Professional development as a vehicle on the road towards professionalism

The AUSIT experience

By Erika Gonzalez (RMIT University, Australia)

Abstract & Keywords


The profession of Translation & Interpreting (T&I) includes practitioners from a diverse range of professional and educational backgrounds. Compulsory education and training is more an exception than a norm in many countries around the world and therefore, many practice this profession without the necessary skills, abilities and knowledge. Aware of this situation, the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) conducted a national survey in order to compile data regarding the background, professional profile and professional development (PD) needs of T&I practitioners across Australia. The results of this survey showed an enormous gap regarding professional background, education needs and type of work carried out by the respondents. With the information gathered through the survey, AUSIT crafted an ambitious PD program to address the professional gaps existing among Australian translators and interpreters. This article demonstrates the important role professional associations can play in the education and training of T&I professionals, as well as in the professionalisation of the discipline.

Keywords: professional development, professionalism, education, training, translation & interpreting, certification

©inTRAlinea & Erika Gonzalez (2019).
"Professional development as a vehicle on the road towards professionalism The AUSIT experience", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduction

AUSIT is the national professional association for translators and interpreters in Australia. It was founded in 1987 with the financial support of the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI), the national organisation in charge of granting professional credentials for the T&I profession in Australia. AUSIT´s aims focus on promoting the profession, improving the profile of translators & interpreters in the community and raising professional standards through professional development and the adoption of the AUSIT code of ethics. AUSIT is governed by a National Council which consists of elected national office bearers and branch delegates from the branches of each Australian State and Territory (AUSIT 2018; McGilvray 2012). 

The management of the organisation changed dramatically when a renowned academic in the T&I field, Professor Sandra Hale, was appointed its 16th President in 2014. Under Hale´s direction AUSIT not only grew in membership (from 621 members at the end of 2014 to 970 members at the end 2017), but it also attracted the main universities and vocational colleges teaching T&I in Australia as affiliate members of the association. These changes became the fertile soil upon which the solid PD program evolved and strengthened.

The changes within the organisation happened in line with the changes the profession was experiencing in terms of credentialing and accreditation. In order to work as a translator and/or interpreter in Australia, practitioners are required to gain an accreditation from NAATI, which up until now could be obtained by passing a T&I exam administered by NAATI or by completing and passing a course at an approved university or Technical And Further Education (TAFE) centre. From July 2012, NAATI made compulsory the revalidation of T&I credentials with an expiry date. This meant that those translators and interpreters who obtained their accreditation after 2007 had to provide evidence of continuing work practice and professional development for a three-year period. Also, as a result of the INT project (Improvements to NAATI Testing), in 2018, NAATI transitioned from an accreditation to a certification system (the new nomenclature seemed more in line with other T&I professional credentials around the globe). Such transition was the culmination of a five-year project that began in 2012. Apart from the changes in the testing methods, now more realistic regarding the real practice and demands of the T&I profession, the new system meant that new practitioners entering the market would have to fulfill some pre-requisites by passing a language competency test, as well as an intercultural and ethics knowledge test, and complete compulsory training modules before sitting their exams. For those whose accreditations were granted before 2007, and who were credentialed for life (this meant that they did not have to revalidate their credentials every three years), the transition into the certification system was made optional and hence, the need to show continuous practice and completion of PD. However, the industry and stakeholders clearly expressed their preference for practitioners who commit to recertify and show currency as well as evidence of PD. On 1 January 2018, the Australian Government, through its Department of Social Services published an official notification stating that ‘NAATI Government Owners preferred approach is that language service providers and other consumers requiring translation and interpreting services engage practitioners who hold a NAATI credential conferred according to the certification system’ (Department of Social Services 2018).

AUSIT considered it paramount to offer a broad range of quality PD opportunities for its members and the broader T&I community in order to cover their PD needs and to provide them with plenty of opportunities to fulfil their recertification requirements. In 2015 AUSIT created a new position for a National PD co-ordinator. Although the association is run by volunteers, this was a remunerated position (7 to 10 hours a week), as the National Council felt that the work to plan and manage the new PD program was well beyond a volunteer´s realm. The new PD co-ordinator would chair the PD Committee which consists of the Chair, 2 experts in T&I pedagogy and 6 State/Territory PD coordinators. The National PD coordinator reports to and is supported by the Vice-President for PD and events.

