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Qualified translators and interpreters can be a big help when you’re new to Australia. They can do a range of things from translating official documents to accompany you to a doctor appointment to make sure you understand what's going on, in your language. You might already have paid for their services, but did you know they can be available for free?
Audrey Bourget

13 Sep 2017 - 1:32 PM  UPDATED 19 Sep 2017 - 3:12 PM

Navigating a new country is not easy, and not being fluent in English can make it worst. There's a national service in Australia that provides interpreters who can help you in many different situations. It's called Translating and Interpreting Service, or just TIS National. Rockiya Pirova is the director.

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) is designed for people who don't speak English and for the agencies and businesses to facilitate communication between them and non-English speaking clients.

"TIS National has over 40 years of experience in the interpreting industry and our business has 2900 interpreters who provide services across Australia and they speak together 160 languages." 

Many organisations and people are registered with TIS National like government departments, doctors, pharmacists and legal services.

"TIS National works 24 hour a day, every day of the year. We have a number of services, including immediate telephone interpreting, on-site interpreting and pre-booked phone interpreting." 

The easiest way to contact TIS National is by calling 131 450.

"So non-English speakers would typically contact our call centre and would be asked what language they speak. Once they provide the language, then they'd be connected to an interpreter, which will then confirm a third party and the conference will start."

You'll be assigned the most qualified interpreter available. You can't request a specific one, but Rockiya Pirova says they can be accommodating for special situations.

"Sometimes we can accommodate for extra request. For example, the gender, if there's a sensitive assignment or if the client request to have a specific gender that can be accommodated as well. We require our interpreters to have a Working With Children Check so sometimes our client request for our interpreters to have that check and of course, we'll try to accommodate that. But it will be offered to the highest credential interpreter who has the check and who is available at that time."

It's always better to have an interpreter for a medical appointment, rather than using a family member or friend, who might not translate accurately or withheld information. When you work with the interpreter, make sure to speak slowly and to let them know if you have any issues.

"Speak in short sentences. Not to use acronyms and try to clarify if anything is not clear."

If you want to get documents translated for free, you can turn to the Department of Social Services. They offer up to ten documents translated into English for people settling permanently in Australia. It includes documents like birth certificates, medical documents and academic transcripts. It's only for holders of certain visas and the services have to be used within the first two years of your visa grant date. If you need more documents translated or documents that are not eligible, you can hire a translator.

The most important thing is to make sure your translator is accredited by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters, also called NAATI. NAATI CEO Mark Painting explains that you can verify a translator's credentials on their website,

"We have an online verification tool so if someone claims to have an accreditation, the consumer who engaged them can verify or validate those credentials on our website."

You'll also want to ask for a quote before the translator gets started. George Marzouk is the business director of Speak Your Language, a paying translation and interpreting service. He says that clients come to them with lots of different requests.

"Birth certificates, marriage certificates, things like that. All the way up to contracts. One of our clients is actually investing in China and they're in the process of negotiating a deal so we translate all the contracts for him. We also have another recent client that was purchasing certain products from Italy."

He has a few tips to make sure that everything goes smoothly with the translator.

"Providing spelling for names. Because when you translate, for example, from Arabic to English, names could be misspelt or spelt in many different ways. The clients would need to provide us with all the names provided on the document."

If you want to get documents translated for free, you can turn to the Department of Social Services. They offer up to ten documents translated into English for people settling permanently in Australia.

He also recommends giving as many details as possible, especially when it comes to technical documents.

"If we were to translate a legal or a medical document or a technical document, usually the client or the engineer that came up with that document have a better understanding because that's what they do on a daily basis. They are able to put in a detailed email on what is actually being translated so the translator is able to go and do their own research and if there is anything there are not sure of, they can go back to the engineers or the technical guys and ask them what a particular sentence means or what's a particular product and how it works."

To request the services of an interpreter for free, call TIS National on 131 450 or visit their website at To know if you're eligible to get your document translated by the Department of Social Services, visit the website And if you hire a translator or an interpreter, make sure they're accredited by NAATI.

Useful links:

TIS National

TIS Multilingual

Free translating service by the Department of Social Services