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Interpreting in community and education: do the two go hand-in-hand?

By Bonnie Bellenzier

I began my interpreting career in 2005 in a school. I spent the first two and a half years of my interpreting career working in lower primary education, and in more recent years I have predominantly worked in a secondary school or university settings. However, I don’t only work in education. I currently work in both education and community settings. Working in both domains of work has encouraged a cross fertilisation and diversification of my skill set, my attitude, my values, and my interpreting experiences, and I highly recommend it.

Looking back to my early years in the field of interpreting, I realise I was initially scared to test the waters in community interpreting, but there is no doubt that by challenging myself to broaden my experiences outside of education I have actually enriched and improved my interpreting in the classroom. For me, in the early years, being in the classroom felt ‘safe’. It was consistent, predictable, and comfortable. I knew what I was doing in this setting and I thought I had the necessary skills.

This is of course a potentially dangerous way of thinking as a professional, and can lead to unconscious incompetence. Indeed, in hindsight, I can see my interpreting skills were fossilising and it was critical that I branch out. Fortunately, my timely decision to take the plunge into community interpreting was in an effort to not only expand my professional experiences and skills, but to see interpreting through a different lens that was not solely education-focused.

Community interpreting has allowed me to work in tandem with some amazing interpreters, including Deaf interpreters, and as most of my work in education was solo, in community settings I learned the intricacies of working with another person and how to work in tandem effectively. I have had the privilege of frequently working with Deaf professionals, diversifying my language choices and register from those used in education settings. I have been able to gain experience in high profile public assignments, formal settings, conferences, and interpreting academic presentations into English, as well as gaining experience in working with deafblind consumers.

Community interpreting has also provided me opportunities to work with complex clients in complex situations which has not only helped my interpreting skills but has given me greater perspective to a plethora of social issues we are confronted by as interpreters. Interestingly, this spurred me on to undertake a now nearly completed degree in social work. 

Community interpreting has given me a larger tool bag to take into the classroom to use when I am working with students who are still acquiring Auslan (which is far too frequent, sadly, even in secondary school). I am now able to draw upon a variety of linguistic experiences and skills from Deaf people and interpreters that I just didn’t have before branching out into community interpreting.

Educational interpreting is not without its distinct advantages too. It certainly does not deserve its (fortunately slowly changing) reputation as the poor cousin of community interpreting. It is where I learned how important it is to be free in my interpretations; to interpret the meaning and be as visual as possible.

Deaf students taught me the importance of this. This is not easy to do, and whilst I knew how important it was, in those first years of my career I didn’t always have the skills to execute it. My early years in educational interpreting also gave me valuable skills in preparing for assignments, with fortnightly assemblies, excursions and incursions, and thanks to educational interpreting the second verse of the national anthem will forever be etched onto my brain!

Today I continue to work in education, and I am still learning things that I carry into my work in community interpreting all the time. I am particularly fortunate to often work with highly skilled Deaf staff in the classroom, from whom I am always learning, and then integrating my observations of them into my interpreting. I truly believe that in working in education and community settings that I have the best of both worlds!

Bonnie gained NAATI paraprofessional interpreter accreditation in 2006. Prior to achieving this, she completed a Diploma of Auslan in 2004. She has worked as an interpreter in educational settings since that time, and in 2010 she received the ASLIA Western Australia Educational Interpreter of the Year Award for her efforts. In 2013, she was nominated once again for her work. Bonnie now works predominately in community settings in a variety of environments. Bonnie has near completed a Bachelor of Social Work at Curtin University. She intends to tie her experience as an Auslan interpreter to a role in community social work in the future. This article was originally published in the ASLIA e-update and is reproduced with permission.  

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ALERT: Transition information for current NAATI approved course students

As part of the Improvements to NAATI Testing (INT) Project, NAATI’s Approved Courses system of VET and Higher Education institutions will be superseded by a system of Endorsed Qualifications (EQ). The EQ system, commencing 1 January 2018, will be better equipped to support the reliability, validity, practicality and integrity of NAATI testing and certification.

Acknowledging the importance of facilitating a smooth transition from the approved course system to the endorsed qualifications system for students and institutions alike, all currently approved courses have been granted approval to 31 December 2017. Institutions will be able to apply for NAATI qualification endorsement status from 1 June 2017, for qualification enrolments commencing from 1 January 2018.

Due to differing enrolment dates, some students enrolled in NAATI approved courses will complete their course after the endorsed qualification system has commenced in 2018. 