2. Professionalism in T&I

In order to understand the importance of PD, it is paramount that we explore the concept of professionalism first and what such term entails for the T&I profession. As Orlando states (2016: 24), “one of the main concerns of the profession in terms of status is that it is an unregulated profession and nearly anyone can call himself/herself a translator. Orlando bases his statement on a study conducted by Pym et al (2012), whose investigation showed that in no country they surveyed were academic qualifications compulsory to practice the profession of translation. The same could be stated about interpreting (Abril-Martí 2006: 289;  Gonzalez 2013: 201). Although there is no universal consensus regarding what a profession really is, ‘the most distinguished features that define a particular activity as a profession are special skills and knowledge and training” (Mulayim & Lai 2017: 30) and the adherence to a code of ethics (Gonzalez 2013).

This leads us to the conclusion that the professional status of T&I does not match that of other professions, where theoretical knowledge, training and the adhesion to a code of ethics are essential elements the professional has to comply with.

It is important to understand that the full professionalisation of a discipline is not always immediate. Even fully-fledged professions such as medicine developed and evolved ‘from handicraft to surgery as a science’ (Himmelmann 2007). This meant that in the Middle-Ages barbers would be in charge of performing haircuts, but also, limb-amputations. Thus, it can be said that professionalism is achieved by embarking on a journey (professionalisation) that consists of different developmental stages. Some theories consider occupations as precursors of professions. Tseng (1992, as cited in Mikkelson 1999) looked into different theories that examine the process whereby an occupation develops into a profession. According to the ‘Trait Theory’, an occupation becomes a profession when the occupation acquires some characteristics such as the adherence to a code of ethics, a body of theoretical knowledge, licensure or registration and loyalty to colleagues. In order to verify the level of professionalisation achieved by the occupation, the proponents of this theory developed a checklist with professional attributes that can be ticked off. On the other hand, the ‘Theory of Control’ is related to occupations that exert internal control (over the knowledge requirements, as well as training and ethical behaviour expected from the practitioners) and external control (working conditions and relations with clients). The legal profession is an example of a control profession. As Mikkelson states, “a profession that succeeds in mystifying its expertise is able to control the market by prohibiting interlopers from practicing the profession”. Although the control theory seems more useful at the time of defining how an occupation becomes a profession, ‘it fails to provide guidelines for an occupation that aspires to achieve that objective” (Tseng 1992, as cited in Mikkelson 1999). Tseng developed his own model to explain the professionalisation of conference interpreting in Taiwan (as cited in Gonzalez 2013; Mikkelson 1999; Pöchhacker 2016). This theory could be applicable to community interpreting and translation as well. In the T&I field it can be observed that there are differences in the level of professionalism depending on the setting where these professional activities happen. Usually, the T&I activity that happens within community settings does not enjoy the same status as the one which happens in conference or international and commercial settings (especially when it comes to remuneration and working conditions), as they are ‘profession driven’ fields, as opposed to community T&I, which are ‘institution-driven’ fields (Ozolins 2000: 21), and hence, they depend on the stance institutions and authorities take regarding the delivery of T&I services. This might vary from the denial of the “existence of multilingual communications issues, to reliance on ad hoc services to generic language services, to fully comprehensive responses” (Ozolins 200: 21). Tseng (1992) describes four phases in the journey of professionalisation (as cited in Gonzalez 2013: 24; Mikkelson 1999; Pöchhacker 2016: 79-80) that go from ‘Market disorder’ to ‘professional autonomy’ (see Figure 1, and also Pöchhacker 2016: 80):

  1. Market disorder. Initial stage where service recipients do not understand the service professionals deliver and price is a more important factor than quality over the choice of the professional engaged to deliver the service. Practitioners in this phase cannot avoid ‘interlopers’ from entering the profession. In this phase there is little incentive for specialised training. As Mikkelson states (1999), Tseng views training as “a source of cohesion and disturbance of the market”’. Good practitioners who have been trained start being dissatisfied with the situation of the market.
  2. Consolidation of the profession and consensus about aspirations. This phase supports the creation of professional associations as a vehicle to increase the prestige of the graduates.
  3. Formulation of ethical standards by professional associations and enforcement of such standards. This phase is also characterised by an augmented control over the admission to the profession. The public realisation efforts made by the association will bring legislative recognition and licensure. The achievement of the aforementioned will lead to the fourth phase:
  4. Protection and autonomy

Figure 1 Tseng´s model of professionalisation process

Figure 1. Tseng´s model of professionalisation process

In terms of the level of professionalism displayed by practitioners, professional recognition and how the profession is perceived by others, the T&I discipline finds itself in a vicious circle (Figure 2): institutions will not be willing to increase their rates for T&I services, while there are practitioners who lack professional standards and in the most extreme cases, do not even show competence in one of their working languages (Ozolins 2004; Gonzalez 2013). When good professional outcomes are achieved, there is professional acknowledgement not only within the professional group, but in circles that expand to other professions, which translates into a better understanding of the profession. This at the same time might contribute to the improvement of the professional status and remumeration of the practitioners, as the system and other professions perceive the value and quality of the job performed by these professionals (see Figure 2). This would bring the protection and autonomy that Tseng (1992) described as the culmination of the professional journey or the fourth phase of his model.

