A Proposal for change in the role of NAATI | October 2014 | Translation Journal

October 2014 Issue

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A Proposal for change in the role of NAATI


1.       Introduction

In submitting this proposal, I will argue against the role of NAATI in its current accreditation regime. From a linguistic and academic point of view, my argument will concentrate at both organizational macro level and micro level of its current 'error analysis / deduction method' applied to assess the quality of translation.

The on-going deficiency of language service in Australia arises from NAATI's intervention in training for the career of translators and interpreters. This deficiency has been of little study or investigation, but its consequence is commonly encountered in reports of an interpreter being unavailable to address the need in service provision that will be further discussed in the rest of this essay, including (2) The 'national standards' for translators and interpreters and the role of NAATI; (3)Inadequate training for translators and interpreters in Australia; (4) The consequent effects of NAATI's intervention to translating and interpreting services; and (5) Conclusion.


2.     The 'national standards' for translators and interpreters and the role of NAATI

Currently NAATI is assuming the role that affects the profession of translating and interpreting as officially described in its latest Guide[1] under 'What is NAATI' where it states that NAATI is (1) 'the only agency that issues accreditations for practitioners who wish to work in this profession in Australia' and (2) 'NAATI accreditation is the only credential officially accepted for the profession of translation and interpreting in Australia' (NAATI 2012:8).  These signify the two critical roles of NAATI in the field of translating and interpreting in Australia that will be the central topics of discussion in this essay.

In addition, NAATI has been defined as 'the national standards and accreditation body for translators and interpreters in Australia' and 'the only agency that issues accreditations for practitioners who wish to work in this profession in Australia' (NAATI 2012:8). This definition seems to give NAATI an absolute power in an Australian language service policy without consideration of its inappropriate credentials to determine the quality of language in relation to the profession of translating and interpreting that inevitably involves language use and meanings. NAATI was formed as 'a company incorporated in Australia under the Corporations Act 2001, and is governed by a board of directors, including one chairperson, three directors, and one Chief Executive Officer[2] with representative offices located in big cities like Sydney and Melbourne. While the Act does not provide required conditions of qualification for the NAATI's office bearers, without evidence of adequate credentials or experience, as an authorized accreditation body, by direct intervention in academic training programs in translating and interpreting, NAATI has created 'considerable odds' regarded as 'obstacles' that forced a number of courses in translating and interpreting being conducted by Australian educational institutions, to close down (Hale 2007:5)

It operates as a company like any other company in Australia, but NAATI is owned jointly by the Federal, State and Territory governments and governed by a board of directors, including one chairperson, three directors, and one Chief Executive Officer[3]. Despite its insufficient skills and knowledge resources to access the quality of translating or interpreting bilingual work, NAATI has politically empowered autonomy to control, assess and determine the quality of translating and interpreting work that inevitably involves language use and the bilingual aspect. This consists with Lo Bianco's (2010:47-48) report that the nature of language policy that links power and the distribution of resources; or in other words, Language policy-making is undertaken within the powers of the Government or its dependent agencies. This covers NAATI's current role as mentioned above, being 'the only credential officially accepted for the profession of translation and interpreting in Australia, which determines national standards for translators or interpreters.

3.       Inadequate training for translators and interpreters in Australia

Regardless of what the national standards for translators and interpreters are, as Hale (2011:11-14) reports, the current rules related to NAATI accreditation for translators and interpreters are not stringent enough, and its method of assessment is not adequate to provide court interpreters. In addition, the shortage of qualified interpreters occurs along with NAATI's unconcern about the originated resources of skills in translating and interpreting, with only concern about how to select people with best skills in translating and interpreting. As Hale (2011:18) suggests, in dealing with the shortage of qualified interpreters, adequate training should be properly provided rather than just setting 'standards' for interpreters and translators. The shortfall and poor quality of interpreters and translators in Australia have been pointed out in various reports.

