Translation and Interpreting Services

Translation deals with the written word while interpreting deals with the spoken word. A translator works from a document written in one language (the source text) translating it into another language (the target language), while an interpreter facilitates communication between people who speak different languages, or use sign language. An interpreter listens to a person speaking or signing in one language (e.g. Italian) and repeats what they have said in a different language (e.g. English) to another person.

A freelance translator or interpreter does the actual work. An agency acts as a service broker. If you require ongoing translation or interpreting services, it is worth building up a solid relationship with a competent practitioner. On the other hand, some agencies offer valuable additional services such as proofreading, editing, quality control and desktop publishing. If you need to translate your document into several languages an agency is probably a better choice as they have access to a wide range of practitioners. Please check the credentials of any freelancer or agency to work out who will serve your purpose best. 

AUSIT members are qualified interpreters and translators; they take their work seriously and adhere to a strict Code of Ethics. AUSIT is Australia’s leading professional association of practising translators and interpreters. The AUSIT web site carries Australia’s most up-to-date and comprehensive on-line directory of practitioners, information and advice for consumers and a search facility which enables you to narrow down your search for a translator or interpreter. You can search by language, experience and location, by practitioner name and even link up to practitioner websites for further information. If you are unable to find a practitioner with your language combination, please contact AUSIT: admin@ausit.org, or 1800 284 181. 

You can contact AUSIT (admin@ausit.org or 1800 284 181), which may be able to help or refer you to an agency that can. Otherwise try contacting the major government language service providers like TIS (Translation & Interpreting Service); or Centrelink, who may have somebody with your language combination on their books. 

Allow 2-5 working days turnaround for small jobs such as marriage and birth certificates. For other jobs discuss the timeline with your translator.  As a rough guide, translators can translate 150-500 words per hour depending on the amount of formatting required, the complexity of the text (legal, medical and technical translations often require extensive research) and whether the original document is delivered in electronic format. Good translators may be booked up days or even weeks in advance. Plan your job accordingly and try not to rush your translation project. Some companies spend weeks compiling a brochure or important report and then expect it to be rewritten (translated) into another language in a few days. This is not realistic.  

Rates and Pricing 

Charges for translations depend on the size of the work.  

  • Standard documents (such as birth certificates) are usually priced on a per-document basis.  
  • Larger documents are often priced based on word count. To avoid disputes, agree before-hand whether you use the word-count of the source document or of the translated document. It is common to use the Microsoft Word word-count feature for this purpose.  
  • Very large pieces of work (e.g. books or ongoing work) are often negotiated on a separate, fixed-fee basis.  

There is no standard industry rate; language professionals set their own fees and conditions. Obtain several quotations from suitably qualified and experienced practitioners to get an idea of price range. Be mindful that you get what you pay for, so a low quote may not offer the best deal and price should be only one factor in evaluating who should undertake your job. For translation, expect to pay either a flat fee for your job or a per word or per 100 word rate. Specify which word count to use – that of the source language or that of the target language. Many translators charge a set rate for documents such as birth certificates or police records. The per word rate usually depends on the type of document to be translated, the language combination, the amount of work involved (e.g. extensive formatting or desktop publishing) the subject matter and the deadline. Expect to pay more for legal, medical and technical translations. Urgent jobs will usually attract an extra loading. 

There is no standard industry rate; language professionals set their own fees and conditions. Obtain several quotations from suitably qualified and experienced practitioners to get an idea of price range. Be mindful that you get what you pay for, so a low quote may not offer the best deal and price should be only one factor in evaluating who should undertake your job. Interpreters charge per assignment (usually by the hour or half/full day). Minimum fees apply for both. You will normally be expected to pay any travel, meal and hotel expenses. The type of interpreting assignment, location, time of day, length of assignment and degree of specialisation/experience required will also dictate the fee. Cancellation fees may apply. For example, if you book an interpreter for an assignment and then later have to cancel, depending on the amount of notice given, the interpreter may charge either the full fee or a percentage of the fee if more notice of cancellation is provided. This is to cover the loss of other work declined for this period. 

Service Quality 

A good start is to employ an AUSIT member to ensure you are working with a qualified practitioner. Choose a person who has experience in your field and seek references and recommendations. 

  • Poorly presented documents with spelling mistakes and poor layout.  
  • Work being completed past the agreed deadline without prior consultation.  
  • The translation does not sound natural.  
  • Incorrect terminology has been used. 
  • Translator has ignored instructions or charged a different amount from the one agreed upon.  

If you are not happy with the work, discuss your concerns with the translator. They can often rectify the situation at no extra cost unless it is your fault for not giving correct instructions or guidelines. Once you have found a reliable interpreter or translator, stick with them – they will save time and money as they understand your requirements. Changing practitioners means going back to square one.  

  • Oneword answers being interpreted as lengthy explanations or vice versa.  
  • The interpreter engaging in conversation that excludes you or other speakers. 

The first thing to do is to discuss your concerns with the individual translator or interpreter as 90% of the time this resolves matters quickly. If after doing this, you are still unhappy with the service you have received you have the following options: 

Translation: Ask another translator to check the work of the first translator to get a second opinion. If the second translator agrees that the work is of poor quality you have the option of having the document translated by someone else and not paying the first translator. This situation can largely be avoided by selecting a person carefully in the first place.  

Interpreting: If you realise during an assignment that the interpreter is not able to carry out the job, you can terminate the assignment. This situation can usually be avoided by hiring the right person in the first place.  