Figure 2 Circle of professionalism

Figure 2. Circle of professionalism

Bradburn and Staley (2012: 499) in a paper about medical professionalism, quoted Justice Potter Stuart when he addressed pornography ‘I know what it is when I see it’, and they argue that ‘professionalism is defined by many in the same way’. The T&I profession has still a while to walk until all the practitioners consider themselves fully-fledged professionals who take pride in the work they do and the way they present themselves before other professionals. In the results presented by Conte & Aliano (2017) regarding a series of court observations, the lack of professional decorum by some interpreters was highlighted. Decorum does not have a direct impact over the technical competence or quality, but when one arrives to a court proceeding late with no excuse, or turns up with grocery shopping bags and talking on the phone to interpret for a distraught migrant whose visa has been cancelled, it is an image of poor professionalism that we are projecting before other professionals and our clients. Despite translators not interacting with clients directly most of the time, they may project lack of professionalism by pushing prices down in an attempt to get the assignment or as Aliano & Conte (2017) mentioned in their study about the challenges and dilemmas of translators in Australia, by accepting work that it is beyond their capacity. These attitudes and behaviour leave the process of professionalisation stuck in phases one and two of Tseng’s model.

2.1 The Australian context

As stated before, up until 2018 those wanting to enter the T&I profession and work in Australia had to pass an exam administered by NAATI or obtain qualifications from an endorsed tertiary educational institution. Academics have long criticised this system (Campbell 1986; Ozolins 1995; Hale 2007; Gonzalez 2013) as it does not resemble any other profession in terms of prior training and education requirements: ‘[…] the NAATI testing system appears to compromise the profession even more, would say, speech therapists agree to a system where professional accreditation can be gained from either a two-hour test or a three-year course?’ (Campbell 1986: 67). It is most likely that nobody would entrust their health to a doctor who passed a 75 minute exam and was instantly granted an accreditation to practise medicine. In an attempt to improve the testing methods and therefore, control the level of minimum competence, knowledge and skills required to enter the T&I profession in Australia, NAATI commissioned the INT project to a group of national academics led by Professor Sandra Hale. The recommendations that emerged from the project (Hale et al 2012) have been paramount at the time of paving the future road towards the full professionalisation of the T&I discipline in Australia. The implementation of recommendations like the ones listed below ensure that steps are taken in the right direction and their implementation will make it possible to give a step forward towards the transition from the third to the fourth phase described in Tseng´s model (1992):

  1. That all candidates complete compulsory education and training (Recommendation 1) (Hale et al 2012: 85).
  2. That NAATI continue to approve tertiary programs and encourage formal path to accreditation where such is available for the relevant language combinations (Recommendation 17) (Hale et al 2012: 89).

2.2 The role of PD in the professionalisation process

PD is understood as the development of competences, skills and expertise that have been previously acquired (Gewirtz et al 2009). Recommendations such as the ones presented above form the foundations upon which those competences, skills and knowledge stand. The model developed by Gonzalez in 2013 (Figure 3) to define professionalism in the field of community interpreting compares such concept with the construction of a dwelling. Despite the fact that this theory relates to community interpreting, it could be easily transferred to the fields of conference interpreting and translation, with the relevant adaptations regarding the technical competence required for these fields. In order for the construction to be perdurable, the foundations have to be solidly set (this would be the equivalent to basic, but solid training and education in T&I). Once the foundations are established, the pillars that sustain the whole building will have to be raised. These structural pillars consist of:

  1. knowledge and implementation of the code of ethics;
  2. knowledge of the interpreter´s role and its limitations;
  3. knowledge of the area of expertise and protocols of the field where the interpretation takes place;
  4. technical expertise of the interpreter, which comprises linguistic, interpreting and coordination competence (Hale & Gonzalez 2017)

If any of the four essential pillars are not solidly raised, the building will be compromised. If the construction is led by an architect who is duly qualified and experienced (the educator/s), the work by the construction team (the class/students) will be more efficient and precise. If the construction work is undertaken by a sole builder, the structure will take more time to be built, and the pillars might not be as solidly set as if the person had received assistance from other builders who shared their expertise and experiences as a team (the classroom or cohort of students). Also, with time, it is likely that the building will require maintenance against erosion and thus, the pillars will need coats of paint, concrete patches or further improvements (PD in the case of T&I). The interior decoration of the dwelling will be important, although not essential and hence, it will depend on the taste of the owner (PD such as business skills; effective administration skills; computer literacy, accounting for freelancers and so on.). As mentioned before, those who decide to engage in the construction work alone, with no expert guidance and assistance from peers, might face quality issues with the foundations and/or pillars and may require patches and repairs sooner than expected (continuous PD).

