful, rather than getting on with it and interpreting.

    But I don’t want to sound bitter. It’s so important and useful and I’m passionate about increasing and improving the use of Aboriginal language interpreters. Glad this report came out.

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