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Notes on interpreting by non-accredited bilinguals vs by interpreters
By Patricia Avila
This article has been adapted from a training session designed by the author.
What is interpreting?
Within a linguistic context, interpreting is defined variously as:
- “The oral transfer of messages between speakers of different languages …” (Gentile, Ozolins and Vasilakakos)
- “… a form of [t]ranslation in which
- a first and final rendition in another language is produced on the basis of a one-time presentation of an utterance in a source language.” (Pöchacker)
- “… the translation of the spoken word
- …”, with translation defined as “a conversion process from one language to another, in either the written or the spoken mode.” (several authors, paraphrased by Hale)
- “The act of providing spoken (or signed) versions in one language that convey, in another language, the content and intentions of the statements by a speaker.” (from AUSIT’s Interpreting – Getting It Right brochure)
Why are these definitions relevant?
Because therefore, when one person is ‘conveying something’ said or signed in one language to another person in another language, by speech or signs, the act of interpreting is happening; usually in one or other of the following scenarios:
- a) The ‘interpreter’ is adequately trained and accredited. As a result, s/he can be considered able and empowered to deliver interpreting services according to certain standards, including a standard of conduct as prescribed by a code of ethics. (For example, in Australia, the AUSIT Code of Ethics is the accepted ethical framework under which interpreters provide their services.)
- b) The ‘interpreter’ is not accredited or trained. Even if s/he is a fluent and well-educated bilingual and is interpreting as best s/he knows how, the interpreting and its outcomes may not be what the community expects, or adhere to appropriate standards, including taking into account ethical considerations, as mentioned above.
However, if something were to go wrong in either of the above ‘interpreting’ scenarios, the ‘interpreter’ could be found negligent and would be legally liable— whether they had qualifications in interpreting or not.
Therefore anyone engaged in the act of interpreting should be aware of:
- a) the expected standards and relevant ethical principles involved, and
- b) their boundaries and limitations, which should be defined according to the complexity, context and requirements of the interpretation setting, and the messages to be conveyed.
When is assistance with verbal (or signed) communication not interpreting?
Basically, when the communication is taking place entirely in one common language. For example, a bilingual support worker speaking a language other than English (LOTE) to a recently arrived member of a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community who also speaks that LOTE. The support worker may be introducing the new arrival to essential processes and systems in our society—for example, showing them how to take public transport to TAFE, or take their children to school—all the while speaking in the shared LOTE.
Such assistance is very valuable; using a language that a new arrival is familiar with in such situations can greatly decrease the stress that s/he experiences while settling in Australia. However, such support workers are amongst those who frequently find themselves, sometimes reluctantly and often inadvertently, asked or expected to provide interpreting services.
The importance of identifying interpreting scenarios
In the end, the conundrum is not really who is an interpreter and who isn’t, but whether a person at any given time is delivering interpreting services (dealing in two different languages) or not (dealing in one language only). If the person is ‘interpreting’ according to the definitions given above, many considerations should be taken into account.
Although interpreting may appear to be an easy task, it is not. Many cognitive skills come into play, and not all bilingual people can engage in interpreting adequately, especially without training. In Latin America, Europe, Japan and China, interpreters working at a level of community interpreting equivalent to that experienced in Australia are required to have undertaken a full-time four-to-five-year degree course at a tertiary institution.
As Australia has long been the final destination of refugees and migrants from all corners of the world, our universities and TAFEs offer interpreting and translation degrees in many of the languages spoken here, but not all. As a result, it would be near impossible for every interpreter to comply with the rigorous educational standards that apply elsewhere.
NAATI was created to provide testing for those aspiring to be interpreters. It sets minimum benchmarks of competence and accuracy, and the recipients of interpreting services by NAATI accredited or recognised interpreters can at least get some idea of their levels of linguistic skills. NAATI is currently undertaking a revision of its testing and accreditation processes; in the future, all aspiring interpreters will need to undergo a specified number of hours of appropriate training before they are deemed ready to sit NAATI accreditation tests.