Figure 3 Gonzalez´s model of professionalism

Figure 3. Gonzalez´s model of professionalism

T&I in Australia is a profession where many practitioners lack the necessary foundations to perform at professional level. Until January 2018, compulsory pre-service education and training was not a requirement to enter the T&I profession and many practitioners built their structures with weak and flimsy bases. Therefore, the role of quality PD became paramount at the time of sustaining the professional structure of many practitioners, and AUSIT, as the national professional association, acquired the compromise to be the material provider for such continuous training and education, abiding strongly by the eighth principle of its code of ethics, which is based on the commitment regarding professional development: “Interpreters and translators continue to develop their professional knowledge and skills”(AUSIT 2012).

3. The Survey

Bearing in mind the reality explained above, AUSIT considered it paramount to conduct a survey where specific information could be gathered regarding the profile, education background, areas of expertise and PD needs of T&I practitioners in Australia. As the Chair of the PD Committee at the time the survey was administered (2015-2016), the author of the paper was commissioned with the administration of the survey and analysis of the results. The aim of the survey was to compile the information explained above in order to develop and provide a comprehensive PD program that would suit the needs of a diverse range of practitioners, located in different States and Territories across Australia and whose professional structures were built with a broad range of materials and foundations.

The online survey (see Annex 1) included close as well as open-ended questions that provided quantitative as well as qualitative data. The survey was administered between the 4 November 2015 and 5 February 2016. The survey consisted of 10 simple and easy questions which offered pre-determined response categories mainly, plus a comment section. The respondents were asked about their language combination, location, qualifications, accreditation level, fields where they worked, professional membership and PD needs and preferences. The survey was designed, administered and analysed using an online survey tool (Survey Gizmo). It was distributed through an e-flash or mail distribution system and sent to all the practitioners in the AUSIT mailing list, which includes members as well as non-members (the correspondence was distributed to approximately 2,600 practitioners). It was sent to around 40 private and public agencies that employ translators and interpreters in Australia as well. It is not possible to have an accurate figure regarding the exact number of practitioners who received the survey, as many of those in the mailing list are registered with several private and public agencies too.

3.1 The Results

Nearly 800 responses were received (793) with a response rate of approximately 30.5 per cent. AUSIT had conducted 18 surveys previously and the highest response rate achieved was around 10 per cent. The high response rate of this survey was evidence of the interest and needs that the whole recertification system had created among Australian practitioners. The tables, graphs and explanations offered below represent the results of the data-sets compiled through the survey. The results formed the foundations for the developments and improvements implemented in the next couple of years (as described below) in terms of the PD events offered by AUSIT and strategies developed in order to cover the gaps identified in the survey.

3.1.1 Characteristics of the survey respondents

The respondents worked with 103 languages other than English. Arabic (93), Farsi (92), Chinese Mandarin (64), Spanish (47) and Dari (38) were the five most popular working languages other than English among the respondents.







Chinese Mandarin
















Table 1. Most popular LOTEs among respondents

Arabic, Chinese Mandarin and Spanish continue to be ‘long-term’ languages in Australia, as identified by Campbell´s community language classification (1986). In the 1980s these languages were related to recent migration patterns and hence, it was forseen that these languages would offer long-term employment prospects for translators and interpreters. Farsi and Dari (these are two varieties of the same language, but tests are available for each variation in the NAATI testing system) have demonstrated to be ‘long-term’ languages as well. Australia has been the recipient of many displaced men, women and children from Afghanistan and Iran since the late 1970s and thus, it is not surprising that the languages spoken in these two countries have also become ‘long-term’ languages with important career prospects for T&I practitioners in Australia. As the response rate in the survey was not representative of the whole pool of practitioners, we compared these data with statistics regarding applications received from NAATI for the transition into the new certification system (NAATI 2018b). Mandarin was the most popular language among those who sought transition, followed by Arabic and Farsi. Spanish was also one of the main languages, but it was outnumbered by applications in other languages such as Vietnamese, Auslan or Greek and Italian in some States and Territories. Italian, Auslan and Vietnamese were among the ten most popular languages in AUSIT´s survey, too. These statistics show the will and commitment of some T&I groups, such as Auslan interpreters, who despite being outnumbered by many other community languages in terms of certified practitioners, they were one of the most active groups in terms of submissions for transition applications in every Australian State and Territory.

