Debates on appropriate education levels for translators and interpreters are common in Australia, and heated discussions on the value of professional development regularly pop up on association egroups and forums. A recent exchange reminded me of a session I attended at the 2008 AUSIT Biennial Conference, which gives – I think – some context the situation in this country.
The session reported on a process to develop a government training package for practitioners in the field of translation and interpreting (T&I) in Australia. Over 190 languages other than English were recorded in Australian homes in 2006, with actual language levels varying widely. Interestingly, it was also reported that English is not a first language for 90% of T&I practitioners in Australia. Yet despite all this, there are only 14 languages available for study at university level and not all of these are to an advanced degree.
Given the dearth of formal training for T&I professionals, the Australian Department of Education commissioned Government Skills Australia to develop a training package to try to remedy this. Government Skills Australia is a government-funded agency whose job it is to provide vocational education and training for people across various government sectors. The government, in some shape or form, is one of the biggest buyers of translation and interpreting services in Australia.
The wisdom of offering initial translator training through vocational channels, as opposed to through higher education, is debatable. However one has to start somewhere, and it seems clear that the current realities of T&I practitioners in Australia means that a lot needs to change before a higher education route becomes standard practice.
While I haven’t kept up to date on the progress of this training package, I thought the session painted an interesting picture of T&I in Australia today.
For some more observations on the differences between translating in Australia and the UK, see here: First impressions: translating in the UK vs training in Australia