As mentioned above, bilingual workers do sometimes perform ‘interpreting’, irrespective of whether they are trained and/or accredited to offer these services. They do so for a variety of reasons—for example, reluctantly, to satisfy their employers, or willingly, because they are ‘on the spot’, and want to help. Ideally only accredited interpreters should be doing this work, for two main reasons.
Firstly, the acquisition and application of the knowledge and skills required, as well as the professional ethical obligations, take years of specific training and experience. In addition, anyone doing this work should have the appropriate Professional Indemnity Insurance (and in some cases Public Liability Insurance), to protect them and their employers/agencies in case of litigation. However, factors including cost and convenience frequently propel bilingual support workers to act as interpreters.
Certain simple and/or urgent interpreting tasks can be undertaken by a bilingual person until a qualified interpreter can assist, but great care has to be exerted as to the level of complexity of the ‘messages’ that need to be interpreted and the level of risk involved—to the CALD client, the agency looking after them, and/or the ‘interpreter’ themselves—in the event that these messages are misinterpreted.
It is very difficult to ascertain when the content of any exchange will be and remain simple throughout. Risk will always be present, as parties cannot be assured that what they have said has been accurately rendered into the other language. Staff from NGOs, settlement and other agencies, and bilingual workers themselves, should be trained to recognise and assess the differences in complexity and potential risk of various interpreting contexts.
They should be expected to decline to undertake any interpreting task that goes beyond a simple conversation, without prejudice to, or belittlement of, the bilingual worker; especially as anyone who engages in interpreting, whether they are accredited or not, may be subject to legal liability, as mentioned above.
In summary, anyone who provides interpreting services of any kind should:
- be empowered to decline requests for interpreting that may put them and their clients at risk
- have the option to decline any interpreting task that may represent a real or perceived conflict of interests for them, or that may impinge on their own beliefs and/or impartiality
- be aware of the basic ‘dos and don’ts’ of interpreting, in order to minimise risk to all parties involved
- seek (or be provided with) training, in order to ensure the appropriateness and suitability of the services they deliver
- endeavour (or be encouraged) to sit the appropriate NAATI accreditation tests (or seek NAATI recognition, if testing is not available in their language), in order to formalise their skills in interpreting.
Anyone who is already providing interpreting services, who enjoys doing so and feels they have the makings of a good interpreter, should be encouraged to seek support from their employers to formalise their skills via the NAATI accreditation process.
In this way they will be supported to deliver quality services and work within appropriate ethical and duty-of-care frameworks, increasing not only their effectiveness, but also the enjoyment they derive from their work, whilst also decreasing risk.
Patricia E Argüello de Avila is an international conference and community interpreter, professional translator and an interpreter educator. She was recently appointed as an AUSIT Fellow and is a member of the inaugural NAATI Technical Reference Advisory Committee (TRAC). She can be contacted at email@example.com. This article first appeared in the summer 2016 edition of AUSIT's In Touch magazine and has been republished with permission.
Consecutive vs simultaneous - does it make a difference in court?
by Sandra Hale
Have you ever wondered whether your presence as interpreter affects how the accused is perceived and/or assessed by those who are judging him or her? Or whether the mode of interpreting used affects the perceptions of those listening to your interpretation? A research team set out to find answers to these questions.
For the study, a simulation of an interpreted trial was mounted in order to test three conditions (C1, C2 and C3):
- C1: The interpreter sat next to the accused, interpreting consecutively.
- C2: The interpreter sat in a booth, interpreting simultaneously.
- C3 (monolingual; the control condition): The accused gave evidence in English without an interpreter.
The role of the court interpreter, as stated by the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department (1991), is to place the non- English speaker in the same position as an English speaker.
The goal of the interpreter, therefore, is to interpret accurately (both content and manner of speech) in order to render the situation as close to a monolingual situation as possible. This research project set out to ascertain whether the mode of interpreting used affects the fulfilment of that goal.