While Turner (2008:2) has explored the assessment method applied in UK and USA, he does not look into the usage of the assessment results. This raises the question of whether or not the assessment results have any academic influence in training programs towards the profession of translation in these two nations. My research shows that the training programs towards the profession of translation in these two nations are absolutely not affected by any outside authority. This means upon successful completion of the relevant training programs, the students are entitled to receive the qualifications required for work as translators in the government or private sector of these countries. For example, in UK, successful completion of the MA in Translation Studies  (MATS) at Durham University enables the candidates to work as translators[4]. In USA, a similar course of study is offered by the Monterey Institute of International Studies[5]

From a theoretical perspective, the profession of translating and interpreting inevitably relates to applied linguistics and language use (Gerding-Salas 2000), the criteria chosen to determine national standards for translators and interpreters in Australia cannot be based only on the 'surface structure' of language use that can be seen as 'appropriate register, grammar, idiom, collocations and spelling' (Turner 2008:2-3), but the 'deep structure' in language use should also be taken into consideration. The deep structure in language use includes pragmatic meanings as being always taken into consideration by modern theorists of translating and interpreting (Munday 2012: 58-59).

The error analysis that is currently being applied for NAATI Accreditation is apparently defective as the pragmatic side of language use in translation is not assessed. In addition, the currently applied method of assessment for NAATI Accreditation does not take the theoretical qualifications of Translating and Interpreting into consideration. For example, the qualifications obtained from translation-related courses delivered in the program for Master of Social Science (Translating and Interpreting Studies) at RMIT are not  taken into account when determination for marks toward NAATI Accreditation using 'error analysis'.  This regime is not convinced from an academic point of view because the 'error analysis' is only based on the lexical level of the translated text that does not reflect the writer’s intended meaning conveyed in the SL text (Hatim & Mason 1990:4). In addition, in a translation, the TL text should be presented pragmatically so that the TL text reader can get as close as the original writer’s intended meaning (Duenas 2004:10). This means the translator must pay special attention to the pragmatic meaning conveyed in the SL text in the process of translation (Kitis 2009:77).

In addition, the 'language quality' described in error analysis currently applied for NAATI Accreditation - 'appropriate register, grammar, idiom, collocations and spelling' (Turner 2008:2-3), does not address the important aspects of pragmatic and semantic meanings in language use. While the examiners are not concerned about translation theories, they 'are not required to have specific qualifications and experience in assessing ‘language proficiency' and they are not properly trained (Turner & Ozolins 2007:28, 38).

Although NAATI has no resource or capacity to conduct training programs in translating and interpreting, it has authority to approve courses that Australian educational institutes are expected to apply for as stated in NAATI Submission to Family Law Council[6] in October 2011. These are normally known as NAATI Accredited Courses, which, however, do not guarantee a NAATI Accreditation[7] upon completion because the  required criteria for the target degree, for example, Master of Social Science (Translating and Interpreting Studies) are different from those designed for the NAATI Accreditation certificate. This raises a question of difference in qualified value between the two qualifications designed within one training program, such as the Master of Social Science (Translating and Interpreting Studies) offered at RMIT, for example.

At RMIT, required conditions for the Master of Social Science (Translating and Interpreting Studies) are normally equal to a 1.5 years study (full time) or 3 years for part time study. The training program for NAATI Accreditation is a minor part of the program for the Master of Social Science (Translating and Interpreting Studies) with difference in the marking scale and assessment method for the two outcome qualifications - Master Degree in Translating and Interpreting Studies (MA) and Certificate of NAATI Accreditation (CNA).

There are two separate systems of assessment for MA and for CNA within the program for the Master of Social Science (Translating and Interpreting Studies). The first assessment is based on the whole program for the MA, while the second assessment for the CNA is only based on a translating test that lasts 2 hours, following 16 hours of tutorials on practical work of translation during one semester. The marks achieved from the final test of the two courses of practical work in translation are counted towards NAATI Translating Accreditation at the minimum grade of 70%, while the same or lower marks are counted towards the MA along with the marks achieved from the other required courses of study in the MA program.

The difference between the marking scale for the  MA and that for the CNA partly contributes to critical issues from a linguistic and academic point of view. These issues are related to the quality of the  MA compared with the CNA and the relative differences in the training programs towards the two qualifications - MA and CNA. These differences will be discussed in view of their surface and deep structure qualities.  According to  Chomsky (1965:65), surface structure is what we can hear or read, while  deep structure relates to meaning or what we cannot see. In this essay, the surface structure consists of the marking scale, credit points and standard criteria of written work from which marks are determined. Deep structure relates to the content of teaching deliveries and  intended or pragmatic meanings conveyed in translation text.

