Researching curriculum innovation in interpreter education: the case of initial training for novice interpreters in languages of limited diffusion

Helen Slatyer*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    AUSTRALIA HAS well-developed interpreter services in most states and territories for the majority of languages as well as an extensive telephone interpreting system. However, the enduring problem of finding trained and qualified interpreters in some new and emerging migrant and refugee language groups, as well as in some of the older established community language groups with small populations, remains one of the main challenges facing service providers and policy makers. When government service providers experience difficulty in accessing qualified interpreters, they generally turn to bilinguals from the community who can serve as ad hoc interpreters. This raises concerns about the quality of the interpreting, as possibilities for checking quality are limited due to a lack of suitably qualified people who are both competent interpreters and proficient in the LOTE (language other than English). Often the urgency of the community's settlement needs overrides concerns about the quality of interpreting. One of the major service providers in Australia recently indicated that the interpreters they had to use for emerging ethnic communities were "simply people from the communities themselves with no interpreting experience or knowledge." These ad hoc interpreters had nowhere they could go "to learn the most basic techniques, strategies, ethical principles, how to conduct themselves, what to expect in an interpreting assignment, etc. They even need guidance on how to find their way around Sydney" (personal communication with Barbara McGilvray, Australian Institute of Translators and Interpreters (AUSIT) member and member of the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters [NAATI] Regional Advisory Committee [RAC], and Terry Chesher, member of AUSIT and translating and interpreting [T & I] educator). The problems associated with ad hoc interpreters have been well docu-mented-inaccurate interpreting, lack of respect for client confidentiality, and confusion about their role, leading to a mistrust of interpreters and often the institutions which employ them (Hale and Luzardo 1997; Mesa 1997; Plimer and Candlin 1996). Why does a country such as Australia still need to resort to untrained interpreters in these languages of limited diffusion? Currently, there are three legitimate pathways to accessing the T & I profession in Australia: through training at an institution approved by NAATI; by sitting for a test administered by NAATI, or by having qualifications obtained overseas assessed by NAATI (Bell 1997). However, for novice interpreters in one of the rare languages, none of these options is available. T & I courses in Australia are generally language-specific. Courses are structured around a common core of theoretical components with add-on language specific practical sessions offered in a limited number of languages. The languages chosen generally correspond to market demand for that language. It is impractical and unfeasible for educational institutions to set up new language streams in response to a constantly evolving demand for which the low number of potential students would make the course financially unviable. Training opportunities for novice interpreters in languages of limited diffusion are, therefore, almost nonexistent. Similarly, NAATI is not able to test languages with small numbers of speakers. It is expensive to develop and administer tests and therefore unfeasible where there is only a small number of potential candidates. In addition, there are a number of practical impediments such as the lack of qualified examiners in those languages. For languages where there is no test available due to the small number of candidates, NAATI offers recognition based on evidence of workplace experience. However, NAATI explicitly states that recognition contains no guarantee of the ability of the interpreter (NAATI 2004). Short language-specific training programs for interpreters of languages of limited diffusion in other countries, for both setting-specific and general interpreting, such as Canada (Fiola 2003; Penney and Sammons 1997), the United Kingdom (Straker and Watts 2003), the United States (Mikkelson and Mintz 1997), and France (Sauvêtre 2000) have gone some way towards redressing the lack of interpreters in some language communities in those countries, but the problem of finding interpreters for languages not included in the training remains. In order to explore a range of options to resolve this problem, a collaborative project was set up with some of the principal T & I contractors in New South Wales-namely Centrelink, the Health Care Interpreter Service (HCIS) and Community Relations Commission (CRC)-with the aim of developing a curriculum model that would meet the specific interpreter training needs of these language groups.1 This chapter will describe the process of collaboratively developing and piloting a curriculum model using an action research methodology. The draft curriculum was piloted with a small cohort of interpreter candidates in 2003 and 2004 to obtain data on the strengths and weaknesses of the model. During the pilot course, feedback data was collected from learners and teachers, and classroom interaction was recorded. The findings from the analysis of this data informed revisions to the curriculum, and a second cycle of implementation is currently being planned for 2006.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationNew Approaches to Interpreter Education
    EditorsCynthia B. Roy
    Place of PublicationWashington, D.C.
    PublisherGallaudet University Press
    Number of pages19
    ISBN (Electronic)9781563683800
    ISBN (Print)1563682974, 9781563682971
    Publication statusPublished - 2006

    Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Researching curriculum innovation in interpreter education: the case of initial training for novice interpreters in languages of limited diffusion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this