Languages such as Azari, Bari, Falam, Ga, Kakua, Kuku, Hmong, Hokkien, Ilongo, Lingala, Mundari, Nuer, Nyagwara, Pojulu, Sindhi, Telugu, Turkmen, Twi and Zomi (with one to four respondents) showed that there is an influx of new and emerging languages in Australia. These languages were labelled as ‘small scale languages’ by Campbell and are those for which the demand is small and sometimes, short-termed. However, the education and training of the translators and interpreters working in those languages is still necessary. For the time being there are no NAATI credentials available in those languages and hence, this explains the statistics below regarding the high percentage of practitioners who still work without credentials. Until new languages are included in the certification scheme, it is paramount that alternative education and PD is available for those working in the aforementioned languages. This item of the survey also showed that there are interpreters who work with ‘tail-end languages’ (Campbell 1986) or languages spoken in countries which do not export migrants to Australia on a considerable scale (these languages had one to three respondents). It is the case of many Eastern European languages (Albanian, Czech, Estonian, Lithuanian, Romanian), and European Nordic languages (Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish). The results showed that many of these practitioners combine T&I with other professional activities. However, if they want to keep up with their T&I credentials, they have to abide by the same recertification criteria as other practitioners. This statement can be backed up by the comments of ten of these participants, who mentioned that their workload in their language pair is very limited and hence, the cost of completing PD and recertifying is a problem for them.

More than half of the respondents (63.3 per cent) worked as interpreters (all of them community interpreters except for 5 who worked as conference interpreters); 24.3 per cent worked as both translators and interpreters and 11.4 per cent worked solely as translators (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 Distribution of practitioners by discipline

Figure 4. Distribution of practitioners by discipline

Most of the respondents were based in the states of Victoria (32.8 per cent) and New South Wales (30.3 per cent), followed by Queensland (16.1 per cent), South Australia and Western Australia (7.1 per cent respectively), Tasmania (2.9 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (2.6 per cent). There were no respondents from the Northern Territory (a large proportion of the interpreters in this Territory work with Indigenous languages and are employed by the Aboriginal Interpreter Service, which provides continuous education and training for their interpreters). In terms of the main areas of expertise, more than half highlighted the medical field (78 per cent), followed by the area of social services (67.8 per cent), the legal field (57.6 per cent), immigration (56.6 per cent), education (47.8 per cent) and others (20.1 per cent) (Figure 5). The latest Australian Census (2016) shows that nearly one million people are not fluent in English (819,922 out of a population of 23,401,907) and these figures justify the high rate of interpreters and translators working in community settings in our survey. It is only that smaller 20.1 per cent, made up of translators and conference interpreters, whose work expands to other areas or fields of specialization. It was interesting to see how some community interpreters expanded their responses under ‘Other’ and mentioned that their area of expertise was ‘telephone interpreting’ or ‘x Agency’. This showed an important lack of knowledge in regards to interpreting modes, techniques and discipline-specific metalanguage.

Figure 5 Main fields

Figure 5. Main fields

In terms of qualifications, 62.5 per cent of the respondents held formal qualifications in T&I. Among those, 18.8 per cent held a University degree and the rest held TAFE qualifications (Figure 6). We have to be cautious about this figure, as it is not an accurate reflection of the educational profile of the T&I practitioners in Australia. Previous studies have shown that the research participation rate of those with formal qualifications is always higher (Gonzalez 2013; Hale 2007; Hale 2011a). However, and despite the number of non-qualified practitioners being much lower than that of qualified ones (62.5 per cent Vs. 37.5 per cent), the participation rate of this cohort has improved exponentially over the years (Gonzalez 2013; Hale 2007; 2011a).

As many as 140 respondents mentioned that they hold ‘NAATI qualifications’. These respondents confused credentials with formal qualifications. Some other respondents mentioned different types of PD or prior knowledge as qualifications: ‘short courses of interpreting’, ‘qualified in medical terminology’, ‘short courses on interpreting’, which again shows the lack of knowledge some practitioners have about their own profession.

Figure 6 Qualifications in T&I

Figure 6. Qualifications in T&I

As Figure 7 shows, most of the respondents held paraprofessional interpreter credentials (category known as provisionally certified in the new system) (41 per cent), followed by professional interpreters (32.1 per cent); professional translators (31.1 per cent); recognised interpreters (8.1 per cent) -the recognition is a credential for those whose languages are not tested by NAATI, but who have evidenced competence-; paraprofessional translators (3.3 per cent); recognised translators (1.2 per cent), advanced translators (1.2 per cent) and conference interpreters (0.6 per cent). It was alarming to see that 10.9 per cent worked without a valid credential. This can be partly justified by the need to provide T&I services in those ‘small-scales languages’ mentioned above, and for which there are no credentials available yet. As it was the case in a previous survey conducted by Ozolins regarding interpreting practitioners in the State of Victoria, those with no accreditation fall under two categories: ‘a) those whose languages are not offered by NAATI and b) those whose languages are offered by NAATI, but for whatever reason, were not accredited and are still practising the profession’ (Ozolins 2004: 16). This raises concerns regarding the employment of unaccredited interpreters due to availability issues and high demand of unaccredited interpreters with given characteristics, such as females in languages which are overrepresented by male accredited interpreters (Ozolins 2004: 15).

