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Meet Afaf Barakat, Arabic interpreter

As part of our work to increase awareness of the translating and interpreting profession, our friends at TIS National have allowed us to share some personal stories from their interpreters. This is Afaf's story.

Afaf, originally from Zahle in Lebanon, arrived in Australia with her family in 1965. Today, Afaf is one of TIS National's longest serving Arabic interpreters.

A business career while interpreting

Soon after arriving in Australia, Afaf had a career of working as a sales consultant for Bessemer cookware and Tupperware, and owning and running various businesses. Her mother, sisters and brother asked the owner of the factory where they worked if they could take three sewing machines home to do extra work.

She sewed men’s shirts and pyjamas while raising her young children and looking after her family. After having her fourth child, the machine work became too difficult so Afaf got a part-time job at Woolworths working as a cashier while attending night school to learn English.

After seven years of sewing and part-time cashier work, it was time to move on to a new business. Afaf and her husband purchased a seven day mixed business selling groceries, "we opened from 6.30 am - 9.30 pm for two years, but my husband couldn’t cope, he didn’t like staying inside all day".

Afaf then decided to apply to be an aide interpreter.

30 years working for TIS National

In 1985, the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) was not yet providing services nationally. Afaf started working for TIS as an aide working on the phone. Her supervisor encouraged her to gain her NAATI accreditation as an Arabic interpreter.

Whilst there may have not been much demand for Arabic back then, Arabic is now one of top ten high demand languages for TIS National now.

Challenges of interpreting

After years working from home as a machinist, Afaf’s new challenge was to find her way around Sydney to perform on-site interpreting assignments. If she couldn’t find the address for the assignment, her next challenge was to find a phone box to call the agency contact.

Staying up to date with each language can also have its difficulties. To enhance her English knowledge, Afaf studied for the Higher School Certificate in Australia and she has three dictionaries she refers to: English to Arabic, Arabic to English, and a medical dictionary.

She says, "when interpreting in the hospital, you hear medical terminology you are not aware of. When I come across unfamiliar terminology, I ask the doctor to be more specific".

Tips and advice

"Before interpreting, I was very shy and unable to communicate well".

Afaf now finds that her ability to stand up for herself and communicate has strongly improved since becoming an interpreter. "Interpreters must have confidence. It is so important for someone to have a lot of confidence. Trust in yourself". She also recommends gaining knowledge of the place where you live, your town, and your country.

The future of interpreting

"Communication will always be difficult between a professional and non-English speaking person". And with demand growing stronger in particular fields like health, law, family matters and conferences, Araf believes interpreters will always be needed in the future.

Find out more about working with TIS National interpreters.


Published: 05/07/2016