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Report on the 2023 AUSIT Conference

19 Dec 2023

By Alejandra González Campanella

The 36th National Conference of the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) took place from 23 to 25 November at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Around 500 people (presenters, sponsors and attendees) gathered for three days packed with presentations, workshops, panel discussions, and social events. Up to eight sessions were available at any point in time, meaning no shortage of options to choose from – and a bit of walking around, too.

Like other recent events, the conference programme reflected the current focus on public service interpreting (PSI) and community interpreting (CI). About half of the 100 presentations dealt with various forms of interpreting, including in healthcare, court, and education settings. The selection of keynote speakers aligned with this trend, with two of the three keynote speakers addressing healthcare (Deb Wilcox, AM, Ministry of Health) and court interpreting (Honourable Justice Francois Kunc, Supreme Court, NSW). 
Other areas of interpretation covered in the programme included the ever-present code of ethics, team interpreting, self-care, and emerging areas such as interpreting in the voluntary assisted dying (VAD) context and dementia assessments. NAATI certification also had a place in the discussion, with a few sessions dedicated to specialist interpreting tests. The focus on specialisation is consistent with the level of professionalisation in the local market. Australia has a longer tradition and an exponentially higher number of NAATI-accredited interpreters compared to the smaller group that has so far achieved certification in Aotearoa New Zealand (NAATI, 2023). 

There were much fewer dedicated presentations for translators. Only about 30 speakers addressed issues about translation work. The topics ranged from using AI in translation, game localisation, and subtitling to literary translation and revision. Community translation – meaning translation aimed at communicating public measures to communities (Taibi & Ozolins, 2016) – also received a special place in the conference through the keynote address by Associate Professor Erika Gonzalez Garcia (RMIT). 

Another set of presentations focused on various issues relevant to both translation and interpreting (T&I). Miscellaneous topics were included in this group, which comprised speakers discussing research approaches for engagement with migrant and refugee communities, professional development, accessibility and inclusion, and the sustainability of our industry, among others. A detailed exploration of all presentations would be too exhaustive (and lengthy!), but I have selected a few thought-provoking talks to share here.

 

- Interpreting

Kicking off the first day, Rob Aurbach (Uncommon Approach) delivered a keynote on the state of community interpreting in Australia. While his call to consider interpreting a critical service is not necessarily new for T&I practitioners, his proposal to regulate language service providers (LSPs) – including their profit margins –, share liability exposure, and create more accountability offers some food for thought. Other points in his speech resonated quite close to the Fair Pay Petition led by NZSTI member Carolina Cannard, as he touched on minimum engagement time, no “loading” for the first hour in lieu of expenses, parking allowances, and payment for preparation time.

Hui (Flora) Tao (Sydney Healthcare Interpreting Service) presented on an emerging and controversial topic that will also be relevant for New Zealand practitioners. Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) introduces a new area of interpreting, bringing sensitivity, empathy, accuracy, confidentiality, and self-care to the foreground. Interpreters may be asked to work on-site for medical assessments and substance administration, as well as through on- or off-site navigation services to support patients through the process. Some interpreters may wish to decline these assignments for religious or other personal reasons, which requires careful reflection and honest conversations with LSPs and other interpreter-engaging services.

In the second keynote speech of day one, Hon Justice François Kunc (Supreme Court NSW) discussed the Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals (Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity, 2022) and the path ahead for court interpreting in Australia. Positive recommendations introduced in the standards include 20-minute interpreting turns, briefing interpreters in order to enable higher quality work, and not allowing solicitors to interpret affidavits. However, there still seems to be a long way to go to achieve a culture of interpreting. Some of the points raised in the “to-do list” included establishing a body to monitor the standards’ implementation, more training for legal professionals, and the use of technology to improve working conditions for interpreters (e.g. seating arrangements). In Aotearoa, the Ministry of Justice’s Interpreter Services Quality Framework  mirrors several of these recommendations. 

 

- Translation

One of the keynote speakers for the event, Associate Professor Erika Gonzalez Garcia (RMIT), offered an engaging overview of the collaboration between the Australian government, academia, community leaders, and NGOs to produce translated information for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project shows a deeper understanding of the need to involve the communities in all stages of community translation projects, from source text production to review and dissemination. Guidelines resulting from this project are available on the AUSIT website

Dr Maho Fukuno (RMIT) delivered an interesting presentation on ethical decisions for translators. He used Kruger & Crots’s (2014) framework of professional ethics (external) and personal ethics (internal) to look at Japanese translators’ impartiality choices. The research showed diverse views of impartiality among translators, who often employ internal ethics to make decisions and even engage in advocacy in their renditions (e.g. changing “women” to “people”). 