The mock trial was conducted multiple times in a real courtroom, at different times of day, with a total of 447 ‘jurors’. Each juror was randomly allocated to one of the three conditions. The trial participants, including the accused and the interpreter, were played by professional actors and the dialogue was scripted.
In other words, all jurors, across all three conditions, heard exactly the same testimony from the interpreter and the accused. The interpretation languages were Spanish to English.
The main results of the study were:
1. When jurors were asked to state how likely they were to convict the accused, there were no significant differences between the three conditions. This suggests that an accurate rendition can, as intended, place a non-English speaker in the same position as an English speaker with respect to likelihood of conviction.
2. When jurors were asked about their perceptions of the accused’s evidence (with respect to consistency, reliability and credibility), there were no significant differences between C2 (simultaneous) and C3 (monolingual), thus suggesting that in C2 the interpreter fulfilled their role as defined above. However, there were significant differences between C1 (consecutive) and C3 (monolingual), with the former eliciting a more positive perception of the accused overall.
The interpreter used in the study was well dressed and acted professionally, and it may be that in C1, in which the jurors were often visually focused on the interpreter, the positive impression that this created was projected onto the accused. (By extension, it can be posited that manipulation of other interpreter variables (age, gender and so on) might also alter jurors’ perception of the accused, and that this could conceivably affect the likelihood of conviction.) When the accused’s evidence was interpreted simultaneously, with jurors listening via headphones, they were likely to focus visually on the accused with less interruption.
3. In the afternoon, jurors in C1 (consecutive) tended to report more loss of concentration than in C2 (simultaneous), indicating that consecutive interpreting is more distracting to jurors than simultaneous.
That the study found no significant differences in the rate of conviction across the three conditions is encouraging, as this seems to indicate that when interpretation is accurate, the interpreter will not change the outcome of the case. However, the study also seems to indicate that the simultaneous mode (C2) may be preferable to the consecutive mode (C1) with respect to achieving the intended interpreter role of placing the non-English speaker in the same position as an English speaker.
The consecutive mode tended to distract jurors more and to interfere with their assessment of the accused—effects which did not occur with the simultaneous mode. However, research into the difference, if any, that mode makes to accuracy is needed before any recommendation can be made.
The research team has applied for further funding to conduct the next phase of the research, to try to ascertain whether the same level of accuracy is achieved using consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, across three typologically different languages: Arabic, Chinese and Spanish.
This research project was funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Program 2011, Round 2 (LP110200394) and the following partner organisations:
- the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA);
- the Department of Attorney General and Justice (NSW);
- the Department of Justice (VIC);
- PTW Architects;
- ONCALL Interpreters and Translators;
- the Australian Federation of Deaf Societies (AFDS)/Sign Language Communications;
- the Department of Justice and Attorney General (QLD); and
- ICE Design Australia Pty Ltd.
The project was led by Professor Sandra Hale from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The other investigators were Prof. David Tait, Dr Meredith Rossner and Assoc. Prof. Uldis Ozolins from Western Sydney University (WSU), Prof. Jane Goodman-Delahunty from Charles Sturt University (CSU), Assoc. Prof. Ludmila Stern from UNSW, Prof. Jemina Napier from Heriot-Watt University (HWU), Edinburgh, Scotland and Diane Jones from PTW Architects, Sydney.
For the full research results and more publications, click here.
Sandra Hale is Professor of Interpreting and Translation at the School of Languages and Linguistics, UNSW, and national president of AUSIT. Learn more about her here. This article first appeared in the summer 2016 edition of AUSIT's In Touch magazine and has been republished with permission.
Free business skills training: super basics and investments
Polaron are offering translators and interpreters a number of free professional development sessions throughout the year to improve the delivery of language services.
The first session for 2017 will cover the basics of superannuation with guest speaker Cameron Stewart. This session will cover the following topics:
- What is Superannuation?
- Investment options
- Returns and thresholds for certain contributions
Participants are encouraged to stay after the session for networking and afternoon tea. There will also be 15-minute sessions available with our speaker to discuss your super individually.
