In its third National Indigenous Languages Report, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters has produced important findings that could inform policy decisions for years to come.
Last week, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) in Australia released its third National Indigenous Languages Report (NILR). Following the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages, this third indigenous languages report provides essential information regarding the state of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in Australia, and aims to maintain or revitalize languages under threat. As COVID-19 exposes some glaring flaws in multilingual engagement in Australia and worldwide, the report will provide invaluable information moving forward.
In the survey, data collectors focused on the total approximate number of speakers, and the proportion of people within the community that speak the language; age and gender distribution of speakers; proficiency levels of speakers; domains in which the language is used; documentation levels and available resources; current activities and programs being conducted; and training of Indigenous language workers and teachers.
Among the findings, the report highlights the central role of language translators and interpreters in facilitating communication between language speakers and professionals, along with some of the challenges that the Indigenous language industry in Australia faces. Some of the challenges include a shortage of certified translators and interpreters in many regions and language groups, a lack of awareness about the necessity of highly skilled translators and interpreters, and the difficulty to access relevant training for indigenous language professionals.
CEO of NAATI, Mark Painting, said that “This report confirms the importance of NAATI’s continued work with Australian governments and Indigenous organizations to develop the Indigenous translating and interpreting industry so it can meet the need that exists for highly skilled indigenous language [translators and interpreters].”
The report concludes that there is no single, homogeneous experience of indigenous languages in Australia. While some language groups speak the language for most primary day-to-day activities, others may rely on elders to speak traditional language, or use the language primarily for cultural or commercial activities. The surveyors even found that new languages have emerged from historical contact between English and indigenous languages.
Along with the diversity of experience with language, the report also concluded that “there is no one, clear context in which languages function. This Report outlines an approach which policy makers and service providers can use to understand the regional differences and considerations of language, when planning, implementing, and evaluating initiatives.”
Originally commissioned by the Australian Commonwealth in 2004, the NAATI released its first indigenous languages report in 2005 and its second in 2014. Carried out jointly with the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages, the consultancy initially focused on three components. The first: to an Australia-wide survey of the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages. The second: to identify, document, and report on language resource material available, including location. The third: to develop strategies to address the findings of the survey, including considerations affecting program development and service delivery.