On the technology front, Beatrice Cortis (2M) reviewed new developments impacting the T&I industry and encouraged practitioners to embrace technology and find ways to leverage the benefits of workflow automation. For example, she discussed the lower editing efforts and reduced work repetition gained from using custom machine translation (e.g. Google AutoML, Microsoft Custom Translator, Globalese, Phrase Custom AI, and Systran) and enhancing machine translation (MT) with prompts and glossaries (e.g. Custom.MT, RWS, Lokalise, memoQ, and TAUS DeMT). AI dubbing and other synthetic voice technology (text-to-speech models such as Google, Amazon, and Open AI) can also offer significant benefits for content accessibility. Undeniably, technology continues to move forward, and T&I needs to move alongside it. Yet, while the use of MT to create community emergency messages in almost real-time (VicEmergency App) is an example of successful technology leverage for human benefit, questions remain around the ethical use of new tools and the potential precariousness of our industry.

- General Interest

Christine Castley (Multicultural Australia) discussed the sustainability of the T&I industry in light of a recent review, which suggests gaps in the provision of language support to ethnic communities and language/culture-based discrimination.

A panel discussion including Dr Horas Wong (UNSW), Associate Professor Erika Gonzalez (RMIT), Gianna Parma (True Relationships and Reproductive Health), Candela Malizia (freelance practitioner), and Budi Sudarto (Ananda Training & Consultancy) reflected on the inclusion and safety of LGBTQIA+ clients. The speakers remarked on the lack of education and information within the T&I industry, as well as bias, prejudice, and cultural stigma as factors impacting safe language support. The consequences of these barriers are discrimination, lack of access to essential services, and even re-traumatisation. Critical reflection, more knowledge, and respect for fundamental human rights appear as the clear way forward.

 

In terms of the event organisation and logistics, AUSIT 2023 applied some learning from AUSIT 2022. For example, all presentations took place in one building, which saved attendees a lot of time and energy moving around the campus to attend presentations. However, other areas of organisation did not quite match the quality of its Brisbane predecessor, including food and scheduling. 

Understandably, feeding hundreds of people is a challenging feat. The organising committee attempted to simplify this task by providing pre-packaged food trays based on the attendee’s dietary requirements. Another innovative idea was to bring in a coffee cart to offer barista quality caffeine fixes. Both ideas were good but failed to plan for the high number of people requiring service in the short breaks, which led to very long queues and left people stranded for food or (possibly worse) their morning coffee.

As for scheduling, the very ambitious programme felt like it could have been more balanced for attendees making the trip to Sydney. After a very meaty first day packed with content, day two seemed on the lean side. While it is understandable that AUSIT would take the opportunity to hold its AGM at the event, having it during the conference meant that half of the second day was filled with the AGM – not that relevant for many – and the extended closing sessions. 

Overall, the AUSIT conference remains a good way for Aotearoa-based translators and interpreters to network with colleagues across the Tasman Sea and stay engaged with the T&I community in our part of the world. These opportunities will become increasingly relevant for local practitioners as the Language Assistance Services (LAS) standards programme continues its rollout (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look here or reach out to your local NZSTI branch). Our own Auckland-based conference is next, so mark your calendars for 7-8 September 2024 for a new round of presentations, workshops, discussions, and – hopefully – plenty of coffee.

 

With thanks to NZSTI for funding under the NZSTI Conference Subsidy scheme.

 

References

Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity. (2022). Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in Courts and Tribunals (2nd Ed.). https://jcdi.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/JCDD-Recommended-National-Standards-for-Working-with-Interpreters-in-Courts-and-Tribunals-second-edition.pdf 

Kruger, H., & Crots, E. (2014). Professional and personal ethics in translation: a survey of South African translators’ translation strategies and motivations. Stellenbosch papers in linguistics plus, 43, 147-181. https://doi.org/10.5842/43-0-613

NAATI (2023). 2022-23 Annual Report. https://www.naati.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/NAATI_Annual-Report_2022-23.pdf 

Taibi, M. & Ozolins, U. (2016). Community Translation. Bloomsbury Publishing.

 

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