Pragmatic meanings are based on the meaning of sentences in context, while semantic meanings are solely based on the lexical factors in the related language (Onodera 2004: 13). In translation, if 'language quality' is only concerned on the lexical factors as Turner (2008:3) suggests, the translation will miss the pragmatic aspect of the language in use. However, there are subtle interactions between semantic and pragmatic transference in the translation process. For example:

Vietnamese spoken in Australia by its native speakers is a recipient language when the speakers adopt the meanings of English in their use of Vietnamese:

(1)     Anh                       có                khoẻ   không?

          Elder-brother          have   well              Q.

          “How are you?” (Q = question marker)

The action of transferring the meaning of “How are you?” into Vietnamese represents an instance of semantic transference, but how or in what situation it is used in Vietnamese may be related to “pragmatic transference”.

Lack of fully credited academic training for translators and interpreters is an on-going problem that affects language services in Australia. Choolun (2009:29) suggests that poor quality of interpreting, particularly incompetency and inaccuracy, can be avoided, at least to a certain extent, by academic and practical training. In Australia at least 8 universities[8] conducting programs towards translating and interpreting qualifications; but there is no guarantee for a NAATI Accreditation[9] upon completion, simply because of NAATI's intervention in the training programs for translators and interpreters unprofessionally.

The most significant point in my argument is that, as a company, NAATI's intervention in post-graduate training programs in translating and interpreting provided by Australian educational institutions ends up with a quite low rate of success (12.8%) in accreditation for translation into English and 18.02%  for translation into languages other than English (Turner &  Ozolins 2007:18), compared with an overall success rate of 69% in academic studies in 2011 and 66% in semester 1, 2012, at RMIT (Brown 2012). It is critical that the NAATI's new manual, as well as its predecessor, is not concerned about 'language proficiency' for NAATI examiners. The most critical issue is that NAATI-employed examiners are not properly trained (Turner et al.  2010:15), not required to have specific qualifications and experience in assessing language proficiency while they perform their task of assessment in translating and interpreting tests (Turner & Ozolins 2007:28, 38).

Bogucki (2010:5) suggests that the need for translator adequate training at university-level has become acute as Australian educational institutions have never been allowed to undertake training programs in translating or interpreting in their own right like they do in other disciplines such as teaching, engineering or nursing, for example. In these academic disciplines, the Australian educational institutions carry out the training programs without intervention by any outside agency or organization, while there are professional associations being established to monitor and administer their members based on the relevant academic qualifications obtained from the educational institutions. I wonder why the similar procedure cannot be applied to the profession of translating and interpreting? This question may attract the policy makers' attention to a reform in Australian language policy in order to address the problems of ineffective and insufficient services of translating and interpreting as reported earlier.

4.     The consequent effects of NAATI's intervention in training for translators and interpreters

In 2008, a report prepared for VITS Language Link by the Translation and Interpreting Studies Program at School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University, hereafter referred to as VITS's report, informed that 'Victoria faces a shortfall of interpreters in 2010 and 2020', and that 'the current cohort of interpreters is becoming older'. This report is rational as in Australia there is no educational institution that undertakes training programs in its own right for interpreters or translators.

In addition, as reported by the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (VFST 2012), there are many problems related to interpreting service in the heath sector, including:

  • High usage of untrained interpreters by 80% of practices weekly (VFST 2012: 17)
  • Patients at Southern Health experienced at least 40% of the encounters without help of an interpreter (ibid).
  • Using untrained interpreters is a common strategy used in maternity services and maternal and child health (ibid).
  • In a Melbourne hospital, 71% of health practitioners reported they had to use a client’s family and friends and 52% used bilingual staff (ibid).
  • There are 71% of general practices used qualified interpreters less than once per year, and 81% reported never using face-to-face interpreters (ibid: 18)
  • In a  study of client experiences across health settings in Victoria, only one participant in eighty six said they had ever used a qualified interpreter in an emergency (ibid:19).
  • At a tertiary hospital in Sydney, up to 32% of clients in the renal unit and 69% of clients at a tertiary hospital in Sydney had to undergo their treatment process without help of qualified interpreters (ibid).
  • The size of the qualified interpreter workforce is insufficient to meet the need in services provision (ibid: 40)
  • The quality of interpreting has been identified as an issue of concern (ibid: 40)
  • High failure rates in accreditation tests (ibid: 40)
  • A study at Monash University found that “The current accreditation framework in Australia is not reflective of workplace practice', and there is a high failure rate of candidates sitting the accreditation exam. The reasons behind the large failure rate of NAATI accreditation candidates have not been investigated (ibid: 41)

