Service area

Culturally and linguistically diverse


One-in-five Queenslanders are born overseas. More than a third of Queenslanders are either born overseas or have at least one parents born overseas. Queenslanders speak more than 220 languages and approximately one in ten Queenslanders speaks a language other than English at home.

An older lady is sitting at outdoor table.

It is estimated that there are approximately 203,000 people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds in Queensland, many still residing in remote communities retaining their own language.

Amparo Advocacy have released factsheets about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, translated into 39 languages. More information about the scheme can be found on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Website.

Here are some great organisations and websites for information on CALD communities

Accessing interpreters and translators

Migration continues to be one of the largest contributors to Queensland’s growing population. According to the Australian Government’s Settlement Information report for the period of 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2017 there were 35,000 permanent migrants to Queensland.

In the 2016 Census, 557,690 Queenslanders stated that they spoke a language other than English at home. This represents 11.9 percent of the state’s population. Also, 75,532 Queenslanders (1.6 percent) stated that they do not speak English or do not speak it well.

This data confirms the continuing need for access to professional, credentialed interpreters and translators.

The Queensland Government Language Services Policy

In 2008, a state government policy was introduced requiring Queensland Government agencies that fund non-government organisations to deliver services on their behalf to make provisions in their budgets for meeting the cost of interpreter services.

The Queensland Government Language Services Policy and Guidelines mandates that Queensland Government agencies and government funded non-government service providers engage credentialed interpreters for service users with low English language proficiency.

The Queensland Government Language Services Policy aims to enhance access to interpreters and translated information for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, as this enables equitable access to the full range of services. These strategies include the engagement of professional interpreters in circumstances where people experience difficulties communicating in English, the provision of multicultural information and training staff in how to work with interpreters.

Subject to Australian Government approval, some non-government, community based, or non-profit organisations are eligible for free interpreting services. General practitioners and members of Parliament are also entitled to free interpreting services. Further details about eligibility for free interpreting services can be obtained from the Department of Home Affairs website.

Queensland Government funded non-government organisations 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.

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.

Queensland Interpreter Card

The National Interpreter Symbol and the Queensland Interpreter Card aim to help people with limited English proficiency access language services when using government services. The symbol should be clearly visible to identify agencies where language assistance is available. The Queensland Interpreter Card can be used to indicate when a person needs an interpreter in their language.

The card is distributed inside a multilingual brochure with basic information on how to use it. The brochure includes translations in Arabic, Bosnian, Chinese, Croatian, Serbian and Vietnamese.

The Queensland Interpreter Card can be used by any person who speaks a language other than English and needs or wishes to use an interpreter to communicate. The card is free of charge and a person may obtain one or more. The card can be freely shared among people who speak the same language indicated on the front of the card such as family members. The card can also be used at Queensland Government agencies and some local Commonwealth agencies, including Centrelink.

Cards are distributed to Queensland Government agencies, community groups, and not-for profit agencies for distribution to their non-English speaking clients. To order free copies of the cards, call 13 QGOV (13 74 68)

Translating and Interpreting Service also produces and distributes interpreter cards. For more information phone 131 450.

Engaging and working with interpreters webinar

Engaging and working with interpreters effectively is essential for delivering services to people with difficulty communicating in English.

Assessing the need for an interpreter – a tip sheet to help you determine when and how to use an interpreter.

Translation: An introduction – a tip sheet for translating written information.

Translation and Interpreting Services

Free Translating Service

The Free Translating Service is provided by the Australian Government for people settling permanently in Australia. It aims to support participation in employment, education and community engagement. Permanent residents and select temporary or provisional visa holders can have up to ten eligible documents translated into English, within the first two years of their eligible visa grant date. Eligible documents include identity and relationship documents, facilitation documents such as driver’s licences, education documents and employment related documents.

Free Interpreting Service

The Australian Government’s Free Interpreting Service aims to provide equitable access to key services for people with limited or no English language proficiency. The following groups can access the Free Interpreting Service to provide services to anyone in Australia who is eligible for Medicare:

  • Private medical practitioners
  • Pharmacies
  • Non-government organisations (who are not substantially government funded)
  • Real estate agencies
  • Local government authorities
  • Trade unions
  • Parliamentarians

To register for a client code, eligible groups can complete the online client registration form or contact TIS National on 1300 575 847

Interpreter Services for the deaf

Employment with TIS National

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship operates the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National). TIS National welcomes enquiries from Australian permanent residents and citizens who are interested in working as interpreters. TIS National is continually seeking to recruit people to provide interpreting services in various languages. For more information visit the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

A guide for working with interpreters for community service organisations

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a constantly changing environment relating to our health, schools, jobs, income, recreation and socializing.

People from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds may experience a range of challenges including understanding the current health advice, directions regarding social distancing and isolation and available government support. This can leave people from CALD backgrounds in a vulnerable position and lead to a range of experiences including confusion, fear and anxiety, economic disadvantage and health risks. Given the significant risk to lives and livelihood which COVID-19 presents it is critical that everyone in our community can understand what is required of them, what support is available and how they can access services.

This guide provides a brief summary of important considerations for people working in community service organisations who are supporting people with the aid of an interpreter. There are also some links to further information and resources that may be helpful.

Please note, that this information covers spoken language interpreting and not interpreting for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Information regarding this can be found at Deaf Services Queensland.

Are you set up to engage interpreters when needed?

