Training Refugees to Become Interpreters for Refugees

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Australia is a country of migrants and has been since British colonisation in 1788. Migrants and their offspring have played an important role in forming Australia's rich tapestry of multiple cultures and peoples, and are an integral part of Australian history. An important component of migration to this country in the post-war period has been the resettlement of refugees from various parts of the world. According to the 2006 data compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (see Table 1 below), Australia accepted the second highest number of refugees out of all the countries in the world, second only to the United States of America.

The newly arrived migrants require many resettlement services relating to such essential needs as housing, education and health. Many of them also receive counselling services for problems relating to past exposure to violence, torture and other trauma. In any interaction with the public service agencies in Australia, they inevitably need language services for communication. This assistance is sometimes provided by the bilingual staff members of providers or by way of multilingual publications. In many cases, however, interpreters are engaged by service providers in face-to-face or phone contact.

The Victorian State government undertook a number of initiatives to increase the supply of trained interpreters, especially in the so-called rare and emerging languages. Of particular significance in this regard is the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC), which was originally set up in 1983 as the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission and which provides advice to the Victorian Government on the development of legislative and policy frameworks as well as the delivery of migrant settlement related services. From 2002, the VMC has collaborated with RMIT University, offering scholarships to eligible entrants to the Diploma of Interpreting program in rare and emerging languages which trains interpreters for their respective communities, mostly comprising people from war-torn regions and countries.

2. RMIT diploma of interpreting in rare and emerging languages

In the past few years, the Australian humanitarian intake has shifted its focus from the Horn of Africa countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea to Burma and the war zone areas of Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2008). In line with changing humanitarian and refugee intake patterns and the consequent emerging demand for interpreters in the new community languages, the RMIT Diploma of Interpreting program has delivered courses in a total of 11 rare and emerging languages since 2002 (Table 2).

The program is approved by the Australian National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) and the VMC provides scholarships to eligible entrants to the program to help with their tuition fees, transport expenses, books and materials, and the NAATI accreditation fees of the successful graduates.

2.1 NAATI and NAATI approved courses

NAATI is a national standards body partly funded by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments of Australia (NAATI, 2008). It was established in 1977 and since then has been conducting a large accreditation testing program, which offered tests in fifty-eight languages in 2008. It also approves university and TAFE (Technical and Further Education) programs that lead to NAATI accreditation. Martin (1996), Bell (1997) and Campbell and Hale (2003) have elaborated on the details of the origin of NAATI, its approved courses and how they operate within the NAATI system. Like a number of other universities and TAFE providers in Australia, RMIT University offers NAATI approved translating and interpreting programs, and testing is carried out in accordance with the same guidelines that NAATI applies in its own accreditation tests (Campbell and Hale, 2003). …