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As an immigrant in Australia, encountering language barriers is often an unavoidable part of life. However, for many businesses and organizations, overcoming these barriers is crucial to providing fair and equitable services. Professional interpreting services are essential tools that facilitate clear communication and ensure people from all backgrounds have equal access.
Studies show that qualified interpreters significantly improve comprehension for non-native speakers during complex or sensitive conversations. For skilled immigrants, interpreters can be the key to unlocking opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible due to language alone.
With nearly half of Australians either born overseas or with at least one parent born overseas, the impact of professional interpreting services on individuals and communities is huge.
For any organisation, making qualified interpreting services available is one of the most impactful ways to practice inclusion. It allows customers and clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to fully participate, feel heard, and receive the same standard of care as native English speakers.
In short, it is one of the most vital keys to equitable service delivery in our multicultural society.
The Growing Diversity in Australia Calls for Equitable Services
As Australia’s cultural diversity grows, the demand for professional interpreting services is essential for equitable access to services.
The Growing Need for Interpreters
With over 300 languages spoken across Australia, including Indigenous languages, communication barriers are increasingly common. Nearly 1 in 4 Australians were born overseas, and international students make up a large portion of tertiary education. Judicial, medical, and government services all require interpreters to properly serve diverse populations.
- In 2015, over 11,000 court hearings involved interpreters to ensure justice and understanding.
- Studies show the quality and availability of medical interpreters vary widely, despite the critical nature of accurate communication in healthcare settings.
- Alarmingly, 20% of GPs don’t see the need for professional interpreters to gain informed consent from patients with limited English.
When legal or medical terminology needs to be interpreted, unqualified interpreters may lack the ability to properly translate, risking miscommunication and inequitable outcomes.
Why Professional Interpreters Matter
Professional interpreters have the necessary certifications and training to handle the nuances of legal, medical, and social services communication. They are:
- Less likely to make errors that compromise care or legal rights.
- Best-equipped to interpret complex ideas and terminology.
- Most impartial, avoiding selective interpretation based on personal beliefs.
- Bound by industry standards of privacy, confidentiality, and accuracy.
With the stakes so high, professional interpreting services are crucial for an equitable, just, and inclusive society. Government, businesses, and organizations must make them readily available to properly serve Australia’s diverse communities.
By fostering understanding across languages and cultures, professional interpreters help create a society in which people from all backgrounds can achieve equal outcomes and access to opportunity.
Mind the Language Gap –
lack of access to, and understanding of the importance of professional interpreter services
The Risks of Language Barriers in Critical Situations
As an organisation, it’s critical to understand the risks of language barriers in high-stakes situations. Without professional interpreting services, your linguistically diverse clients can face anxiety, confusion, and potentially dangerous outcomes.
- Comprehension is key. Just because someone can decode words doesn’t mean they fully understand the meaning or implications. Legal contracts, medical consent forms, and important notices often contain complex language and unfamiliar terms. For low-literacy or non-English speakers, this creates a significant barrier to comprehension.
- Using family members or friends as interpreters is unethical and can be illegal. They often lack proper training and may interpret selectively based on their own beliefs. In medical settings, this can lead to misdiagnosis, improper treatment, and adverse health events.
- Anxiety and distress frequently result from communication difficulties. Speaking with native English speakers alone can provoke anxiety in non-English speakers. Add in confusing procedures or legal matters and their distress escalates. It is an organization’s duty to avoid unintentionally causing harm by ensuring clear communication through professional interpreting services.
- Equitable service delivery requires professional interpreters. They have the skills and training to properly interpret medical, legal, and social services terminology. Studies show professional interpreters improve care, reduce errors, and are vital for just outcomes. With Australia’s growing linguistically diverse population, professional interpreting is crucial to equitable access for all.
By understanding these risks and providing professional language services, you can gain your clients’ trust, improve outcomes, and ensure fair access regardless of language or cultural background.
