Annexure 2 – An Overview of the Profession of Interpreting and Translating

A2.1 Key Terms

Interpreting and translating involves many different activities. Below we list four of them. Each uses different mental processes and skills and requires different training and qualifications.

  • Interpreting: the process whereby spoken or signed language is conveyed from one language (the source language) to another (the target language) orally.
  • Translation: the process whereby written language is conveyed from one language (the source language) to another (the target language) in the written form.
  • Sight translation: the process during which an interpreter or translator presents a spoken interpretation of a written text.
  • Captioning: the process of conveying the meaning of spoken words into written text.

Interpreting can be performed using different modes:

  • Consecutive interpreting: the interpreter stands or sits near the party and interprets after each short segment. Trained interpreters know how to coordinate the turns and will commence interpreting at the appropriate intervals, and may take notes to aid their memory during this process. Confident interpreters will interrupt if needed when the speaker is exceeding a manageable portion to be interpreted. Failure to interrupt may lead to omissions and inaccurate interpreting.
  • Simultaneous interpreting: a mode of interpreting where the interpreter listens to the speech and interprets at the same time, with only a small lag between the source message and the interpretation in the target language. Interpreters interpret evidence given by other witnesses as well as any discussions or legal arguments to the party in the simultaneous mode. In Australia, interpreters usually perform simultaneous interpreting whispering while standing or sitting very close to the person. This is known as ‘chuchotage’ or ‘whispered interpreting’.155 In international settings, including international courts, interpreters interpret the whole of the proceedings in the simultaneous mode. Auslan interpreters generally work in simultaneous mode throughout the proceedings. The simultaneous production of a signed and spoken language do not create the same aural interference as with two competing spoken languages.
  • Team interpreting: when two or more interpreters are engaged to work together as a team to improve accuracy and fidelity. For example, team interpreting will be necessary when a Certified Interpreter cannot be sourced and a mentor is appointed to support an interpreter or bilinguals of lesser competence.
  • Tandem interpreting: involves interpreters working in rotation at agreed intervals in order to avoid fatigue over extended periods of time.
  • Adversarial interpreting: when one interpreter is hired to check on the quality of another interpreter.
  • Relay interpreting: when one interpreter interprets from language A to language B and another interpreter interprets from language B to language C. One variation of relay interpreting is the use of Deaf Interpreters, who work alongside Auslan-English interpreters and deaf clients who have specialised language needs.

A2.2 Interpreter qualifications, certifications and professional associations

A2.2.1 Qualifications

Interpreting qualifications are offered by the Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training (VET) sectors. Formal interpreter qualifications range from TAFE diplomas to university postgraduate degrees. The qualification levels will reflect practitioners’ skills at different levels of complexity. In ascending order of qualification, the available training programs in Australia include:

  • Vocational Education and Training Diploma of
  • Vocational Education and Training Advanced
    Diploma of Interpreting;
  • Bachelor of Arts in Interpreting & Translation;
  • Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Master
    of Interpreting;
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Interpreting.

Some of these courses have language-specific components in the languages of higher demand. Others offer programs in English only or in multilingual classes to cater for languages of limited diffusion. Some courses include specialist legal interpreting and translation training.

A2.2.2 National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)

The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters Ltd (NAATI) is the body responsible for setting and monitoring the standards for the translating and interpreting profession in Australia, through its certification system. NAATI certification is separate from formal qualifications, however the level of formal qualification or training required determines the relevant certification test a candidate can apply for.

Certification can only be obtained by passing a NAATI certification test.

In 2018, NAATI reviewed their credential scheme and replaced it with a certification model which provides greater consistency in assessments and improved validity in the relationship between NAATI standards and the professional roles to which they relate.

NAATI’s certification system is designed to evaluate whether an individual is competent to practice as a translator or interpreter. It does this by setting minimum standards of performance across a number of areas of competency. Certification is an acknowledgement that an individual has demonstrated the ability to meet the professional standards required by the translation and interpreting industry in Australia.

NAATI certifies interpreters at a number of levels, according to their proficiency and skill. The current NAATI certification model specifies the following relevant levels:

  • Certified Conference Interpreter;
  • Certified Specialist Legal Interpreter and Certified Specialist Health Interpreter;
  • Certified Interpreter;
  • Certified Provisional Interpreter; and
  • Recognised Practising Interpreter (not certified).

NAATI certifications are language specific. Each certification assesses distinct skills and different levels of ability. The most common certifications for interpreters are Certified Interpreter and Certified Provisional Interpreter.

