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Australia’s growing linguistic diversity: a strategic approach to language services

Purple cover of reportPeople who come as part of our Refugee and Humanitarian Program and speak new and emerging languages often find that there are not enough translators and interpreters to help them access services. How can we change this so that they can get help when they need it? This issue is the topic of a recent and important report by the Federation Of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia (FECCA).

Language spoken by humanitarian entrants

Number of speakersLanguage
36,736Arabic
12,531Dari
6,000- 6,999 Hazaragi, Assyrian
5,000- 5,999 Farsi (Persian) , Nepali, African Languages (not further defined)
4,000- 4,999 Burmese / Myanmar, English, Persian, Karen
3,000- 3,999 Tamil, Swahili, Dinka
2,000- 2,999 Farsi (Afghan), Mandarin, Somali, Chin, Karen S'gaw, Serbian
1,000- 1,999 Tigrinya, Other languages, African languages (not elsewhere classified),
Urdu, Pashto, Amharic, Chin Haka, Kirundi / Nyarwandwa / Rundi,
Kurdish, French
900- 999Oromo, Krio, Burmese and related languages (not further defined)
800- 899Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Chaldaean
700- 799Tibetan
600- 699Bosnian, Rohinga, Acholi
500- 599Turkish, Kinyarwanda / Rwanda
400- 499Chinese (not further defined), Chin Teddim
300- 399Chin Falam, Uygur / Uyghur, Mandingo, Bengali, Spanish
200- 299Nuer, Indonesian, Madi, Hmong, Singhalese, Mende, Gio, Middle Eastern Semitic languages (not elsewhere classified), Punjabi, Lingala, Shona, Cantonese, Russian, Bari,Vietnamese, Armenian, Kachin, Ewe, Tigre,Timorese
100- 199Afghan, Croatian, Fijian, Albanian, Karen Pwo, Temne / Themne, Burmese and related
languages, (not elsewhere classified), Kreole / Creole (African), Uzbek, Zophei,
Hindi, Chin Mara, Krahn, Kurdish, Southern (Feyli), Iranic (not further defined), Kuku,
Luo, Eastern Kayah, Chinese (not elsewhere defined), Kissi, Korean, Mano
50- 99Chin Zome, Hakka, Afrikaans, Bemba, Loma / Lorma, Persian (excluding Dari), Chin
Zotong, Mon, Bassa, Fullah, Papua New Guinea Papuan Languages (not elsewhere
classified), Thai, Haka, Kpelle, Mongolian, Mauritian Creole
0- 49Khmer, Kakwa, Moro, Susu, Tetum, Chin Senthang, Grebo, Kono (Sierra Leone),
Malay, Arakanese, Serbo-Croatian / Yugoslavian so described, Acehnese, Tagalong,
Sri Lankan, Karen Paku, Pakistani, Bembe, Lao, Kru, Luganda / Ganda, Oceanian Pidgins and Creoles (not further defined), Pular / Fuuta Jalon, Vai, Yoruba, Chin Daai, Tok Pisin, Southwest and Central Asian languages, Ndebele, Sindhi, Fuliiru, Indian, Malayalam, Romany, Limba, Lisu, Balochi, Dagbani, Gujarati, Igbo, Iranic (not elsewhere classified). Shan, Tongan, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Kikutu, Turkmen, Hebrew, Romanian, Anuak, Mon-Khmer(not elsewhere classified), Nyanja (Chichewa), Asante, Liberian English, Papuan, Dzonkha, Georgian, German, Karen Manumanaw, Arabic (Sudanese Creole), Azeri, Chin Thado, Kurdish (Sorani), Celtic (not further defined), Italian, Karen Bwe, Other Southeast Asian languages (not elsewhere classified), Shilluk, Karen Geko, Motu, Oceanian Pidgins and Creoles (not
elsewhere classified), Sign languages (not elsewhere classified), Southern European languages, Unspecified former Yugoslavia, Akan, Chin Mun, Hausa, Hmong-Mien (not further defined), Loko, Parsun, Slovene, Zulu, Chin Khumi, Chin Mro, Greek, Kannada, Karen Yinbaw, Mina, Other Eastern Asian languages
This table lists the numbers of humanitarian entrants who came between 2000-2014 by the language they speak, in descending order. Source: FECCA, Australia's Growing Linguistic Diversity, Table 1, p. 10.

Many languages, few interpreters and translators

Those who came between 2000-2014 speak over 200 languages and dialects between them.

Services for these languages may be scarce. These language services are important for making sure they can protect their rights and get health care and other government services. Well-trained interpreters are important for complex situations such as family and domestic violence.

However, there are few or no courses for interpreting and translating for some of the languages spoken by recent humanitarian entrants. As a result, providers use interpreters without qualifications, which potentially creates risks for them and their clients.

What can be done?

The report recommends a training and accreditation model based on a review of different  jurisdictions and the identification of good practice. This model would require a consistent investment over a period of time by all Australian governments to build the supply of quality interpreters in new and emerging languages.
The recommended model has two stages:

  • stage one: a VET-delivered skill set program, made up of 4 units of a diploma of interpreting
  • stage two:  a screening of participants, and testing by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters to provide accreditation.

This model requires:

  • collaboration and coordination between all Australian governments, tertiary institutions, language services providers, professional associations and the community sector, ideally through an annual permanent forum
  • data collection, to enable better planning, response and collaboration
  • the establishment of training, accreditation and professional development pathways s
  • the building of capacity of those using language services, and
  • an increase in demand of language services by providers.

This model would improve the quality and quantity of language services through effective national coordination, distributing the costs between state and federal governments, and through creating new pathways to further study of emerging languages.

Read ‘Australia’s growing linguistic diversity’

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