There are currently not enough interpreters in Australia who speak the languages of its newest migrant groups - but one program is hoping to turn that around.
Newly-graduated Tibetan interpreter Chung Tsering can speak five languages, but it’s having the freedom to use his first language that means the most.
Forced to flee Tibet due to fears of political persecution, Mr Tsering spent time in India before arriving in Australia as a refugee in 2014.
“In my own country there are a lot of restrictions to use my own language,” the 47-year-old told SBS News.
“But here, in Australia, we can not only freely use our own language, but the government supports us to use our own language.”
Until Mr Tsering’s TAFE graduation ceremony this week, there was not a single nationally certified Tibetan interpreter in NSW. Now, there will be five.
They are part of a new generation of 18 interpreters who received scholarships under an NSW Government pilot program aimed at filling a gap in new and emerging migrant communities.
Some of the communities requiring more interpreters include those that speak Assyrian, Kurdish-Kurmanji, Tibetan, Chaldean, Kirundi, Tamil, Rohingya, Somali and Tigrinya - but the list does not end there.
A lack of qualified interpreters can have a detrimental effect on migrant populations, including leading to ineffective health care and legal support.
“We’ve got new and emerging communities in this state that would find it awfully difficult to translate,” NSW Minister for Multiculturalism John Sidoti told SBS News.
“You go for a check-up to your GP or the hospital, you have a condition and you have communication problems - how can you make sure that you correctly diagnose or explain that diagnosis to a patient? If you encounter problems with a parking fine, or a common everyday problem, you need interpreter services to make sure you can navigate that.”
Mr Sidoti hopes the NSW Government's announcement that it will provide a further $650,000 to fund the project for another four years will go some way in alleviating the deficit.
But beyond the practical benefits of migrants being able to be understood in their native language, Mr Tsering said the program goes to the heart of something much greater: respect.
“When they [members of the Tibetan community] communicate in their own language, they feel that their identity is respected, their culture is respected; they feel safe,” he said.
When they communicate in their own language, they feel that their identity is respected, their culture is respected; they feel safe.
- Chung Tsering, Interpreter
He explained how surprised people from his local Tibetan community were to receive a letter in Australia in their native language - something, he said, that wouldn’t have happened in their home country, administered by the Communist Party of China.
“When they first receive the letter from an Australian organisation in their own language, they are amazed, they are impressed and they are touched by it because they can’t receive such a letter from the government in their own country,” Mr Tsering said.
Another growing community in Australia that desperately needs qualified interpreters in Australia are the Yazidis, persecuted religious-minority, traditionally hailing from northern Iraq.
There are currently only nine nationally certified Kurdish-Kurmanji interpreters - the language primarily spoken by Yazidis - throughout the country, with two more to join the ranks after successfully completing the pilot program this week.
When newly qualified Kurdish-Kurmanji translators Soryas and Rivas Khero arrived in Australia as refugees in 2016, they couldn’t speak a single sentence in English.
Now, the brother and sister are on the cusp of becoming nationally certified interpreters following their graduation.
“At the beginning, the life is difficult because when you don’t speak the language you don’t know how to communicate with people,” Mr Khero, 25, said.
“But once you have the language you feel like you will be ok with everything.”
Following their arrival, the pair quickly began helping their small community with informal interpreting.
“We started helping the community, just volunteer and helping friends, we were not thinking about being professional interpreters,” Ms Khero, 30, said.
Given the unmet need for Kurdish-Kurmanji speakers to support the growing community, it wasn’t long before the brother and sister began being offered paid work.
“I don’t feel like I am doing a paid job, I feel really happy when I help people because just around two years ago, I was in the same situation that they were in,” she said.
Both agree with Mr Tsering that a deep understanding of both cultures is essential when it comes to helping people communicate effectively.
“When I came to Australia in 2016 I was asking for an interpreter and now, it is just after two years, I can feel how they feel and I can know what they need,” Ms Khero, who also speaks five languages including two Kurdish dialects, Arabic and Turkish, added.
All participants in the program will go on to become certified by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters, after which they will be offered casual work on the NSW Government's Multicultural NSW Interpreter and Translator Panel.
But as the next class of in-demand interpreters make their way through the competitive scholarship selection process, the government is aware that the languages being spoken throughout Australia are likely to change and interpreters in different languages will be needed.
“It’s important that we get ahead of the game and are making sure that we have the services in place before the migrants arrive,” Mr Sidoti said.
“We don’t want to be playing catch-up.”