Blog: COVID-19 highlights the importance of interpreters

The past year has shown us how crucial it is for authorities to work with culturally diverse communities.

Delivering clear public health messages in multiple languages is a life-saving tool during a pandemic. People from culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CALD) backgrounds face an increased risk from COVID-19 if they don’t have the English language skills to understand the latest health directives and whether they have been to any recent exposure sites.

We have seen community leaders across Australia step up to deliver up-to-date information during this period. Community leaders know their community best as they hold a level of trust that is absolutely imperative to informing and educating people – not only about the latest restrictions or when to get tested, but also by addressing vaccine hesitancy and giving people the facts so they can make an informed decision.

But while community leaders play an important role in public messaging, they cannot replace the role of interpreters.

For too long, people from CALD backgrounds have struggled to access certified professional interpreters when they need it. COVID-19 has brought this to public attention, with people unable to make important health decisions and access public information.

Why? Without adequate pay and conditions, more and more interpreters are leaving the profession. Unfortunately, we’re hearing about interpreters who are being offered such low wages that they’re choosing to flip burgers instead.

It is an entrenched and long-term issue for all of us who work with CALD communities, and one that drives conversations at the Queensland Accessing Interpreters Working Group (QAIWG) – a QCOSS-facilitated group that brings together refugee health workers, the Police Ethnic Advisory Group, Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland and other professionals working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. The group is calling on government to do more to ensure communities have access to NAATI Certified Interpreters, and not just generous (and non-certified) bilingual speakers, as is now the case.

It is critical that we hear from the frontline workers at the coalface, because that work on the ground needs to inform the policies and the work QCOSS undertakes as a peak.

Looking beyond the pandemic, we need to ensure multilingual communities have access to certified professional interpreters when they need it – not only for their health, but to uphold their human rights. Interpreters are hoping that COVID-19 could be the catalyst to finally recognise their importance, and value them accordingly.

For more information about the Queensland Accessing Interpreters Working Group, contact QCOSS’ Cultural Inclusion Lead Lesley Bennett at [email protected] or visit the QCOSS website. 

QCOSS’ CAMS program supports increased social connectedness, participation and access for community members from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. For more information about CALD communities, visit the QCOSS website click here. For more information and resources visit the CALD Service Area right here on Community Door.