In today’s global community, that is the hallmark of an equitable, inclusive organization.
Professional Interpreters Enable Accurate Communication
Professional interpreters are essential for providing equitable services to clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Studies show that “Professional interpreters are the most skilled in medical interpretation, the least likely to make errors, and the only type of interpreter associated with overall improvement of care for patients with limited English proficiency.”
Using unqualified interpreters like family members can lead to “higher rates of clinically significant errors … and may interpret selectively to fit their own beliefs.”
Relying on children or relatives to interpret can be extremely traumatic for all involved.
Professional interpreters have the necessary training, skills, and certification to accurately convey complex ideas between languages. They understand industry terminology and procedures, enabling clear communication and comprehension.
For many immigrants and refugees in Australia, English is not their first language. Professional interpreters help close the language gap and provide equitable access to services by facilitating understanding between clients and organisations.
They play an important role in establishing consent, delivering justice, and supporting positive outcomes for linguistically diverse communities.
Using qualified interpreters is vital for any firm committed to accessible, equitable service delivery and caring for clients from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Professional interpreters enable accurate communication and comprehension, which is key to closing the language gap and providing culturally appropriate care.
Take a situation where the non-English speaker is a patient in a hospital where rapid decisions need to be made – an extremely confronting and stressful experience for both patient and family. Research from Sweden and America tells us that the quality, availability of, and access to interpreters varies widely amongst institutions (Schenker, Lo, Ettinger & Fernandez, 2017) (Jungner, 2018). Within the medical field, there is a concerning belief that using family members or untrained bilingual staff is an adequate means of communication. Alarming estimates suggest that 20% of Australian GPs do not consider it necessary to use a qualified interpreter to gain informed consent (Promoting the Engagement, 2013).
In the federal court system where there is a necessity for a high professional standard, there is a preference for NAATI-accredited interpreters. Unfortunately, they are not always available, resulting in the use of interpreters who may not have the adequate skills to interpret and reconstitute legal jargon (Perry & Zornada, 2015).
The risk of miscommunication, the risk of a lack of parity of meaning, is significant in both of these scenarios and certainly applies to other fields including welfare, aged care, and government service delivery. When the non-qualified interpreter does not have adequate certifications and lacks the ability to convey terminology or procedure, or where a cultural barrier exists that inhibits them from discussing certain topics, there is a worrying potential for severe ethical issues and inequity of outcome.
“In one documented case, a child of 10 years, suffered a severe post-traumatic stress reaction that saw her hospitalised for eight months; one of the triggers was being used as an interpreter between her family and medical staff for her younger sibling, who died of renal failure at the age of 13 months.”
Qualified Interpreters Improve Outcomes and Reduce Costs
Using properly trained interpreters is vital for businesses and organisations to provide equal services to customers from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Equity means giving people what they need to have equal opportunities and outcomes. For those with communication difficulties, equity requires enabling them to achieve the same level of positive results as others.
Professional interpreters have the proper training, certification, and ability to interpret complex ideas accurately. They are familiar with industry terminology and procedures.
In healthcare, the quality and availability of interpreters vary widely between institutions.
Alarmingly, some studies show that a fifth of doctors do not think it necessary to use a qualified interpreter for informed consent. In courts, while accredited interpreters are preferred, they are not always available, risking misunderstandings and unequal justice.
Failure to provide professional interpreters in healthcare, welfare, aged care, education, and government can have dire consequences. There is a significant risk of miscommunication, lack of shared meaning, and inability to discuss sensitive topics. This threatens privacy, ethics, and equal outcomes, especially for migrants, refugees, and indigenous groups.
Using qualified interpreters improves communication, health literacy, and outcomes. It reduces costs from medical errors, unnecessary tests, and longer hospital stays. Most importantly, it upholds the human right to understand and be understood.
For equitable service in our diverse, multicultural society, professional interpreting is not an optional extra but an essential investment.
