This is a list of commonly asked questions about accessing interpreters and translators in Queensland. 

1.1 What is the difference between interpreting and translating?

1.2 How do I know if a person needs an interpreter?

1.3 Why is there an emphasis on engaging qualified interpreters?

1.4 How do I find a professional interpreter?

1.5 Can bi-lingual staff be used as interpreters?

1.6 Who do the Australian National Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) fund to access interpreters at no charge?

1.7 What is the ‘I need an interpreter’ card and how can my client get one?

1.8 Are translation services covered by my funding body?

1.9 How can my service or organisation access funding to get materials translated?

1.10 Does the Australian Government provide free translation services?

1.11 Should Queensland government agencies engage with interpreters in their service provision?  

1.12 Are state funded community services entitled to funding to access interpreters?

1.13 As a state-funded service, how can I go about accessing interpreters at no charge?

1.1 What is the difference between interpreting and translating?

Interpreting is communicating between spoken or sign languages between two parties that do not share a common language. Interpreting can be conducted over the telephone, through video or internet conferencing or face-to-face. Professional interpreters are accredited to undertake this work and observe an occupational code of ethics which includes confidentiality, competence, impartiality and accuracy.

Translating is communicating through written information. Translated resources in written, audio or audio-visual formats can reach a wide audience, including people who have not previously used your service. Translated resources are most effective when used as part of interpreted consultations. Translated resources should never be offered in isolation when a critical health or legal decision needs to be made. (Adapted from Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health

1.2 How do I know if a person needs an interpreter?

It may be difficult to assess whether a family or student needs an interpreter. The ability to converse in English does not necessarily indicate that a person comprehends the kind of English spoken by doctors, magistrates, police officers, for instance, or that the person understands written English. If there is any doubt as to a person’s ability to communicate in and comprehend English, an interpreter should be engaged. Sometimes in times of crisis or stress, a person may lose their ability to communicate effectively in a second language. (Adapted from Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health.)

1.3 Why is there an emphasis on engaging qualified interpreters?

Professional interpreters are accredited to undertake interpreting effectively and observe an occupational code of ethics which includes confidentiality, competence, impartiality and accuracy. It is highly recommended to engage accredited interpreters when they are available. Qualified interpreters:

  • are insured for professional indemnity, public liability and workers compensation. 
  • have been cleared by Australian Federal Police checks
  • are bound by the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) Code of Ethics.

Interpreting tasks are assigned to contracted interpreters based on their accreditation standard, geographical location and availability. Priority is given to interpreters with National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) professional accreditation or recognition when allocating assignments.

1.4 How do I find a professional interpreter?

Government funded organisations should have either a credit line or a contract with a specific interpreter agency. Find out if your organisation or program has such an arrangement either from your management or from your funding body (See Section 3 or contact your funding body for more information). For instance, the Queensland Government currently has a memorandum of understanding with the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National. If no arrangement exists for your service or organisation for example if you are unfunded, you can find a professional interpreter through one of following agencies.     

Language Services Australia 
Phone: 07 3808 4463

Queensland Interpreting & Translating Service (QITS)
Phone: 07 3835 3777

On-Call Interpreters and Translators (ONCALL) (Brisbane branch)      
Phone: 3018 0333

National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
Phone: 1300 557 470

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National       
Phone: 131 450

Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT)

1.5 Can bi-lingual staff be used as interpreters?

Bilingual staff use English and another language in their work and are employed in a range of occupations. They are not always employed for their skill in communicating between two languages. Bilingual staff can fill simple communication gaps when working with clients with low English proficiency. However, for more complex communication requirements, a qualified professional interpreter should be engaged. As yet there are no universally accepted standards, qualifications or assessment measures for bilingual staff. Visit the Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health for more information on recruiting bilingual staff. 

1.6 Who do the Australian National Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) fund to access interpreters at no charge?

The Australian Government, through Translating and Interpreting Services (TIS) National, provides free interpreting services to non-English speaking Australian citizens or permanent residents communicating with the following approved groups and individuals:

  • private medical practitioners providing Medicare-rebateable services and their reception staff to arrange appointments and provide results of medical tests
  • non-profit, non-government, community-based organisations for case work and emergency services where the organisation does not receive funding to provide these services

Note: Organisations that require language services (such as interpreting) and receive government funding should incorporate the cost of these services into their application for funding.

