How Do I Become an Auslan-English Interpreter?

To become an Auslan-English interpreter, you must first be fluent in both Auslan and English.  For some individuals who wish to begin the journey to become an Auslan-English interpreter, it will be necessary to begin learning Auslan from scratch.  Others may already have some level of Auslan fluency because of relationships with Deaf family members or friends.

For someone who has no knowledge of Auslan, the journey begins with locating an Auslan acquisition course.  These are usually offered as a Diploma of Auslan at a TAFE institute.  Studied over two years full-time, the Diploma of Auslan provides most learners with a high level of Auslan proficiency.  It is important to recognise that fluency in Auslan will develop further, over time after the completion of the Diploma of Auslan.  This is true with any language learning.

For those who already have some level of Auslan fluency because of a personal relationship, it can sometimes be more challenging to know where to begin.  Much depends upon your level of Auslan competency and/or fluency.  In assessing this, it is important to realise a number of factors, which include but are not limited to:

  • the significant amount of language variation that exists in Auslan (click here for a brief explanation of this variation)
  • that it is possible to have a reasonable level of language competency – for example, you are able to hold social conversations – and yet not have sufficient Auslan fluency to undertake interpreting to the requisite standard for accreditation

For those in this position, it is recommended that you undertake an Auslan language assessment prior to attempting to gain NAATI accreditation.

To summarise, fluency in Auslan may take many years to obtain and you may need to spend considerable time within the Deaf Community, immersed in their language and culture.

Once sufficient fluency has been obtained, you then need to gain NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters) accreditation.  Click here to see more information about NAATI accreditation on the ASLIA site.

There are two ways to gain NAATI accreditation:

  • pass an examination with NAATI
  • successfully complete a NAATI approved TAFE or university course

During your examination for accreditation, you will need to demonstrate:

  • sufficient fluency to successfully undertake the language transfer of the required dialogues and/or monologues, with limited errors,
  • understanding and competence in relation to the interpreting Code of Ethics,
  • understanding and competence in relation to the cultural, linguistic and social issues within the Deaf Community, and
  • professionalism.

Training and Qualifications

Whilst it is possible to obtain NAATI accreditation by passing a NAATI examination, ASLIA believes that, where possible, individuals should undertake the pathway that awards NAATI accreditation as the result of successfully completing a NAATI approved course of study.  This pathway not only provides the practitioner with a qualification (n.b.  NAATI accreditation is a credential not a qualification), but also better equips the interpreter to undertake the complex task of language transfer.  This is because a formal course of study at a tertiary institution teaches the learner how best to undertake and manage the interpreting process.

For these reasons, ASLIA strongly recommends the completion of an approved NAATI course as the most suitable pathway to obtaining NAATI accreditation.

Once formal training is completed and accreditation obtained, Auslan-English interpreters have an obligation to engage in on-going professional development and training.  Members of ASLIA are encouraged to continue to actively improve their skills, knowledge and professionalism through attendance at professional development workshops, seminars and regular professional experience.

Indeed for those who are part of the NAATI Revalidation program – which will be all practitioners after 2017 – on-going professional development and training is a mandatory part of retaining one’s NAATI credential.

Initially the majority of Auslan-English interpreters are accredited as a Paraprofessional Interpreter.  NAATI expects that within nine years of gaining accreditation as a Paraprofessional, that practitioners will successfully undertake the process to become accredited at the Professional Interpreter level.

How are Auslan-English Interpreters are Employed?

There are several possibilities for how Auslan-English interpreters may be employed.  These include:

 Freelance practitioner/interpreter

Most Auslan-English interpreters are self-employed and/or work as freelance interpreters.  In this instance, they schedule work assignments, handle their own accounting obligations and are responsible for all business aspects.

 Interpreting service providers/agencies

A freelance interpreter may also receive assignments through interpreting service providers/agencies, such as state Deaf Societies or other agencies.  These interpreters are usually employed as casual employers, who are paid only for the specific assignments for which they are booked.  They receive standard rates of pay, are covered by the agency’s work cover insurance policy and are usually covered by the agency’s professional indemnity insurance.

 Salaried staff

Many organisations employ permanent part-time and full-time interpreters.  The types of organisations who do this include state/territory Departments of Education, state/territory Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutions, and state Deaf Societies.  Such organisations may also employ interpreters as coordinators of their interpreting services.  Interpreters employed by these organisations are salaried employees, covered by the employer’s insurance policies and enjoy a range of other employment benefits.

 Auslan and/or Interpreter Training Programs

Auslan-English interpreters may also be employed to teach Auslan and/or work as interpreter trainers for training providers or higher education institutions.  These interpreters may be employed as casual contractors or as salaried staff.

In employment in Australia, Auslan-English interpreters need to be highly skilled, versatile and flexible as well as be able to work in a range of settings.  Additionally, interpreters need to expect that work is irregular and, in some ways, highly seasonable.  This means that those who work as either freelance interpreters or as casual employees need to plan for times of the year when very little income will be available.  In the Auslan-English interpreting industry, this quiet period generally falls between mid-December to mid-February each year.