Language Services

All Australians have the right to communicate and engage with the Australian Government and other essential services, irrespective of their first language preference, their English language ability or their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. However, some members of Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities may experience a language barrier when accessing government and other essential services. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census, more than 660 000 people born overseas self-reported as having limited English proficiency.

Language services are designed to help ensure that people with limited or no English language proficiency can access the services and programs they need. Language services can include:

  • engaging a credentialed interpreter either in person, via telephone or video conference
  • translation of government documents from English into community languages
  • translation of personal documents from a language other than English
  • assistance from a bilingual staff member (who has received appropriate training)
  • information on web sites translated into community languages
  • multilingual telephone information
  • multimedia resources and other digital media in languages other than English.

The appropriate language service depends on the situation. Many Australian Government departments and agencies have language services policies and procedures to guide staff in determining when and what type of assistance to provide.

Language services here refers to settlement and access and equity objectives for people with limited English proficiency from Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  For information on Indigenous language interpreting see the Protocol on Indigenous Language Interpreting for Commonwealth Government Agencies (the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is responsible for this Protocol).  For information on Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to communicate with Deaf people please see the following:

  • Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association (ASLIA)’s website under Policies & Procedures.  
  • The National Relay Service provides a phone solution for people who are Deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment.
  • NABS is the National Auslan Interpreter Booking and Payment Service.

Interpreting

Free Interpreting Service

The Free Interpreting Service aims to provide equitable access to key services for people with limited or no English language proficiency.  Using credentialed interpreters can facilitate better access to essential services for these clients and is particularly important for conversations in technical, legal or health contexts.

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National

The Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) is a language service provider managed by the Department of Home Affairs.  TIS National provides interpreters for people with limited or no English language proficiency and for agencies and businesses that need to communicate with them.  TIS National provides immediate telephone interpreting 24 hours a day, and an on-site interpreting service.  The Department of Social Services engages TIS National to deliver the Free Interpreting Service.

National Interpreter Symbol

The National Interpreter Symbol is a national public information symbol.  The symbol lets people know that they can ask for language assistance when using government and other services.

National Interpreter Symbol

Translating

Free Translating Service

The Free Translating Service is provided for people settling permanently in Australia, to support participation in employment, education and community engagement. Permanent residents and select temporary or provisional visa holders are able to have up to ten eligible documents translated, into English, within the first two years of their eligible visa grant date. Applications for the Free Translating Service are made on the Free Translating Service website. The website is easy to use and is available in English, Arabic, Farsi and Simplified Chinese.

Australian Government Language Services Guidelines

The Australian Government Language Services Guidelines are primarily for staff in Australian Government departments and agencies responsible for developing policy and administering programs and services for Australia’s cultural and linguistically diverse communities. 

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National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)

National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters Ltd (NAATI) (link is external)

NAATI is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, jointly owned by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and incorporated under the Corporations Act 2001.  

NAATI’s role is to set and maintain high national standards in translating and interpreting to ensure there is a supply of appropriately credentialed translating and interpreting professionals responsive to the changing needs and demography of Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse society.

On 1 January 2018, NAATI introduced a new certification system to improve NAATI’s standards.  According to the system, interpreting and translating professionals need to recertify every three years upon demonstrating their currency of practice and participation in professional development.  The government owners of NAATI have endorsed NAATI’s certification system.

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