Can All Bilingual People Be Interpreters? - Speak Your Language | Australia

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Can All Bilingual People Be Interpreters?

Posted on: January 11, 2024 by admin

As our society continues to become more diverse, an increasing number of individuals are embracing bilingualism.  With so many bilingual people, it can beg the question: what is the need for interpreters? While both bilingual people and interpreters have many similarities, they also have many differences. In this blog, we will discuss whether bilingual speakers and interpreters are the same thing, delving into what these terms mean and the complexities involved in both.

What Does Bilingual Mean?

Bilingual people are those who can speak or write in two or more languages fluently. There are many bilingual people in the world. They may have migrated to the country, have relatives who speak a different language at home, or have studied hard to become an expert in a second language. Many bilingual people use their unique language skills to work in roles that need understanding in both languages.

What Does Being an Interpreter Mean?

Professional Interpreters are also bilingual individuals, but they have a degree of proficiency that rises above others. They have been subject to specific testing and must have certifications to prove that their language skills are above and beyond. With years of training under their belts. To work as an interpreter within Australia, you must have completed relevant formal training and achieve certification through the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI). NAATI is jointly owned by all levels of government, sets high national standards, and is the only organisation to issue credentials to those wishing to work in the sector.

Communication Dynamics of Bilingual People

Having proficiency in several languages is a valuable skill in daily life. It enables effective communication with a diverse group of individuals across various situations, enhancing the overall quality of day-to-day experiences. Bilingual individuals excel in informal settings, such as welcoming clients in a professional environment or effortlessly navigating through holiday travels. Their heightened cultural awareness contributes to improved front-line services in various companies and enhances their social interactions.

Formal Settings: The Interpreter’s Domain

Professional interpreters play a crucial role in formal settings, such as conferences, legal proceedings, healthcare environments, and diplomatic events. They are essential for ensuring accurate and effective communication between diverse groups of people. In particular, interpreters are indispensable when dealing with complex, technical, or sensitive information, discussions that inform decision-making, or the signing of agreements. Their expertise becomes crucial in situations involving real conflicts, where misinformation could pose risks to individuals with limited English proficiency or the companies involved. All legal discussions and any topics where there are ethical implications necessitate the use of professional interpreters. All of these situations require an interpreter’s unique and refined skill set in order to convey all of the nuances of communication and ensure its accuracy.

Limitations Facing Bilinguals

While bilinguals can assist in filling language gaps in informal settings, they face many limitations across their competency, responsibility, skill set, and the surrounding legalities.

    • Varied Competency: As they do not undergo testing, bilingual people can have varied degrees of competency with no way of assessing their proficiency. Some can be proficient in speaking and reading a language, but are unable to write it, while others may have an excellent understanding but still lack the specialised vocabulary required to accurately convey information.
    • Burdensome Responsibility: Some bilingual children grow up translating for their monolingual parents in complex situations, causing them to share the burden of care and other responsibilities of their parents. This is often due to persons being unaware of access to interpreting services or feeling ashamed and embarrassed about needing to use them. In wanting their translator to be someone they trust, parents can rely on children who have limited vocabulary to explain private and confidential concerns and put undue pressure on young children.
  • Legal Risks: By law in NSW, medical staff are not allowed to use non-professional interpreters, like relatives, friends, or other bilingual staff, as this breaches official standard procedures and the duty of care owed to the patient. Bilingual people can lack the specific knowledge and skills required to accurately translate, leading to significant legal implications for patients, non-professional interpreters, and medical professionals.
  • Misunderstood Skill Set: Bilingual individuals can be incorrectly assumed to be competent at interpreting in formal settings, which can result in undue pressure being placed on dual language speakers in corporate and workplace settings.

Interpreting Skill Important Takeaways

There are some key takeaways when thinking about interpreting services in Australia.

    • Skill Accreditation: Interpreters are required to be nationally accredited and certified by NAATI to be able to legally work as an interpreter. This ensures there is a national standard for the level of skill they can offer.
  • Specialised Terminology: Interpreters at Speak Your Language are specialised in their fields and know a larger-than-average range of terms that are relevant to the industry. For example, our medical interpreters know terminology relating to the healthcare industry, whereas legal interpreters from our on-site interpreting service will know more about legal jargon and terms.
  • Impartial & Confidential: Whether meeting face-to-face or through a telephone interpreting service, all interpreters are impartial and confidential to the topics being discussed. Their only aim is to ensure that the information from both parties has been accurately presented to the other, including all areas of tone and culturally specific nuance. 

All Interpreters are Bilingual; Not all Bilinguals are Interpreters

When it comes down to the details, one major point stands: all interpreters are bilingual, but not all bilingual people can be interpreters. Interpreting is a specific profession that requires training and certification, as opposed to bilingual people who can have any level of competency across the language. While there are societal benefits that bilinguals offer, on a formal level, interpreters are the only choice to ensure accurate, bias-free, and confidential communication for both parties. 


To organise an interpreter for your business or personal needs today, contact us to get in touch with one of our highly specialised professionals.