Does your service have an account with a Language Service Provider or access to interpreters through a government funding body? It is important that all front line workers are familiar with the process of engaging interpreters for your particular service.

If you do not have an established account with a Language Service Provider (LSP) or arrangement through your funding body you will need to set up an account with one or more LSPs prior to booking an interpreter. There is a range of organisations providing over-the-phone interpreting services. For more information on these organisations you can simply search for telephone interpreter service Australia online or ask other organisations for their recommendations.

The Queensland Government Language Services Policy requires agencies and services funded by the Queensland Government to engage qualified interpreters. Your organisation should have a policy on engagement of interpreters.

Who is an interpreter and how do they deliver their services?

Qualified or professional interpreters in Australia are not only ‘good’ bilingual (or multilingual) individuals, they have demonstrated high proficiency in the languages in which they work. They have developed competent interpreting skills through completion of tertiary studies, professional development, and/or rigorous testing and experience. Qualified interpreters are trained to maintain strict ethical standards while performing their duties through consistent application of specialised ethical principles as set out by the AUSIT Code of Ethics and the ASLIA Code of Ethics. They are bound by national standards and are certified through NAATI, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters.

How do you know when you should engage an interpreter?

Sometimes this is clear, the most obvious being the client asks for an interpreter. Other times it will require a degree of judgment and consideration of a range of factors including:

  • Language competency on the day – stress and tiredness can affect people’s ability to understand you.
  • Complexity of information to be discussed – a person may have a reasonable level of conversational English but may find it difficult to understand more abstract information such as giving consent to share their information with other service providers.
  • Ability of the client to communicate their needs.
  • Impact of inaccurate interpretation on the individual and/or organisation.
  • Impact on a person’s ability to access the service.
  • If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and engage an interpreter.

It may be necessary to verbally test whether the client’s level of proficiency in English would interfere in clear and accurate communication. When verbally testing proficiency, ask one or two open-ended questions (not yes/no questions). These should not be familiar questions (where do you live?). For example, you could ask the person to explain in their own words their understanding of a statement that you make.

It may be that you need to impress upon the person the importance of engaging an interpreter even if the client does not request one.

Things to consider when booking an interpreter

  • Conversations with an interpreter will take longer than those without. Make sure you allow for additional consultation time (one and a half or double) with a client when an interpreter is involved.
  • When requesting an interpreter it is important to be specific about the language and regional dialect of the client and not make assumptions on which language or dialect would be appropriate. For example, do not assume that all people who originate from Burma can or want to speak with a Burmese interpreter.
  • You can also seek advice from community members, organisations or service providers that can help understand some of the intricacies or complexities around particular languages and cultural groups.
  • In sensitive cases, at the request of the client, it may be necessary to request an interpreter who is not of the same community (which may require requesting an interpreter by telephone).
  • Be aware the interpreter may and should decline the engagement if there is a risk of vicarious trauma, conflict of interest (close friend, family member) or​ where the terminology/issues to be discussed is beyond the interpreter’s competence.
  • Check the credentials of the interpreter provided – this can be done on the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) website, simply enter the NAATI number of the interpreter to view their credentials.

What if the client or a family member can speak some English or declines an interpreter?

Queensland Language Services guidelines state that, “The ability to converse in English does not necessarily indicate that a person comprehends the level of English spoken by doctors, nurses, magistrates, lawyers, police officers and others, or that the person understands written English. If there is any doubt about a person’s ability to communicate in or comprehend English, an interpreter should be engaged.”

  • Consider how you ask the question: “Do you need an interpreter?” versus “Would you like a professional interpreter?” or “I think we need some help to make sure we understand each other well”.
  • Mention your organisation’s policy and let them know that it is there to help the client.
  • Offer to re-evaluate the need for an interpreter in the future.

Tips for a good interpreted session

In the current climate, most if not all of your interactions with clients will be by phone or video conference and so a three-way remote conversation will be the norm. The following should be considered when setting up an interpreted session:

  • Inform the client of their rights as a service user including having access to an interpreter where necessary, that the interpreting service is provided for free, and that the interpreter is bound by a code of ethics that includes confidentiality and impartiality.
  • Brief the interpreter on the nature of the discussion to take place.
  • Ensure the interpreter is in a quiet and confidential space and is aware of the expected length of the appointment and content and ensure the interpreter feels competent and able to proceed.
  • Ensure that you and the client are also in a quiet and confidential space.
  • Speak directly to the client and direct questions and comments to the client not to the interpreter.
  • Only address the interpreter directly if needing to provide instructions and avoid interrupting the interpreter.
  • Speak in your normal tone of voice.
  • Use concise and well-constructed sentences, avoiding jargon and slang.
  • Pause once you have conveyed one or two ideas to allow the interpreter to remember and interpret everything that you have said.
  • Ensure understanding by repeating back what you have heard and asking the client to repeat back what they have heard.
  • If the client seems reluctant to speak (perhaps due to not understanding or trusting the interpreter) arrange another time and engage a different interpreter.
  • If by phone, make allowance for possible clarification by the interpreter because he/she has no visual cues (such as body language) to assist in interpreting.
  • Ensure that all required information is collected from and provided to the client while the interpreter is on the phone.
  • Allow time to debrief with the interpreter when the session is finished, particularly when the subject matter has been distressing or otherwise difficult.

Useful resources and links

Reporting issues

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