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Preparing for interpreting

Some funded agencies, such as hospitals directly employ full-time or part-time in house interpreters. However, most Victorian interpreters work as independent contractors through a language service provider.

Before booking an interpreter, check if your organisation has an arrangement with a particular language service provider.

Training staff

All government and funded agencies responsible for delivering services and/or providing information to clients should provide staff with training on cultural competency and working effectively with interpreters. Training should be made available to all employees, from direct service staff to senior management.

In Victoria, professional development on cultural competency and working effectively with interpreters is delivered by a variety Preparing for interpretingof bodies. Contact the human resources or diversity unit of your department or funded agency to find out if any training arrangements are in place.

Budget for interpreting costs

Costs associated with providing interpreting services should be factored into budget calculations for all programs where the service is likely to be required.

Collecting data for service planning

Understanding the pattern of need for language services is a core responsibility for all departments and funded agencies who deliver services to the community. This should occur as an integral part of operational service planning and monitoring, as well as part of broader strategic planning.

Detailed projections of the need for different languages, including Auslan are important both for service planning and to inform language service providers about likely needs.

Client and service usage data

Departments should collect, analyse and report on language services data. Regular collection of data on clients and their service usage enables:

  • better understanding of their language needs
  • monitoring of accessibility for people who speak or sign other languages
  • identification of potential language service gaps.

A system to routinely collect this data is required especially if a significant proportion of clients have limited English language proficiency.

The identification of clients who require language services should be included in referral information and be part of standard initial contact with clients. If specific interpreter services are required by a client, this should be recorded in the client’s record so that others are alerted.

The Victorian Government Standards for Data Collection on Interpreting and Translating Services ( www.multicultural.vic.gov.au) provide guidance on collecting data on language services, including client demographics, expenditure and complaints.

Demographic data

Language spoken at home and the level of English proficiency are the most important factors to consider when planning for language services. Country of birth, while relevant, is an insufficient indicator of preferred language (see below). For Deaf and hard of hearing people Auslan language services should be provided.

Demographic data can be accessed from various sources to help identify which language groups may require interpreting. The following sources are useful:

Census data on Victoria’s cultural and linguistic diversity is available by local government area including key indicators such as language spoken at home, English proficiency, religion and country of birth

The Australian Bureau of Statistics website provides data which can be used for specific demographic analysis. Available data includes age, gender, place of residence, citizenship status, country of origin, ancestry, religion, language spoken at home, level of English proficiency (note this is self-assessed), level of education, level of income and access to the internet

For the most recent data on newly arrived migrants, see the Settlement Reporting Facility at immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/settling-in-australia/settlement-reports, which includes the number of migrants settling in Victoria, their country of birth, languages spoken, English proficiency, religion and year of arrival.

By combining different data sources, a more accurate demographic picture can be obtained that reflects changes between Census periods.

Promoting the availability of interpreters

Interpreting services should be promoted broadly and offered to individual clients. Active and direct approaches are encouraged, rather than waiting for clients to ask for language services. It is important that a client’s English proficiency level is not assumed to be sufficient.

All government departments and funded agencies are responsible for ensuring that clients understand:

  • they have a right to communicate in their preferred language
  • an interpreter will be provided, if needed, unless the client explicitly refuses
  • interpreters are provided at no cost to the client
  • interpreters are professionals and confidentiality is part of their code of conduct
  • interpreters are there to assist both the client and the service provider to communicate effectively.

All staff should be made aware of relevant language services policies and be adequately trained to work with interpreters.

National Interpreter Symbol

The National Interpreter Symbol is a nationally recognised symbol to indicate to people with limited English that they can ask for language assistance.

Service providers should display the symbol especially in client reception and contact areas and on their websites.

  • Interpreter Symbol: Guidelines for Use 
  • Resources promoting the National Interpreting Symbol

These resources include the:

  • interpreter symbol multilingual poster
  • interpreter symbol desk tent card
  • interpreter symbol stickers

There is also a universally recognised symbol for sign language interpretation. This symbol is used to show that Auslan interpreters can be provided. To obtain a copy of this symbol, email auslanconnections@vicdeaf.com.au.

Interpreter Card

The Victorian Interpreter Card is an easy and effective way for people with limited English to request language assistance.

The wallet-sized card shows the National Interpreter Symbol and a space to insert the cardholder’s preferred language.

More information about the Victorian Interpreter Card

Reviewed 08 October 2019

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