Figure 7 NAATI credentials

Figure 7. NAATI credentials

The PD interests of the respondents are aligned with the results regarding the field of expertise. The table below shows the main PD activities the respondents were interested in:





Translation skills


Note-taking & Memory enhancement





Legal interpreting

19.1 %






CAT Tools



Medical interpreting




Simultaneous & chuchotage


Table 2. PD needs & preferences

Respondents also showed interest in completing PD regarding business skills (25.4 per cent), website development (21.5 per cent) and enhancement of the English language (21.2 per cent).

The survey also gathered information regarding AUSIT membership, as the Association represents a vehicle to access PD at discounted rates and be informed regarding PD opportunities. More than half of the respondents (59.3 per cent) stated that they were not members of AUSIT. Among the reasons for not joining the association the fees (four respondents) and lack of incentives to join  (64 respondents) were highlighted as the major reasons.

In the last item of the questionnaire, where respondents were given the opportunity to make comments, 23 mentioned that the lack of PD in smaller states prevents them from attending and completing PD on a regular basis. This makes it difficult for them to upgrade their skills and accrue the required points for the recertification. 35 respondents highlighted the need for more specialised PD in the legal and medical fields, T&I ethics and the use of various CAT tools.  Nine respondents expressed their discontent and disatisfaction with the new recertification scheme. The main arguments against the new system were the cost of PD and recertification, and lack of PD opportunities in their states. One of the respondents captured the sentiment expressed by many with the following statement: “earning little and having to pay heftily to stay qualified do not go together”.

4. Actions from the survey

4.1 Disparity of professional levels

The results derived from the survey gave AUSIT a good understanding of the professional profile, needs and issues faced by the T&I practitioners in Australia regarding PD. As the statistics show, more than half of the respondents were community interpreters, many accredited only at paraprofessional or provisionally certified level. Over a third of them lacked formal education in T&I. Formal qualifications at tertiary level in Australia cover the five most popular languages in the survey, although not in every state. Hale (2004: 15), referring to Martin (1978) and Ozolins (1991), explained how the ‘Australian Community Interpreter was born out of necessity during post-war immigration in the 1950s’. Several publications show the advances community interpreting has made in the last decade in Australia in terms of policies, certification, ethics, training and education (Gonzalez 2013; Hale 2011a; Hale 2011b; Hale et al 2012; Hale 2013; Hale & Ozolins 2011; Hale & Gonzalez 2017; Hale & Napier 2016; Ozolins 2014). However, the impact of world events such as wars and conflicts make it difficult for the system to be prepared to certify and train newly arrived migrants and refugees who speak new and emerging languages or the so called ‘small-scale languages’ in a timely manner. Typically, then, these interpreters are ‘born out of necessity’ and, hence, cover the lingustic needs of their communities without much education in the T&I field. On the other side of the spectrum we have highly trained and skilled translators and interpreters (such as the five conference interpreters within this group) who hold relevant qualifications in T&I and professional and/or advanced credentials. The level of fluency in English observed in the responses to the open questions revealed a concerning issue that has been identified by other researchers in past surveys as well (Gonzalez 2013; Ozolins 2004):

This is not to laugh at sometimes poor English (we should not judge interpreters by their written expression, and we will see some examples of this from accredited practitioners as well) but it raises questions about their ability to understand information and opinions about interpreting they may get from any source. At a deeper level still, it may raise questions about interpreting performance. One respondent, for example, on the question of areas of interpreting they preferred not to work in, cited Court and Mental Health - a not unusual preference as we will see. And we may be pleased that an unaccredited interpreter knows their limits. However, the reason they gave for this preference was ‘Because very hard for me to translating the word.’ And we are immediately left to wonder about performance level in the areas from which they do not limit themselves (Ozolins 2004: 19).

The situation outlined above meant that AUSIT would have to cater for the needs of those who did not have strong professional foundations, but also for those who were highly qualified and specialised. In order to cover the needs of this diverse community, in the 2017 Strategic Plan, AUSIT established three levels for the PD to be delivered in the future: a) Beginner level; b) Intermediate level and c) Advanced level.