Pre and Post Assignment Checklist 

  • Give your interpreter as much information as you can about the job and the people for whom they will be interpreting.  
  • Ensure the interpreter has provided you with information on the terms and conditions of the job (pay rate, length of assignment, meal and rest breaks, cancellation policy etc.). 
  • Was the interpreter professionally presented and punctual? 
  • Did they take notes or have dictionaries at hand? 
  • Were they courteous and helpful? 
  • Was their language clear and easy to understand? 
  • Did the conversation proceed smoothly?  
  • Ensure your document is free of typing and grammatical errors. 
  • Spell out any acronyms or abbreviations. 
  • Provide glossaries or previous translations if available. 
  • Provide the document in electronic format if possible. 
  • Stipulate the format required for the completed work and ensure that the translator is familiar with and has access to the relevant software. 
  • Allow sufficient time for the translator to complete the task (he/she can guide you as to the time required). 
  • Be clear about the terms and conditions (pay rate, deadline, end format etc.).
  • Was the translation completed by the agreed deadline? 
  • Is the document professionally presented? (layout, spelling, grammar etc) 
  • Does it read naturally? 
  • If the translation is into a language you understand, read the document to make sure it flows well. If the translation is into a language you do not understand, peruse the finished document to ensure it is complete, that numbers and other words you understand are correct and that the layout is accurate. Have the final document checked by a translator who is a native speaker if you are unsure.

Document Types and Preparation

Check the AUSIT online directory of translators for practitioners with your language combination who specialise in your subject area. Once you have established a shortlist of suitable candidates, ask them for a quote and timeline. Check they have undertaken previous work in the field to make sure they can deliver the level of service required. Ask for examples of previous work or references if you are unsure. 

Accredited translators can stamp and certify their translations with their NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators & Interpreters) number. The AUSIT translator database only lists accredited translators. Ask your chosen translator to certify your document.Sometimes if an ‘official’ translation is required, you may need to contact the embassy or consulate of the country concerned. In some cases, they will only accept a translation if it is done by a translator on their in-house list. 

Once you have chosen a translator, the next step is to prepare the document for translation. Save each section or chapter in a separate file. Microsoft Word documents are most likely to suit a translator, but many translators can open different types of files (e.g. PowerPoint or Portable Document Files (PDF)). Check with your translator to make sure the files can be easily opened on the translator’s computer. 

Translators sometimes charge more for documents not provided in electronic format as they are more difficult to work with. If you are sending a hard copy of your document, never send the original.

Expect to pay more for technical translations than general translations just as you would pay more to see a specialist than to see your GP. The translator may ask for partial payment in advance or credit card details. 

Send a written order with your document confirming the terms you have agreed on with the translator such as price, delivery date, corrections, end format (e.g. Word document/desktop publishing), payment terms etc. 

Once the translator has received the document, be prepared to provide assistance with any terminology specific to your field. Even specialised translators will not have the same detailed knowledge of automotive engineering as someone who works in the field every day. Be prepared to explain acronyms and any in-house jargon. Allow plenty of time for the translation to be completed, particularly if the document is for publication. Translation is a slow, methodical process as the document needs to be completely re-written. 

When you receive the finished product check it carefully. If anything is unclear or incorrect ask your translator to make the necessary changes. Most translators will not charge extra for this service.  

Computer Translation and Bilingual Staff

The advantage is that it is usually much quicker and more efficient for anything but the most basic of jobs. 

There are currently two types of computer translation – machine translation and computer assisted translation commonly known as CAT. Machine translation can be useful if you want to know the gist of a document. For example, if you have a magazine article in a foreign language and you want to know what it is about, a machine translation will give you a quick idea. On the other hand, if you want your marketing brochure or website translated into a foreign language avoid machine translation at all costs. You can try out machine translation for yourself at http://world.altavista.com 

A CAT tool is software that has memory banks where translators can store frequently used phrases to avoid repetitive translation work. Examples of CAT tools are Trados and Déjà Vu. The quality of the CAT tool memory bank depends on the individual translator as all items in memory have been stored there by the translator rather than being supplied with the software. CAT tools also help a translator retain the same formatting as original documents.  

Would you hire a handyman to rewire your house or a legal secretary to draft your will? Both know something about the task, but would you have confidence they could do the job properly? Interpreters and translators are specialists with qualifications and experience. A qualified person can add value to your business, whereas an unqualified person may cost you business. 

Just because a person is bilingual doesn’t mean they are experts in those languages or have the tools and methodology to undertake an assignment. The professional interpreter or translator is likely to have specialist dictionaries, web-based language aids, professional indemnity insurance, modern computer equipment and an understanding of professional ethics. Professional translators and interpreters engage in ongoing specialist training and have a vast and specialised vocabulary. 

Language transfer is a highly developed skill. For example, interpreters have to think on their feet, concentrate for long periods of time, acquire fast note-taking skills and conserve their voice. Translators need to be able to research subject material, locate specialised terms quickly, convey the appropriate style or register of the original document, come up with translations for names, as well as create new terms and do it quickly – these skills are only acquired through training and practice on a regular basis. In addition, a qualified translator/interpreter needs a thorough, in-depth knowledge of the grammar of the target and source languages plus professional writing skills to handle different types of texts. 

Sometimes a qualified practitioner must be engaged – for example in translation of legal and immigration documents and court interpreting. Any bilingual person will not do – unless you don’t care about the message you are sending.  


Submission form

for court interpreters to report incidents or issues that occur in court interpreting assignments.

Purpose and function of this information submission form.

This form enables you to report issues or problems that you encounter in the course of court interpreting assignments. These issues and problems will be collected by AUSIT to report to the JCCD (the Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity) to monitor the implementation of the Recommended National Standards. The reporting of these issues and problems enables AUSIT to work with the JCCD to suggest steps to address these issues and to avoid the repetition of these problems in the future.

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