Strategies to Improved Comprehension for Skilled Immigrants
As an immigrant in Australia, navigating unfamiliar systems and achieving your goals can be challenging when there are language barriers. And while professional interpreting services are critical for equitable access and outcomes, here are some strategies to help improve your comprehension on your own:
Don’t be afraid to ask the speaker to clarify or rephrase to help you understand better. Say something like, “Could you please explain that in another way?” or “I’m not sure I fully understood. Can you give an example?” Asking follow-up questions shows you are engaged and interested in comprehending the information.
Paraphrase and summarise
Repeat back parts of what the speaker said in your own words to confirm your understanding. For example, say “So to summarise, you’re saying…?” or “To paraphrase, the main points are…?” This ensures accurate message delivery and allows the speaker to address any misunderstandings.
Write down key terms, main ideas, dates, numbers, names, etc. as the speaker talks. Review your notes afterward to cement your learning and see if anything needs clarification. Notes provide a reference for later review.
Request written information
Don’t rely solely on verbal communication. Ask for any handouts, documents, website links, or other written materials to complement what was said. The combination of listening and reading boosts comprehension.
Review and reflect
Set aside time after the communication to think about what was discussed and how it impacts you. Try to connect new information to what you already know. Look up any unfamiliar words or concepts. The more you actively engage with the content, the more you will retain and understand.
Following these strategies will empower you to have more constructive conversations, make well-informed decisions, and access various services. Don’t hesitate to let organisations know if you need an interpreter or have any other needs to facilitate clear communication.
Your participation and initiative are equally important.
Creating Accessibility for CALD Groups Requires a Holistic Approach
Creating accessibility for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups calls for a comprehensive and coordinated approach.
Experts say that Australia needs to change its communication practices to make complex systems more accessible and achieve positive outcomes for everyone.
A Combination of Solutions
A combination of solutions, like professional interpreters, pre-recorded audio, and new technologies can help bridge the gap. While artificial intelligence and machine translation have a role to play, human interpreters are still needed for nuanced, complex conversations.
Pre-recorded audio in multiple languages can effectively convey routine information and procedures, especially for those with low literacy or vision impairment. Multilingual messaging services are helping make services more accessible and equitable. Research shows that inadequate translation is linked to higher healthcare costs.
A Shared Responsibility
Providing equitable service to CALD groups is a shared responsibility. Companies and organizations must ensure clients fully comprehend their rights and responsibilities. This means communicating in clear, easy-to-understand language, and engaging professional interpreters whenever needed to prevent harm.
“Equity is the absence of preventable differences among groups of people”
(World Health Organization, 1948).
Life’s challenges are hard enough to navigate without the added burden of a language barrier. By addressing this barrier through a combination of human and technological solutions, we can work towards equity for all.
Pre-Recorded Audio Can Bridge Gaps When Interpreters Are Unavailable
Professional interpreter services should be an essential part of any organization’s communication strategy, especially when servicing clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. While technology like AI and machine translation have come a long way, human interpreters are still necessary to convey meaning accurately and build trust.
There are times when live interpreters simply can’t be engaged, often due to availability, cost, or the nature of the communication. In these cases, pre-recorded audio messaging in the client’s native language can help bridge the gap.
Audio recordings have several benefits over written translations:
- They are more accessible for people with low literacy or vision impairment.
- The tone and pacing can be tailored to the audience and subject matter.
- Messages can be delivered across multiple channels like phone, SMS and mobile apps.
- They prevent the over-reliance on family members, especially children, to interpret in sensitive situations.
What You Can Do
As an organisation or business, make equitable access to information and services for your linguistically diverse clients a priority. Some suggestions:
- Engage accredited interpreters whenever possible for two-way communication.
- Use multilingual audio messaging services to provide key information in the client’s language.
- Train staff in cultural competency and how to work with interpreters.