Victorian Government has identified as a priority strategy under the multicultural policy to improve the supply of interpreters when using government funded services (VFST 2012: 40)

Still there is other evidence of problems in Australian interpreter services. Following a research project to investigate issues on 'language services in Victoria’s health system', Brough (2006) reports that information on interpreter services is not available and in some situations, clients of non-English speaking backgrounds are denied of interpreter assistance even when they are accessing emergency departments, specialist or in-patient services. In frustration, clients do not know where and how to make complaints or express their dissatisfaction about the ineffective provision of language services. Other findings from this research include excessive waiting times for accessing interpreter services, overstretched services, and overall scarcity of interpreters in the health setting. Finally, the report pointed out that ineffective communication in the health setting occurs due to lack of interpreting services or interpreting services being of inadequate standard. This eventually leads to Victoria’s health services being 'confusing, ineffective and, sometimes, dangerous and traumatic' as described in Brough's report[10].

5.     A Proposal on NAATI's standards for Translators and Interpreters

In response to the NAATI's appeal to the public in conjunction with the currently conducted Project of Improvements to NAATI Testing (INT) conducted by Professor Sandra Hale from University of New South Wales[11], I wish to share my opinion on NAATI's first policy on  'high national standards in translating and interpreting'[12] that translators and interpreters in Australia should follow.

My first question is what 'high national standards in translating and interpreting' is it based on? Whether it is a translating or interpreting work, it inevitably involved human language, which comes out from human thought. No matter if it is a translating or interpreting work, the translator or interpreter must first understand the source language (SL) text or utterance before the translation or interpretation can be done. Therefore, it is no doubt that a translating or interpreting work is related to linguistics, applied linguistics or pragmatics at certain levels. Indeed, in any language ‘meaning’ of words isa complex concept that encompassesmore than one simpleidea or denotation (Cruse, D.A.1986; Hatim, B & Mason, I 1990: 227). This means NAATI itself has no sufficient qualifications to conduct proper training programs for candidates who want to become a qualified translator or interpreter.

Without sufficient qualifications for training such programs, NAATI obviously cannot determine the standards for translators and interpreters. The current standards in NAATI Testing mechanism for translation are based on the surface level of the SL language in terms of grammatical or syntactical issues in the absence of pragmatic level, which is very important aspect in written and verbal communication. It is the absence of pragmatic meanings that represents a severe malfunctioning role in current NAATI Testing mechanism, and this needs to be rectified.

Within the limits of staff and insufficient qualifications, NAATI itself cannot assume the task of determining standards for testing the quality of translating and interpreting work, which is involved human language, let alone an area of expertise in human knowledge. For example, Electric Energy Society of Australia (EESA)[13] and Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA)[14]do not hold any formal training function for electric engineers and architects relatively. Their qualifications are trained and determined by relevant universities, which have academic expertises being much higher than NAATI. This example gives a clear reason why NAATI should stay away from determining the standards for translators and interpreters. It should instead, give way to universities in training and determining standards for translators and interpreters.

From a linguistic and academic perspective, I strongly recommend that the role of NAATI should be reviewed to ensure it does not intervene in formal training programs for translators and interpreters in Australia. My reason for this recommendation simply is because NAATI does not have sufficiently appropriate skills and qualifications to accomplish the role of training for translators and interpreters that requires skills and qualifications in teaching and applied linguistics.

6.       Conclusion

Australia is currently adopting a testing system that accredits so few practitioners to meet the needs of translator and interpreter services, creating disillusionment and dissatisfaction among candidates, without remedy for the large failure rate of NAATI accreditation (VFST 2012:41)

In exercising its current accreditation regime, NAATI adopts 'The error analysis / deduction method' in assessing translation texts that receives wide support from examiners (Turner 2008:4); but it is unacceptable from academic and linguistic perspectives because the 'The error analysis / deduction method' only focuses on the lexical elements in the usage of target language that do not reflect pragmatic meanings intended to convey in the SL text that are very important in evaluating the quality of a translation (Viaggio 1992: 16).