  • Certified Interpreter: This is the minimum level recommended for work in legal interpreting. A Certified Interpreter transfers complex, non-specialised messages from a source language into a target language that accurately reflects the meaning.
  • Certified Provisional Interpreter: This represents a level of competence in interpreting for the purpose of general conversations. Certified Provisional Interpreters generally undertake the interpretation of non-specialist dialogues.

NAATI also offers the Recognised Practising credential. This is an award, not a certification. It is only granted in languages for which NAATI does not test, or for which NAATI has only recently commenced certification testing. It has no specification of level of proficiency. NAATI Recognition recognises that a person has reasonable proficiency in English, has completed basic preparation training at the minimum level and has had recent and regular experience as an interpreter.

Interpreters certified by NAATI can interpret across a wide range of subjects involving dialogues in complex scenarios. Certified Interpreter is the minimum level recommended by NAATI and Commonwealth and State and Territory language policies for work in complex settings such as courts and tribunals. However, as noted above, there are many languages in Australia where Certified Provisional Interpreter is the highest certification available in that language and many more languages where no credentialed interpreters are available at all.

With the introduction of the national Certification system in 2018, all NAATI credentials are issued with an expiry date and require recertification. If a practitioner does not apply for recertification or does not meet the recertification criteria, the credential will lapse. The process of recertifying requires the practitioner to demonstrate that they remain current in their practice and engage in a minimum level of continuing professional development.

While there is no legal requirement for practitioners to be certified by NAATI, NAATI has procedures to address ethical concerns. If at any time NAATI considers that a practitioner has breached the applicable AUSIT Code of Ethics, NAATI reserves the right to counsel a practitioner, require further professional development and in certain circumstances to cancel a NAATI certification. No similar oversight exists with respect to practitioners who have only acquired tertiary qualification.

Courts and tribunals can verify the interpreter’s certification by checking the practitioner’s “Certified Practitioner Number” at

Current NAATI certification modelSuitability
Certified Conference InterpreterSuitable for international or highly complex, specialised contexts involving conference type settings that require consecutive or simultaneous interpreting. Please note, the use of conference interpreting booths and equipment are often required by the interpreter to deliver such interpreting services.
Certified Specialist Legal InterpreterSuitable for high level technical interpreting tasks in complex, specialised legal contexts.
Certified Specialist Health InterpreterSuitable for high level technical interpreting tasks in complex, specialised health contexts.
Certified InterpreterSuitable for:
working in a broad range of complex contexts, in domains including legal,
health, education, police and other contexts supporting access to general public services
formal proceedings (such as courts, tribunals and other formal settings including commerce)
covering dialogue interpreting, monologue consecutive interpreting, chuchotage and sight translation
Certified Provisional InterpreterSuitable for general conversations and interpreting in a broad range of non- complex, non-specialised contexts, and for covering dialogue interpreting.
Recognised Practising InterpreterGranted in languages with low community demand for which NAATI does not offer certification testing. Interpreters with this credential have recent and regular experience working as an interpreter and are required to complete regular professional development.
In the absence of interpreter certification for a language, Recognised Practising Interpreters may be asked to interpret in the same types of situations as Certified Interpreters.

A2.2.3 Professional associations

There are several professional associations for interpreting and translating practitioners. Practitioners who are members of professional associations are bound to adhere to relevant codes of ethics.

  • The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) is the national professional association open to interpreters and translators of all languages. It represents the interests of the profession and promotes the highest professional and ethical standards for its members and provides ongoing professional development. Its Code of Ethics has become the standard for the profession. AUSIT offers a range of Professional Development courses and works in close collaboration with other organisations, including educational institutions. More information can be found on its website:
  • Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association (ASLIA) provides professional development courses and looks after the interests of Auslan interpreters. Members of ASLIA are required to abide by the Code of Ethics and follow the Guidelines for Professional Conduct as a condition of membership of the association. More information can be found on:
  • Professionals Australia is a network of different professional groups. It has a division for Interpreters and Translators, which advocates for better pay and working conditions. More information can be found on

There are also State, Territory or specialist language associations which provide advice, support, professional development and advocacy for interpreters and translators.

Whispered interpreting is often very uncomfortable for the interpreter. It can be difficult for interpreters to hear what is being said as they must speak, understand, render and listen all at the same time. Moreover, sometimes whispered interpreting affects the jury’s assessment of the interpreter’s independence, as they see them sitting in the dock with the defendant.