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Practitioner Spotlight: Heba Kassoua

When I first arrived in Australia 17 years ago, I had to learn English. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life. As a 16-year-old who didn’t speak the language, I very quickly had to become my parents’ eyes and ears. The more English I learnt, the more empowered I felt. Language was the gate to a whole new world and knowing how much people like my parents struggle to navigate the complicated system around them when arriving in a new country, I was determined to help and give back.

I started freelancing when I was very young, still a university student who wasn’t sure what her calling is. As the years went past, I realised that this is more than a profession or a job. It is a rewarding experience where with every assignment, you are there to assist someone who is in so much need.

That being said, I need to also acknowledge the positive impact being certified had on my career. It is without a doubt the best selling point in any job interview. I worked in the media, government and even the police and the fact that I was a certified translator was the one thing that gave me the advantage.

During COVID-19, I saw a whole new side to translation and interpreting. All of a sudden, I had to learn new words and phrases. I had to research illnesses and side effects. I had to make sense of a one-in-a-hundred-year pandemic and help Arabic speakers make sense of it too. But that’s the reality of it: as a translator, you never stop learning, you never quit working on improving yourself and, most importantly, you never get bored. It gets overwhelming, lonely and sometimes challenging but that’s what makes it all worth it.

I remember one of my university lecturers saying a translator without a dictionary are like a soldier with no artillery. I still think that’s true to some extent but to me my dictionary is not my most important asset. It is my lived experience as a person who was once in the shoes of those I have helped over the years. Not knowing what is said to you in a legal or medical setting is terrifying. And when your whole future depends on a few written or spoken words, every word and every breath in between become vital.

Having worked in the field for over 13 years now, and after completing my official training and NAATI accreditation eight years ago, I now know that a translator is much more than a bilingual person who repeats what is said in the other language. A translator is a voice to those who are voiceless. A translator is a lifeline to those who need it most.

Heba Kassoua was born in Syria and migrated to Australia in 2005. She studied a Bachelor of Arts (Government & International Relations) at the University of Sydney and completed a Master in Interpreting and Translation at the University of Western Sydney. Heba is a Certified Interpreter (Arabic and English) and Certified Translator (Arabic and English in both directions), and has worked at SBS Radio, NSW Parliament, NSW Police and now with Multicultural NSW.

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