Highlights from the 2016 symposium on humanitarian interpreting

By Marc Orlando 

Most practitioners today realise that the work of interpreters in the 21st century is characterised by a need to adapt to many different contexts and modalities of work.

One of these is the humanitarian context: in conflict zones, in disaster zones, in refugee camps or in terrorism trials for example, interpreters have to cope with specific demands and realities.

Working in high-risk settings and stressful environments can pose numerous challenges to the interpreters involved in the field. How do interpreters respond to them? How are they prepared to face them? What policies are put in place to help and protect them?

Because training for professional interpreters and interpreter users in this area is very limited, and in an attempt to bridge this gap, Monash University organised a symposium on humanitarian interpreting and interpreter training in April 2016.

The two-day symposium looked at the challenges and the opportunities in the provision and use of interpreters, as well as adequate training solutions for such contexts of work.

The symposium was attended by more than 120 participants each day: practitioners, trainers and researchers, but also end-users, policy makers, representatives of NGOs, and stakeholders from the full spectrum of industries were represented.

The invited speakers were all experts in distinct but complementary fields which are fundamental to this important area of the professional work of interpreters which is now attracting greater attention and visibility.

Conference speaker, and former AIIC President, Linda Fitchett said, "I was really impressed by the quality of presentations and discussion at this symposium. I took away as a lasting impression that the interpreters present, those using and even those mediating their services want to improve on the quality of service, to professionalise and therefore to invest in training".

"Suffice it to say that Australia seems to be extremely well organised in the multilingual area of humanitarian action. How many other countries can boast such a plethora of services?”

“All of these bodies deal in some way with the problems of multicultural communication, recognising the need for and using interpreters in their daily work with migrants, refugees and many less-favoured groups not proficient in English in administrative, social and legal settings".

"I wish them and training institutes like Monash every success. I hope this kind of symposium will be repeated elsewhere – hopefully in Europe, where court and humanitarian interpretation needs help and encouragement through dialogue like this".

Other symposium speakers included:

  • Maya Hess (Red T)
  • Professor Sandra Hale (UNSW and AUSIT president)
  • Abeselom Nega (SSAC)
  • Mark Painting (NAATI)
  • Gulnara Abbasova (FECCA)
  • Dr Jim Hlavac (Monash)
  • Trevor Neroy (TIS)
  • Charlie Powles (Refugee Legal)
  • Anita Bogdanovski (DHS)
  • Susan Burdon-Smith (VCAT)
  • Professor Sharon Pickering (Monash)
  • Adolfo Gentile
  • Lt-Colonel Andrew Baker (ADF)
  • Julie Judd (ASLIA)
  • Cecilia Lopez (Foundation House)

Videos of all presentations are available here. You can also click here to learn about the petition urging the UN to protect translators and interpreters worldwide.

The symposium was co-sponsored by Oncall Interpreters and Translators. For any questions about the symposium please contact Dr Marc Orlando at Marc.Orlando@monash.edu.

Published: 24/08/2016