  • Members of Parliament for constituency purposes
  • local government authorities to communicate with non-English speaking residents on issues such as rates, garbage collection and urban services
  • trade unions to respond to members' enquiries or requests
  • Emergency Management Australia
  • pharmacies for the purpose of dispensing Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medications.

1.7 What is the ‘I need an interpreter’ card and how can my client get one?

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National produces an ‘I need an interpreter’ card for use by non English speakers who require interpreting assistance. The card is designed to assist non English speakers request an interpreter when they need to communicate with an English speaker. The cards are provided free of charge to assist non English speakers access interpreting services. TIS National provides the cards agencies for distribution to their non English speaker clients.

The cards can be downloaded from the TIS website or call 1300 655 820. 

Queensland Government also produces Queensland interpreter cards

Community workers should encourage clients to ensure they have a TIS card or Queensland Interpreter card that can be produced to ensure interpreters are engaged on a timely basis so that clients are not disadvantaged.

1.8 Are translation services covered by my funding body?

In October 2008, the Premier issued a directive to all Ministers for all Queensland Government departments to make provisions to meet the costs of accessing interpreter service by their funded organisations. This arrangement does not cover translating services.

1.9 How can my service or organisation access funding to get materials translated?

Current arrangements between Queensland Government departments and their funded agencies only makes provision for interpreting services, not translation services.  

If a funded service wishes to translate materials into other languages, they should contact their relevant Community Service Officer to seek a once-off grant to translate the material. The translation should be for service specific information, rather than for generic information about the organisation.

1.10 Does the Australian Government provide free translation services?

The Australian Government provides a free document translation service through TIS National, for people settling permanently in Australia. Permanent settlers are able to have their personal documents translated into English during their initial two year settlement period. Returning Australian citizens may also be eligible for the free translation service within two years of returning to Australia to settle permanently.

1.11 Should Queensland government agencies engage with interpreters in their service provision?  

According to the Queensland Government Language Services Policy, agencies are responsible for budgeting and paying for interpreters including client initiated contact. Clients of Queensland Government agencies do not pay for interpreters.

The Language Services Policy clearly states Queensland Government agencies will implement the policy by:

  • Ensuring staff act on the obligation to provide effective, efficient and inclusive services through appropriate use of interpreters for people that are not proficient in English
  • Acknowledging the entitlement to professional interpreter’s services or to linguistically appropriate information by people who experience language barriers 
  • Establishing protocols for engaging professional interpreters and protocols for when they are not available 
  • Ensuring that language services are culturally  and linguistically acceptable by taking into account gender and ethnicity preferences (including dialect) and the appropriateness of telephone as opposed to on-site interpreting
  • Acknowledging that providing interpreting and other language services is the responsibility of the agencies
  • Developing staff who are trained in cross-cultural skills and how to work with professional interpreters
  • Implementing appropriate budgets and assistance for funded non-government organizations to engage interpreter services for service delivery.

Source: Page 5, Language Services Policy – A Multicultural Future for All of Us, 2011, Queensland Government.

1.12 Are state funded community services entitled to funding to access interpreters?

The Queensland Government Language Services Policy states that Queensland Government funded non-government organisations (NGOs) must be provided with adequate budget and assistance to engaged interpreter services for service delivery. The relevant funding department is responsible for informing funded NGOs of the process and arrangements for accessing interpreting services.

Source: Page 10, Language Services Policy – A Multicultural Future for All of Us, 2011, Queensland Government.

1.13 As a state-funded service, how can I go about accessing interpreters at no charge?

Access to information on how to access interpreters for your NGO to engage with clients from non English speaking backgrounds is available at:

Interpreter access for Department of Communities funded NGOs  

Interpreter access for Queensland Health funded NGOs

See Section 3 for more information on how your service can access interpreters at no charge to your organisation, depending on which state government department funds the service.   

If you are funded by another Queensland Government department and are unsure of your process to access interpreters, contact your contract manager for more information.

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