Students should therefore be aware that the following rules apply:

  • Students who start their qualification in an approved course before 1 January 2018 but do not complete it until 2018 or later will be eligible to sit a test for NAATI accreditation, as long as the institution meets all of the conditions of approval associated with the course. (This applies equally to institutions which gain endorsement of the qualification and those which don’t).
  • NAATI will consider any request from an institution in 2018 to offer a certification test (i.e. leading to certification, not accreditation) for students enrolled on an approved course (i.e. enrolled in 2017 or earlier) as long as that institution has gained endorsement for the qualification. The conditions under which the certification test might be offered to the students would be determined at the time of the request.
  • Students enrolled in an endorsed qualification (i.e. enrolled from 1 January 2018) will only be able to access a certification test offered by NAATI.
  • NAATI is committed to ensuring that no student is unreasonably disadvantaged by the transition. 
  • Students currently enrolled or enrolling in an approved course for the remainder of 2017 and accessing accreditation based on a recommendation from their institution will pay the current Application for Accreditation by Approved Australian Course fee.
  • In a situation where an approved course student sits a certification test, the fee associated with the NAATI certification test will be no more than the current Application for Accreditation by Approved Australian Course fee.

Please direct any questions regarding the above information to intproject@NAATI.com.au. Click here to download this information as a PDF factsheet. 

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ALERT: 2017 INT briefing sessions

NAATI will be conducting another series of INT Project information sessions for practitioners this year. While previous briefing sessions have focused on the design of the certification scheme, this round of sessions will focus on scheme implementation and impacts for current practitioners.

These sessions will cover transition arrangements and provide an opportunity for practitioners to ask questions. The details for each session are as follows:


  • Date: Tuesday 30 May 2017
  • Time: 5:30 - 7:00 pm
  • Venue: Karstens - Level 12, 123 Queen Street, Melbourne
  • Click here to RSVP


  • Date: Thursday 1 June 2017
  • Time: 5:30 - 7:00 pm
  • Venue: Queensland Multicultural Centre - 102 Main Street, Brisbane
  • Click here to RSVP


  • Date: Wednesday 7 June 2017
  • Time: 5:30 - 7:00 pm
  • Venue: Karstens - 111 Harrington Street, Sydney
  • Click here to RSVP

In the event you are unable to attend, NAATI will produce a video recorded version of the information session and publish a set of FAQ’s on our website in mid-June. NAATI is also holding specific briefing sessions for language service providers.

Please email intproject@naati.com.au for more information about all INT briefing sessions.

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The importance of association accreditation

By Catia Cassiano

With the new NAATI certification scheme being introduced soon, I wanted to return to an old blog article I wrote in 2012. In that article, I wrote about the importance of having an accreditation and formal regulation in our industry. Five years have passed and I still strongly believe in the importance of certification for the profession of translating and interpreting.

While I was growing up in Portugal, I saw a lot of high school students with good marks in English, doing translation jobs in the holidays for extra cash. I didn’t think much of this at the time. In fact I didn’t even think that anything was wrong. Once I became a professional translator and came to understand how complex the job really is, I realised how misguided this practice was. After working in this industry for 10 years, it saddens me to hear about unqualified people charging customers for a job they are not qualified for.

In my view, accreditation programs by reputable associations will increase the standards in our profession. Only people who are properly qualified and fully committed can be accredited, and can demonstrate the quality of their work. Those people without relevant qualifications or who are unable to meet the required standards, will have a benchmark to aim for, in order be able to work as a translator. Qualifications and standards also provide a guarantee for clients, identifying the work of professionals, as superior to high school students.

In today’s world we cannot just get a diploma and sit on it forever, we need to be proactive in our careers, and work together to create a profession which is seen as valuable for both clients and practitioners. One of the methods used to encourage high standards within the profession and ensure good practice is a code of conduct. Membership of an association requires compliance with a code of conduct.

Certification can be expensive, especially for professionals who are accredited by more than one association, but it is an investment in yourself and your career, and one that will certainly pay off in the long term. In supporting professionals and their practice, associations need to provide a service for their members. It’s not enough just to provide a directory, associations also have a responsibility to provide basic guidelines and initiatives to help translators and interpreters navigate their work environment.

Understanding how to keep a steady flow of stable, continuous work and methods of improving translating and interpreting skills, are two important areas where members look for relevant information. Most associations do meet this need; offering courses, workshops and other events, but there are other ways associations could help to make our profession a better and more reliable one.

The creation of appropriate avenues for translators and interpreters to work directly with their association in a positive and consultative way, with the ability to suggest new ideas or opportunities for improvement, would encourage the association to be more aligned with the needs of practitioners. Associations could also provide an opportunity for practitioners to talk about real issues encountered in their work, providing a platform where problems can be discussed and perhaps solved, offering peer support to colleagues navigating similar situations.

It is important clients are aware of language variants and localisation issues that may arise, so they can be better informed and therefore better equipped to choose the right professional for their specific needs. Creating awareness in the community about language services and localisation issues is a service that associations can and should be involved in.

Finally, achieving better communication between associations worldwide, and ensuring the same standards were adopted, would improve the quality of services internationally and serve to promote a more uniform approach to this profession.

Other professions such medicine and law have their associations. Doctors, nurses and lawyers are not be able to practice without accreditation. If we do the same for translators and interpreters, maybe in the future people no longer think that ‘if you know two languages you should be all right to be a translator’ and respect what we do more.

Cátia Cassiano is a professional Portuguese translator who has been living in Sydney since 2006. She is the founder of Updated Words. Catia is passionate about the translation industry and loves to share her knowledge with others.

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