A connected community without language barriers

Practitioner Spotlight: Valentine Aghajani

My journey in the interpreting profession

I migrated to Australia as an infant with my family in mid-1970. My journey and passion for interpreting in Assyrian language commenced when I was still in high school. I was the very first Assyrian interpreter in Victoria who started interpreting with Department of Immigration and various other government departments in different fields of interpreting in 1979 as the Assyrian started to arrive and settle in Victoria.

My main goal was to help people to settle as quickly as possible and integrate and with that I faced many challenges which I managed to overcome. After many years of training and taking up courses in interpreting and translation, I learned and gained experience in different fields of interpreting.

Mostly I practiced in legal, health, education, immigration, conferences and public speaking in seminars. I became involved in the community organisations with my expertise and as head of the Assyrian Program on SBS Assyrian Program for 27 years.  I commenced with SBS Assyrian program in 1981 as a broadcaster then promoted to Head of the Language Program in 1993. I became one of the founding members of the Assyrian Council of Victoria INC. By establishing this the aim was to bring organisations and the community from different backgrounds/countries together as ONE AUSTRALIAN. Working for 28 years with Commonwealth Government in various government departments gave me the knowledge and confidence to pass on my experience to share with community members.

To me interpreting is not just a job, I take pride and serious approach as I know people’s lives depend on interpreters and it comes with a lot of responsibility. Interpreting is a profession, and one must take it seriously. I am also a Registered Migration Agent, practicing in my own business for nearly the past 10 years.

I been honoured to have opportunities to teach and assess at RMIT University, Diploma of Interpreting in Assyrian since 2013, to pass on my experiences and train interpreters to serve the Australian community.

I was also invited by NAATI in August 2021 to be involved in assessment of Role-players for the first Assyrian Certified Provisional Interpreting test. Thank you, NAATI, for this opportunity – it was a great experience and we ended up with a great team of Assyrian Neo‑Aramaic Role-players.

I was blessed with another privilege to interpret simultaneously in Assyrian language for the first time ever in Australia and in the world: interpreting for the Premier of NSW live at press conference updates on COVID-19 which were shared live on the SBS website, Facebook and all other social media by SBS.

I interpreted for the Police Commissioner, Chief of the Heath Department, Minister for Health and other government officials as at the time, the Premier would bring different people on a daily basis to join her at 11am for one hour, 7 days a week for a few months.  Yes, it was mentally exhausting as it required full focus on the subject and different terminologies whilst transferring language directly and quickly in a first person with confidence. I loved every bit of it because I enjoy challenges.

However, hard work paid off as the support from community not only in Australia but from four corners of the world poured in each day. It gave me encouragement knowing that people wanted to hear first-hand information in their own language and that was evident as the case numbers started to go down and numbers of vaccine went up within the community.

I am humbled for the support and comments received from Dr. Roland Bidzhamov from Russia – an expert in Assyrian simultaneous interpreting. He explained one hour simultaneously interpreting had never been done before in the Assyrian language. Even as an expert himself he claims this can only be done for 20 minutes and its usually done with two interpreters not one.

I thank NAATI for inviting me to put my story forward and encourage future interpreters to continue in their profession as nothing is impossible. I also wanted to thank Ninos Kakos, Head of the Assyrian Program on SBS, for his ongoing support as a contributor on his program in sharing the live COVID-19 updates and my fortnightly interviews on migration law, interpreting and update reports on community activities in Victoria.

I thank God for his strength and blessing so I can serve not only the Australian Assyrian community but the Australian community as well.

Valentine Aghajani is a Certified Provisional Interpreter in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and English.

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