- Date: Thursday 13 February 2017
- Time: 3pm to 5pm
- Venue: Polaron offices, Suite 301, 22-26 St Kilda Road, St Kilda 3182
- Cost: Free
- RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or register on Eventbrite
Click here for more details or to register.
Being a rare language interpreter and translator
By Jean Burke
I have been a Swahili interpreter and translator for over a decade. In Australia, Swahili (or Kiswahili) is considered a ‘rare language’ as few people speak it and there is not enough interpreting work to sustain full-time employment.
I feel amused about Swahili being categorised as a rare language because it is spoken by about 80 million people globally and is the second most widely spoken language in Africa after Arabic. Swahili is an official language in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda but is also spoken in neighbouring countries.
I am an Anglo-Australian who learnt Swahili as an adult when I lived in the United Republic of Tanzania for twelve years and worked with the Anglican Church of Tanzania. After four months of language school, we lived in villages and later the capital, which were wonderful environments for language learning.
When I returned to Australia, a community worker suggested I consider responding to the need for interpreters. I leapt at the chance of flexible employment which could help me keep my second language, and might also guide me in finding my place in Australian society again.
Swahili-speakers have arrived in Australia due to migration, fleeing wars in Burundi, Rwanda and the Congo and as returning expatriates (like myself). In the 2011 census, there were 6,885 Australian residents who reported speaking Swahili as their main language at home. This makes it one of the fastest growing languages in Australia, increasing more than 100% from 3,051 Swahili-speakers in 2006.
This means Swahili is also an ‘emerging language’, with an increasing demand for language services and without a corresponding increase in the supply of suitable interpreters and translators. In my experience, many interpreters are newly settled refugees with good English, who then move onto other full-time work as soon as they can.
The first interpreting agency I worked with in 2004 took me on although I had no training or recognition: I was their only Swahili interpreter for some time. At an initial job, I discovered a teenager had missed about 16 days of his TAFE lessons due to interpreting for his family.
As I gained confidence and skills, I entered contracts with other agencies. Sometimes I was in a catch-22 dilemma with agencies requiring I have recognition status, which I couldn’t get until I had referral letters from two agencies vouching for my work experience with them.
In 2009, I undertook training through NAATI’s New Interpreters Project (NIP) and was encouraged to sit the newly available Swahili paraprofessional interpreter exam. The NIP was a project that aimed to increase the number of interpreters in specific language groups by covering the cost of obtaining NAATI accreditation or recognition. NAATI shows foresight in running such projects, since interpreters of rare languages only receive income from casual appointments.
Being a rare interpreter and translator brings some unique challenges and benefits. If I cannot accept a job on a particular day or time, a person might go without an interpreter, with consequences like having to come back to court again, or being held in police custody longer, or getting less than ideal service.
This means that I may be asked to nominate alternative days and times that I am available. Occasionally, even if I am not logged in for telephone interpreting, I may be contacted outside the system to check on my availability.
Another particular challenge I deal with is that I defy the usual expectations about African interpreters. I speak English with an Australian accent, since it is my mother tongue. My Scottish and Irish names match my appearance - white skin and freckled with red hair.
For some Swahili-speakers my appearance as a ‘mzungu’ (white European) is extra reassurance that I will maintain confidentiality - they know that I am not moving in their close-knit community. On the other hand, some of the professionals I meet are taken aback by my appearance and have to readjust their expectations and control (or not) their curiosity.
Most of the time, I very much enjoy being asked “where did you learn this rare language?”
Jean Burke is a senior social work lecturer at Australian Catholic University, and a Swahili paraprofessional translator and interpreter. She learnt Swahili as her second language when she and her family lived in the United Republic of Tanzania from 1992-2003. Jean primarily worked with an AIDS project within the Anglican Church of Tanzania, doing community HIV education and supporting a self-help group of people with HIV. On returning to Australia she has interpreted for many Congolese and Burundian refugees and others from East and Central Africa.