4.2 Specialised and field-relevant PD

More than 60 per cent of the respondents worked in community settings as interpreters. Also, community interpreting was the area where the biggest gaps were in terms of credentialing and qualifications, with an important demand for PD in legal interpreting, followed by medical interpreting. Ethics was another area of high demand for both translators and interpreters. Bearing in mind the results shown in Table 2, AUSIT delivered the following PD in the Australian financial year 2016-2017 (June to June):


Topics covered in PD

of events



CAT tools
Literary translation
Translation theory
Specialised translation





Accuracy in legal interpreting
Court interpreting
The interpreter as an expert witness
Interpreting in police settings
Interpreting in domestic violence




Ethics for translators & interpreters
Induction to the profession
Specialisation workshops (medical field)
Tax matters


Table 3. Face to face PD delivered in 2017

In order to cover the demand of those living in remote areas or the smaller states with less PD opportunities, AUSIT launched a series of webinars that included mental health interpreting, telephone interpreting, ethical decision making and police interviewing. The seminars covering various medical specialisations were held face to face, but also streamed live. The webinars and streamed events are recorded and can also be purchased in the AUSIT website and viewed at a later stage. AUSIT also launched an equity scholarship program in April 2018, in order to cover course fees for practitioners from new and emerging languages as well as for those with any language combination living in remote areas or cities where there are no formal programs or courses.

At the same time, AUSIT considered it important to keep the membership informed regarding PD events offered by other institutions and providers such as Monash University, where they also offer a solid PD program, NAATI or public entities like the Australian Taxation Office, which delivers free webinars and workshops nationwide on tax matters and business skills.

Apart from the PD activities outlined above, for the Annual General Meetings held in each State and Territory (six in total), guest speakers were invited to deliver lectures on various topics related to the discipline. AUSIT holds an annual mini-conference and a biennal major conference on top of the regular PD events.

4.3 Cost and motivation

The Survey results demonstrate that there is a large cohort of practitioners (community interpreters and translators working with languages of smaller difusion) who find it difficult to cover PD costs due to a) the poorly paid wages and/or b) low-demand of their language combinations. AUSIT made it a priority to deliver PD at affordable rates. This was achieved thanks to a strong collaboration between AUSIT and the affiliate universities and TAFEs. Most of these educational institutions offer PD venues at no cost and in return, students and academics in those institutions attend the AUSIT PD sessions held in the premises for free. Many of the academics based at the aforementioned institutions deliver regular PD pro-bono. PD delivery counts towards their own recertification and thus, this symbiotic relationship between AUSIT and the affiliate institutions is beneficial for the practitioners, the institutions and AUSIT itself. Also, by liaising with educational affiliate institutions, AUSIT advertises T&I-related lectures held at these organisations as part of their research seminar-series or promotional events.

In order to make the membership of the professional association more attractive, AUSIT reduced significantly the PD registration fees for members and boosted its social agenda. These social events attract PD points too. While many have argued in the internal AUSIT forum that a social gathering should not be considered a PD per se, NAATI included such events within the recertification catalogue. Although the events are not purely pedagogical in nature, some of them are organised as informative sessions on topics that concern the profession. As opposed to other professions where teams work in shared spaces and offices, most T&I practitioners work on a freelance basis and thus, these events provide cohesion and a sense of professional belonging. In 2016-2017 AUSIT organised two multicultural events, 26 social gatherings including dinner parties, coffee mornings and picnics, one movie screening and one welcome event.

In order to attract more members, and make it possible for more practitioners to access affordable and quality PD, AUSIT decided to streamline the membership application process, which many respondents found cumbersome. The new online application system was implemented in 2018.

5. Conclusions

Although the survey results are not representative of the whole T&I practitioner community in Australia, they provided AUSIT with invaluable information about the profile and PD needs of many practitioners. The new recertification system has caused much resentment among some of the practitioners whose credentials were granted before 2007, as they considered it unnecessary to accrue PD points, arguing that their experience was more than enough (Gonzalez 2013). If T&I is to become a fully-fledged profession and transition from the third to the fourth phase described in Tseng´s professionalisation model (1992), it is paramount for practitioners to keep upgrading their skills and holding their professional structure in a solid manner (as seen in Figure 3), and for the credentialing authority to ‘impose’ the continuous upgrading of the professional structure. Despite debate and resentment among many practitioners regarding the new system, as of 31 October 2018, 9,262 transition applications were received by NAATI (NAATI 2018b). For many of those who are already certified, but never received specific education in T&I, PD remains the only manner to acquire the skills, knowledge and abilities they did not gain through formal education and training.

