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Understanding language services

What are language services?

'Language services' enable communication with clients who have limited English, are Deaf or hard of hearing. Language services include:

  • oral or signed information conveyed from one language into another by a NAATI credentialed interpreter
  • written information in languages other than English translated by a NAATI credentialed translator
  • written English to Auslan 'sight translation' by a NAATI credentialed Auslan interpreter
  • audio transcriptions of written English documents translated by a NAATI credentialed translator.

Language services improve access to government services for people who prefer, or need to communicate in a language other than English or in sign language.

What are language service providers?

Language service providers are agencies that arrange to supply interpreting and translating services. A list of language service providers can be found online on the Community Directory available at www.multicultural.vic.gov.au

What is translation?

Translation means converting written information from one language into another. A translator is a professional qualified to convert written information accurately and objectively into another language.

Interpreting, on the other hand, involves transferring a spoken or signed language accurately and objectively into another language to enable communication between two parties who do not share a common language. A business letter or brochure can be translated; a conversation is interpreted.

Translated information can be used to supplement interpreting, but not to replace it.

A translator should possess training in translating and a formal credential.

Credentialed translators

In Australia, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI - www.naati.com.au) is responsible for certifying the quality of translators available. NAATI credentials are evidence that the holder is competent to practise at a specified level, according to their proficiency and skill.

Translators are required, as a condition of their ongoing accreditation, to act in accordance with the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) Code of Ethics, which defines the values and principles guiding the decisions that professional interpreters and translators make in practice.

The Code of Ethics requires credentialed translators to maintain impartiality and objectivity. Other key principles of the Code include maintaining confidentiality, professionalism and striving for excellence through regular professional development.

The AUSIT Code of Ethics is available at www.ausit.org

Victorian Government policy states that interpreters and translators should be NAATI credentialed at the Professional level (from 2018 the Professional level will be replaced by a new Certified level).

Translator credentials

Victorian Government policy is that interpreters and translators should be NAATI credentialed at the Certified Interpreter / Translator level.

Further advice on credentials is included at Appendix 2.

It is advisable to avoid using translators based overseas as they may not be NAATI-credentialed. Also, overseas translators may not have a good understanding of the local community or issues and may not be familiar with Australian English.

Language direction

Translator credentials are classed by language direction, for example, from English into Arabic. Some translators are credentialed to translate in both directions; however, in Australia it is more usual for translators to be credentialed in one direction only, which is almost always from English into the other native language. When producing multilingual information, it is recommended to choose a translator who is credentialed to translate from English into the other language. This is the best way to ensure that the translated text will be accurate and appropriate.

Machine automated interpreting and translating tools

Machine automated interpreting and translating tools undertake translating or interpreting with no human involvement and can, for example, automatically translate information on a website from one language to another.

Victorian Government policy strongly recommends engaging NAATI credentialed interpreters and translators and currently advises against the use of automated interpreting and translating tools, which cannot at present be guaranteed to be accurate. While some machine tools are improving, they still have a reasonably high chance of incorrectly translating information.

Machine automated interpreting and translating tools may be unable to take into account:

  • variations in dialect and language
  • linguistic preferences of communities
  • actual meaning (i.e. word for word translation does not consider overall comprehension)
  • specific cultural references
  • other nuances such as politeness level

There may be risks of legal action due to distorted translations. It is unlikely that a disclaimer about the content in an automatic translation would relieve an organisation of the responsibility for the information provided.

Written content that has been translated by a machine should always be checked for accuracy by a NAATI credentialed translator.

Reviewed 28 October 2019

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