Current curriculums of academic training in translating and interpreting conducted by a number of Australian educational institutions should be promoted in the same manner as in other disciplines without intervention by another agency or organization such as NAATI. Through these curriculums of academic training, skills in translating and interpreting can be improved along with linguistic skills for translators and interpreters in Australia. However, specialized interpreters and translators should be trained for through specially-designed curriculums that meet the need of qualified interpreters and translators in specific fields of expertise such as legal, medical and woman's issues.

What NAATI should do is to control and manage the activities of translators and interpreters, who have relevant qualifications provided by Australian universities in line with academic guidelines currently applied in Australia.

I am submitting this proposal as an Australian citizen from an academic point of view, in the capacity of a holder of a BA in Multicultural Studies, Post-graduate in TESOL, MA in Applied Linguistics, MA in Public Policy, MA in Translating & Interpreting and PhD in Sociolinguistics with experience in teaching ESL both in Vietnam and Australia.


Bogucki, Łukasz (2010) Teaching Translation and Interpreting: Challenges and Practices. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. UK.


Brough, Cara (2006) Language Services in Victoria’s Health System: Perspectives of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Consumers. Centre for Culture Ethnicity & Health, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Brown, Andrew (2012) RMIT Student Success Program. Student Services.


Choolun, Nicole (2009) 'Lost in Translation? An Examination of Court Interpreting in Australia'. Queensland Law Student Review. Vol 2(1)

Cruse D. A. (1986) LexicalSemantics,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) (2008) Australia's system of government. Australian Government.


Duenas, Pilar Mur (2004)  A Pragmatic Approach to the Contrastive Analysis of a Literary Work and Two of its Translations. Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses. No. 17, November 2004

Gerding-Salas, Constanza (2000) 'Teaching Translation Problems and Solutions'. Translation Journal. Volume 4, No. 3 July 2000


Hale, Sandra (2007) Critical link 5 Congress. The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators Inc. Volume 15, number 2 - May 2007.

Hale, Sandra (2011) Interpreter policies, practices and protocols in Australian Courts and Tribunals. A national survey. The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration Incorporated. Melbourne.

Hatim, B. and Mason, I (1990) Discourse and the Translator. Longman. London and New York.

Kitis, Eliza (2009) The Pragmatic Infastructure of Translation. Revista Brasilera de Tradutores. No. 18, 2009

Lo Bianco, Joseph (2010) The importance of language policies and multilingualism for cultural diversity. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. UK, USA.

Munday J. (2012) Introducing Translation Studies. Routledge. London and New York.

Onodera, Noriko O. (2004).Japanese Discourse Markers. Synchronic and Diachronic Discourse Analysis. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Ozolins, U. (2003)  'Language and Economics: Mutual Incompatibilities, or a Necessary Partnership?'. Current Issues In Language Planning Vol. 4, No. 1, 2003.

NAATI (2012) Ethics of Interpreting And Translating: A Guide to Obtaining NAATI Credentials. Canberra 2012.


Turner, Barry (2008) 'DESCRIPTORS – A WAY FORWARD FOR TRANSLATOR AND INTERPRETER TEST ASSESSMENT IN AUSTRALIA'. Paper presented to the University of Western Sydney Interpreting and Translating Research Symposium, 26 September 2008.

(Source: (http://mams.rmit.edu.au/tszh5ot4g8gh.pdf)

Error Deduction and Descriptors-A Comparison of Two Methods of Translation Test Assessment' Translation & Interpreting, Vol. 2, No. 1, May 2010: 11-23.

Turner, Barry and Ozolins, Uldis (2007) The Standards of Linguistic Competence In English and LOTE among NAATI Accredited Interpreters And Translators.


VFST - The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (2012). Exploring Barriers and Facilitators to the Use of Qualified Interpreters in Health. Discussion Paper April 2012. Foundation House.

Viaggio, Sergio (1992) Rivista Internazionale di Tecninca della Traduzione.  University of Trieste, Italy.

[1]Ethics of Interpreting And Translating: A Guide to Obtaining NAATI Credentials. Canberra 2012


[8]. Macquarie University, University of New South Wales, University of New South Wales,  University of Western Sydney (Sydney), The Australian National University, Canaberra, Monash University, RMIT University (Melbourne) and University of Queensland.

[14] http://www.aaca.org.au/

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