A recently published survey of translators and interpreters (T&Is) working in Australia showed that the majority were freelancers, most translators worked on official and legal documents, most interpreters worked in the health sector, and that translators are less likely to undergo professional training compared to interpreters.
Australia’s certifying authority for linguists, NAATI, or the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters, commissioned the survey to identify gaps in Continuing Professional Development (CPD or PD) opportunities for T&Is. (Certain PD requirements are mandatory for NAATI certification, which the body decided to scale down during the pandemic.)
Monash University’s Translation and Interpreting Studies Program conducted the nationwide survey between October and December 2019, with the resulting 42-page report published on April 30, 2020.
The survey drew 3,268 respondents, half of whom worked only as interpreters, a third of whom worked as T&Is, while the remainder worked solely as translators. Of those who worked as T&Is, the majority (55.6%) did more interpreting than translation work.
The experience level was, more or less, evenly spread across the respondents with 53.2% having worked as a T/I for under 10 years and 46.8% for over a decade. About a fifth were veteran T&Is of more than 20 years.
As expected, 86% of respondents spoke a language other than English (LOTE) as their first language. Among the top five first languages, the majority of respondents listed Chinese (26.5%), with English a far second (13.8%), followed by Arabic (7.5%), Vietnamese (5.4%), and Persian/Farsi (5.2%). The rest had 2.5% or less of respondents who spoke them as a first language.
Employment Status and Expertise
About 60% of respondents worked as freelancers compared to the less than 10% who worked in-house. A third said they worked in both freelance and in-house staff positions. According to the study, it is possible that some respondents may have taken the question to include non-T&I work.
Australia-based translators most frequently worked on official documents (58.5%) as well as legal (31%) and medical (27.8%) documents. Other popular areas that translators worked on “sometimes” included business and financial (54.6%), social welfare (53.9%), and marketing (50%).
As for interpreters, the top fields they most often worked in were health (76.5%), social welfare (47.7%), and education (35.8%); although a high proportion “sometimes” worked with the police (53.6%) or in other legal (53.4%) and business (51.9%) settings.
Why Translators Are Less Likely to Train
Given the rationale of the survey, most questions had to do with professional development (PD) and how T&Is currently viewed and engaged with their training. For the purposes of the survey, PD referred to short courses, workshops, or seminars conducted online or in-person. The researchers excluded other activities even if they counted toward recertification, such as overseas trips for language maintenance or networking.
A total of 2,441 respondents (78.3%) said that they had undergone PD in the last 24 months, compared to only 676 (21.7%) who had not.
The study highlighted the strong association between the type of practitioner and PD engagement: Only 63.5% of translators underwent PD, compared to 82.9% of interpreters and 82% of respondents who worked as both T&I.
Additionally, compared to translators, higher proportions of interpreters/both had engaged in more than five PD activities in the past 24 months. The reason for this had to do with the availability of translation-specific training. According to the study, “Compared to interpreters, respondents who only practiced as translators reported being less likely to participate in PD, less likely to find suitable opportunities available, and less likely to regard PD as useful to their work.”
The survey also showed that translation-focused training is especially needed in the following areas: legal, medical, financial, etc. translation fields, translation and technology, and ethics for translators, as well as courses on running a successful translation business.
Across both T&Is, close to 40% did not think that there was enough suitable training available for them. According to one respondent: “At the moment, we are starting to recycle topics locally and, for me, it is starting to get boring, as I have done a lot over the last 10 years […] I notice that the number of people who feel like I do is growing. We are ‘growing up’ and want something more advanced and interesting. The PD organisers need some inspirational guidance.”
Among the negative feedback, 10.8% of respondents stated they only underwent PD for points and that it was a waste of time or not useful. One practitioner pointed out that “workshops should be designed to enable the participants to practice the skill they want to improve instead of listening to the instructor how she or he had gained the skills, what she/he had been doing during their life as an interpreter/translator etc. I am not interested in learning what a long practising interpreter had been doing 10 or 20 years ago, I am more interested about what is relevant today.”
The most frequent complaint, however, had to do with the cost of training: 21.5% said that PD was too expensive, was not worth the cost considering T&I wages, or was a waste of money. As one respondent stated, “Cost of PD is very important for me. I specifically look for free or low cost events as my income from translation is minimal these days but I don’t want to lose my certification.”
The study concluded by recommending courses of action for NAATI as the country’s chief accrediting body, such as developing a “regularly updated central platform to communicate available PD courses” and actively working with “industry partners to provide access to bursaries or discounted fees for PD courses.”