New NAATI director brings expertise in forensic linguistics and intercultural communication

Dr Michael Cooke, specialist in in legal interpreting for Indigenous people in AustraliaNAATI’s newest director, Dr Michael Cooke cares about equal justice. So much so, that he has built his career around the need to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island language speakers with effective interpreting services.

Dr Michael Cooke will take up a position on the Board of Directors from 1 December 2017. He specialises in legal interpreting and forensic linguistics and is a NAATI recognised interpreter and translator in Djambarrpuyngu, one of the languages spoken by the Yolngu people of North East Arnhem Land.

Many First Australians speak languages other than English at home. This is more common for people living in regional and remote areas of Australia. Dr Cook’s early career in Arnhem Land as a schoolteacher, then teacher-linguist in a bilingual education program, began a trajectory that led into the world of Intercultural Communication and Forensic Linguistics.

That career path progressed from teaching, to teacher training at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, then linguistics and training Aboriginal interpreters, until Michael Cooke had his first formal engagement as a courtroom interpreter in 1990.

Dr Cooke’s early experiences interpreting in courtroom settings, revealed the prevalence of miscommunication wherever Aboriginal people of a non-English speaking background were engaged in the criminal justice system.

Witnesses and suspects with only very basic English proficiency were habitually interviewed in English. The result was that their evidence was rarely actually heard or was often misconstrued. There were very few accredited interpreters in any Aboriginal language and for most, there was no one at all.

Thus in 1991 Dr Cooke set about obtaining NAATI recognition as a translator/interpreter, training Aboriginal interpreters at the Diploma level at Batchelor Institute, and beginning his own formal training as a linguist, completing his PhD in 1997.

He has since published extensively in the field of language and the law while also providing expert evidence as a forensic linguist, conducting research, presenting at conferences and preparing expert reports to a variety of agencies.

In 2000 an Aboriginal Interpreter Service (AIS) was finally established in the Northern Territory and Dr Cooke was engaged through his consultancy, Intercultural Communications, to train an initial pool of 90 interpreters (21 received NAATI accreditation) across nine Aboriginal languages, and to provide training in intercultural communication to over 200 police, legal practitioners and magistrates and to 280 health professionals.

He continued to provide this training support for a further eight years to the point where the AIS could stand as a substantial provider of interpreting services across the NT.

Dr Cooke’s formal engagement with NAATI began with chairing the NT Regional Advisory Committee in 1995 and has continued as a NAATI examiner and moderator, preparing candidates for NAATI testing, and with membership of expert panels for NAATI’s “Improvements to NAATI Testing Project”.

Now living in NSW, Dr Cooke also continues working as a practitioner (mainly in translation) and in supporting and advising others (students and professionals) in their engagement with Aboriginal language and communication issues.

Published: 19/10/2017