If we look at the professional model presented in Figure 3, AUSIT delivered PD events that covered the 4 major pillars of the professional structure:

a) Technical Competence: CAT tools; specialised translation; literary translation; localisation.
b) and c) Ethics and role: professionalism; ethical decision making framework for translators and interpreters; accuracy in interpreting and translation; the interpreter as an expert witness.
d) Contextual Knowledge: interpreting in domestic violence settings; medical specialisations.

Some of the PD events covered several pillars at the same time, as it was the case of court interpreting, police interviewing and mental health interpreting (technical competence, ethics, role and contextual knowledge). Most of these PD were delivered at beginner and intermediate level, as the most urgent needs were observed in the group of paraprofessionals or provisionally certified interpreters. One of the issues which needs to be addressed in future PD agendas is the delivery of more advanced PD for senior and experienced professionals.

Many practitioners have voiced their concern regarding the cost of recertification and the fact that the industry will not necessarily remunerate better those who abide by the recertification scheme. That still remains a major challenge. In this regard, AUSIT cooperates with the professional union which represents translators & interpreters in Australia (Professionals Australia) in order to fight for better working conditions and remuneration. One of the major achievements that reflect the work done by the Union in this regard, was the pay rise and improved working conditions gained by interpreters working in the state of Victoria in 2018 (Minister for Multicultural affairs 2018; NAATI 2018c):

  • Guaranteed minimum rates for remuneration for contracted and casually employed interpreters providing services to the Victorian Government
  • Average payment increases of 30% 
  • Improved travel allowances

In December 2018, AUSIT also launched an Industry Development Fund of $AU250,000 per annum. One of its priorities is capability and within this category, the development of PD projects is one of the areas that will benefit from such funding (NAATI 2018a).

AUSIT´s role in the new system will consist of delivering as many materials as possible for T&I practitioners, so that they can keep up with the maintenance, upgrading and in some cases, repairs of the structural gaps of their ‘professional dwellings’ (as explained in Figure 3). The delivery of such materials will require a coordinated approach at State/Territory and National level, as well as continuous communication with several stakeholders including NAATI, the industry, affiliate educational institutions and other associations such as ASLIA (Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association).

In lieu of the lack of regulations and standardisation around the world in the T&I industry, professional associations like AUSIT, through continuous education and PD could play an important role in the professionalisation of the discipline (as explained in Figure 1).


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Annex 1

The Survey


Dear colleagues,

We are conducting a survey on your preferences regarding PD courses.

It is important that you complete the survey, so that we can design and organise PD events that cover the training needs of our members and colleagues. It will only take a few minutes to complete.

Thanks in advance for your time and assistance and we look forward to seeing you in future courses and seminars!

To complete the survey click in the link below:

Best regards,

PD committee


1. Your working language(s) other than English:


2. You work as a:

☐ Translator

☐  Interpreter

☐ Translator & Interpreter

☐ Other (Please specify)…………..

3. You are based in:

☐ NT
☐ SA
☐ WA
☐ Overseas

4. Main field(s) where you work:

            ☐ Medical
            ☐ Legal
            ☐ Social Services
            ☐ Immigration
            ☐ Education
            ☐ Other (please specify)……………...

5. Do you hold formal qualifications in Translating and/or interpreting?

            ☐ No
            ☐ Yes (specify)……………………….

6. Your NAATI accreditation level:

☐ Professional Interpreter
☐ Professional Translator
☐ Paraprofessional interpreter
☐ Paraprofessional Translator
☐ Recognised Translator
☐ Advanced Translator
☐ Conference Interpreter
☐ Not accredited/not recognised

7. What PD courses are you interested in?:

☐ Translation Skills and strategies
☐ Note-taking and memory enhancement
☐ Ethical decision-making for interpreters
☐ Ethical decision-making for translators
☐ Simultaneous interpreting and chuchotage
☐ Business skills for freelancers
☐ Website development
☐ Enhancement of English-language
☐ Transcription
☐ Editing
☐ Legal Interpreting
☐ NAATI Test Preparation
☐ CAT Tools
☐ Translation & interpreting theory
☐ Other (please specify)…………………………

8. Are you a member of AUSIT?:

☐ Yes
☐ No

9. If no, can you tell us why?.....................


About the author(s)

Erika Gonzalez is a senior lecturer in Translating & Interpreting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University. She has taught translation and interpreting at postgraduate and undergraduate level for 15 years. She was the Chair of the PD committee and the national PD co-ordinator at AUSIT until she was elected Vice-President for events and PD in November 2017. Erika is an active conference interpreter and translator, too.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Erika Gonzalez (2019).
"Professional development as a vehicle on the road towards professionalism The AUSIT experience", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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