Speakers of Kimberley Kriol, a distinct language that combines elements of English and Aboriginal languages in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, will soon have access to an extra dozen fully certified interpreters.

The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) is working together with Aboriginal Interpreting Western Australia (AIWA) to run a five-day, first-of-its-kind training and testing workshop in April to certify interpreters who will be able to work at a professional level interpreting for people whose first language is Kimberley Kriol.

A Creole language generally develops out of a pidgin, which happens when people who don’t share a language are thrown together and have to quickly find a way to understand each other.

Australian Kriol is spoken across the top end of Australia, from the Kimberley in WA across to the Katherine area in the Northern Territory and right through to Queensland. There are various dialects of the language, one being Kimberley Kriol. Today there are estimated to be 20,000 to 30,000 speakers of Kriol.

Kimberley Kriol developed in the early 1900s at the Roper River Mission. Stolen Generations children taken from their families who came from different language groups adapted English vocabulary to the grammar and sounds of their native languages.

The testing and training workshop will be the first time live role-play has been used to test an interpreter’s skills — previously certified interpreters have had to test their mettle by translating pre-recorded messages. However the live role play will create a more true-to-life testing environment.

Twelve prospective interpreters will be taking part in the April workshop — many speak at least one traditional Kimberley language plus Kriol. Some of AIWA’s interpreters speak five or more languages as well as English.

AIWA CEO Deanne Lightfoot said becoming an interpreter is an exciting career path for many prospective interpreters.

“For a long time committing to becoming an interpreter has been a lot more about service than what most of us associate with career development. That is changing now that more interpreters are being employed as demand grows,” she said.

“We now have interpreters who are working consistent hours with regular income, this brings with it all the benefits of regular employment. There is a great pride that comes with being an interpreter too; knowing — through language — you are ensuring two-way understanding,” Lightfoot said.

NAATI linguist Lauren Campbell said there is a lack of awareness that Kriol is a language in its own right.

“It’s been a big battle in the industry; Kriol doesn’t always have the same support and respect as [other languages]. A lot of people call it by horrible names — it’s sometimes known as broken English, and some communities have owned that name. In other situations, people use that word meaning that Kriol isn’t a proper language,” she said.

“Pride in and awareness of Kriol is growing, but it’s a constant battle to educate English speakers given the high levels of turnover in staff in the Top End,” Campbell said.

People who aren’t familiar with Kriol often don’t realise the extent of the differences between the way words are used by speakers of Kriol. An English speaking health care worker or police officer might think they’re able to communicate but in reality are not getting information across.

“Kriol is full of traps, [with] the English speakers thinking that they understand and overestimating how much they understand. And that’s when having a really good interpreter, who’s bilingual English and Kriol can really make all the difference,” Campbell said.

Lightfoot said having interpreters certified to a professional standard who are able to use a variety of Aboriginal languages is very important for Kriol speakers.

“It is really important that we have a strong team of interpreters who are competent in all the languages spoken by Aboriginal people in WA.”

“Kimberley Kriol is the lingua franca of the Kimberley that means it is influenced by the local first language in different locations. This is why we need team members that come from different locations, as each language will have its own form of Kriol.

“Matching the right interpreter for each assignment requires an intricate internal screening process. We need to understand if Kriol alone can be used or whether people are more comfortable talking in their traditional or birth language.”

The new certification is part of NAATI’s Indigenous Interpreting Project, which commenced in 2012.

Project Manager Hannah Bryant said having interpreters who speak your first language is essential to helping people in remote communities.

“It allows people to access services in their first language, which obviously leads to better outcomes in service delivery like health outcomes and legal outcomes,” Bryant said.

“If you can imagine someone who’s kind of interfacing with those [legal and health] systems who doesn’t speak English as their first language or English very well at all, they are really intimidating systems to be in.”

Bryant said ensuring professionally certified and trained interpreters are available is important work.

“The importance of the certification itself is because a lot of the situations that people are interpreting in are really high stakes situations, and having someone who is really well-trained and has shown their level of skill is really important to make sure that the interpreting is done accurately,” she said.

By Sarah Smit