- Offer documents and forms in the most common languages of your client base.
- Build strong relationships with local cultural groups and community leaders.
Life is full of challenges, and navigating complex systems in an unfamiliar language only adds to the difficulty. By making communication accessible through human and technological means, organizations can truly achieve equitable outcomes for all.
Organisations Have an Ethical Duty to Reduce Inequity
As Australia’s population becomes increasingly diverse, organizations must provide equitable services for all. For immigrant communities and those with limited English proficiency, language barriers can prevent full understanding and access. Using professional interpreters is key to overcoming these obstacles and reducing inequity.
However, many factors block the use of professional interpreters, including cost, lack of awareness about their importance, and the belief that bilingual staff or families can interpret. This creates risky situations for those with limited English.
To achieve equity, organisations must make professional interpreters available whenever communicating complex or sensitive information. They owe this duty of care to immigrant communities to enable full understanding and participation.
Reducing language barriers also helps diminish systemic discrimination that can negatively impact health, education, employment, and legal outcomes.
Overall, professional interpreters play a vital role in an equitable, just, and inclusive society. Organizations should work to provide and promote these critical services. By doing so, they take an important step towards closing the gap for linguistically diverse groups.
Multilingual messaging services such as LiME are paving the way for equitable service delivery, by delivering pre-recorded audio across multiple communication channels.
Partnering With Language Service Providers for Culturally Sensitive Support
Partnering with professional language service providers is key to delivering culturally sensitive support for your diverse client base.
Qualified Interpreters Improve Outcomes
Engaging accredited interpreters helps minimize communication barriers for your non-English speaking clients while also reducing risks.
For example, without a professional interpreter, a doctor explaining a treatment plan or seeking informed consent could be misinterpreted, and a patient may misunderstand post-operative care instructions or medication side effects.
Similarly, legal counsel should ensure clients fully comprehend their rights and obligations before signing official documents.
Technology Supports Equitable Service
While technology like AI and machine translation has made progress, human interpreters remain necessary for nuanced, empathetic communication in sensitive contexts. However, technology does have a role to play in supporting interpreter services and equitable access.
For example, providing information in audio format, in addition to written communications, helps address issues of low literacy or vision impairment. Multilingual messaging services that deliver pre-recorded audio across multiple channels can convey key information to non-English speakers efficiently while freeing up interpreters for interactive dialog.
A combination of human and technological solutions allows organizations to prevent repetition, reduce costs, and improve outcomes. According to research, inadequate language services correlate with higher healthcare costs, so a holistic approach makes practical sense.
With a growing immigrant population and over 300 languages spoken in Australia, including Indigenous languages, professional language services are vital for fair and just service delivery across sectors.
By partnering with accredited providers and leveraging supportive technologies, your organization can truly achieve equity and culturally sensitive support for all clients.
Everyone deserves to be understood and respected when accessing any service or participating fully in your community. Professional interpreting services are a must to achieve this and uphold basic human rights.
Now that you’ve learned about the many benefits of professional interpreters, don’t settle for less. Insist that any organisation you interact with provides skilled interpreters to facilitate clear communication and meaningful engagement. Your voice and experience matter.
With the help of interpreters, language barriers can be overcome and equitable access achieved so you receive the same high-quality service as any other resident. You have the power to advocate for your needs and the needs of others in your community.
Professional interpreting services should be the norm, not the exception so that we can work towards a truly inclusive society.
What can you do to create equity for your customers from non-English speaking backgrounds?
- Schenker, Y., Wang, F., Selig, S.J. et al. J GEN INTERN MED (2007) 22(Suppl 2): 294. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-007-0359-1
- How can I support a culturally and linguistically diverse person with a mental health condition? From NSW Health
- Engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse communities to reduce the impact of depression and anxiety: a narrative review by Amy E. Z. Baker PhD BHlthSc(Hons)(OccTh) BAppSc(OccTh), et.al, 2015