Interpreter Standards for New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Interpreters

The NZSL Board have explored a range of options to set NZSL Interpreter standards post-graduation as an outcome of the NZSL Strategy (2018-2023).

The Board received feedback that interpreters want a way of ensuring consistency and monitoring of quality interpreting services for the Deaf community.

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You can also view the FAQs here

May 2023 updates

The NZSL Board will hold any work and collect more information 

NZSL Board chair Rhian has put out a statement on behalf of the board. You can view it in the video or download it here [PDF, 144 KB].

In March 2023, the Board discussed two topics relating to NZSL Interpreting Standards:

You can find excerpts of the Board minutes [PDF, 83 KB] here. 

Consultation about NAATI for NZSL Interpreters

The NZSL Board have commissioned four reports about NZSL Interpreter Standards, including an investigation into developing a system just for NZSL Interpreters. You can find when this information was collected by looking at the timelines of Board actions [DOCX, 49 KB] relating to NZSL Interpreter Standards. The reports are:

Consultation with the Community about using NAATI for NZSL Interpreters started in 2021. This included:

  • In person Deaf community meetings in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch
  • A survey for the Deaf community and NZSL Interpreter
  • Meetings with Stakeholders including Ko Taku Reo Deaf Education Centre, Deaf Aotearoa, Interpreter booking agencies, NZ Relay Service, Deaf Action, Deaf Studies Research Unit (DSRU), SLIANZ and AUT.
  • Speaking at the SLIANZ conference in Christchurch. Questions asked at the conference can be found here [PPTX, 145 KB]

Information about these consultations can be found in the NZSL Interpreter Workforce (2021) report. [PDF, 654 KB]

Community feedback about interpreters was also gathered during the NZSL Act amendment consultations at the end of 2022. A summary of the information will be provided soon.

March 2023 updates

The Board have commissioned several reports and consulted with the community about the need for NZSL interpreter standards which has identified other issues that impact on access via interpreting services. Key issues are: 

  • Limited pathways to becoming an NZSL interpreter 
  • Difficulties for NZSL interpreters to earn a full-time living form interpreting work alone 
  • The lack of tri-lingual interpreters to provide access to te Ao Māori settings 
  • Unco-ordination of the current NZSL interpreter workforce 
  • Lack of minimum standards after initial training to become an NZSL interpreter 
  • No formal process for making complaints and having them resolved 
  • Different sources of funding for NZSL interpreting making it difficult for Deaf people to have full access. 

Setting NZSL Interpreter standards is one action to meet the need for ongoing monitoring and training after graduation. 

In August 2022, the Board agreed to proceed with the use of NAATI for NZSL interpreters and establishing an Advisory Group to help monitor the implementation of NAATI. You can download the Board paper [PDF, 63 KB] and excerpts from the minutes [PDF, 83 KB]here.

Information was released in December 2020 about the decision to use the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) process for NZSL interpreters. 

The Board recently met to discuss the option of a Certificate pathway to become eligible to test as a NZSL Interpreter. The Board requested advice from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ). They were provided a written response you can download here [PDF, 173 KB] to inform them of the Board decision. 

The qualifications needed to become eligible to sit a NAATI NZSL interpreter course are: 

  1. Certificate in interpreting with demonstrated NZSL skills through the Sign Language Proficiency Interview (SLPI)
  2. Diploma in NZSL Interpreting (Auckland University of Technology, AUT)
  3. Degree in NZSL Interpreting (Auckland University of Technology)
  4. Overseas Sign Language Interpreting qualification with demonstrated NZSL skills through the Sign Language Proficiency Interview (SLPI)

The Certificate qualification provides a pathway for some people who cannot study in Auckland. The Board have heard that the work of NZSL Communicators is a concern. However, there was a lot of support to retain the role of communicators and the need for systems to help communicators to continue working in some capacity. In 2021 consultation the Board heard that there was support for including Communicators in the Interpreters Standards framework to recognise some existing skill and to measure the quality of their work rather than leaving a section of the workforce unregulated.   

“many existing communicators have a wealth of experience” - Deaf survey respondent.” 

The decision to proceed with NAATI certification with a certificate pathway was based on: 

  • The number of people with the required level of NZSL proficiency would be small, perhaps mainly CODAs or others heavily involved in the Deaf community to develop NZSL fluency 
  • To pass the NAATI test, the person needs to demonstrate the same interpreting skill as someone who has studied at AUT. 
  • NZSL proficiency can be tested through the NZ Sign Language Proficiency Interview (NZSLPI). 
  • NAATI certification is one tool to support quality interpreting, but more work is needed in other areas, such as recommendations for the NZSL Interpreter Workforce Strategy, to resolve any quality issues. 

The Board also commit to use a range of levers to ensure the quality of NZSL interpreting is not negatively impacted for the Deaf community, such as:  

  • Setting a high level of NZSL proficiency of people with a generic certificate in interpreting, and people with overseas Sign Language Interpreting qualifications to become eligible for a NAATI test.  
  • Clear government guidelines on putting forward interpreters for interpreting jobs.   
    • This will include a description promoting sign language-qualified interpreters who are NAATI-certified as delivering a higher quality of interpreting work, especially at the Certified Provisional Interpreter (CPI) level.   
    • There will be clear information that people with no sign language interpreting qualification and NAATI certifications are not suitable for any interpreting roles.   
    • This will aid with preventing interpreters that do not have the appropriate sign language interpreting qualifications and level of experience/standards from working in high-risk settings.  
  • The Board will request annual reporting on the use of interpreters to monitor the use of interpreters and will report to the Minister for Disability Issues annually, including if the use of interpreters falls below the guidelines.  
  • ODI will reach out to the sector to consult on what the strategy should include, who can be involved and a realistic timeframe.  

The Board are aware that the introduction of NAATI certification for NZSL interpreters will start in at least two years’ time, not the 1 July 2024 deadline for spoken language interpreters.  

Next steps:

  • NAATI will begin the process to recruit assessors and develop the NZSL NAATI test
  • MBIE will continue to process registrations and issue entitlement notices for NZSL Interpreters under the MBIE transition package
  • ODI and the NZSL Board will support the implementation of NAATI certification for NZSL Interpreters including releasing information for the Deaf community

Additional information sessions will be planned to answer any further questions.

Background information

Why establish interpreter standards?

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) have worked in partnership to provide access to public services via high quality interpreting services for all New Zealand citizens, particularly those who have English as a second language.

The Language Assistance Services (LAS) work programme is responsible for establishing a new model to deliver quality interpreting services across the public sector. The programme’s vision is to provide equitable access to public services and information for people fluent in languages other than English in New Zealand, such as former refugees, migrants and NZSL users.

Why set interpreter standards for NZSL Interpreters when most are already qualified?

NZSL interpreter training was established thirty years ago at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). This means that we have a well-qualified workforce, however there are no requirements or guidance for NZSL interpreters to maintain standards once they graduate. NAATI certification will support the ongoing development of language (NZSL) and interpreting skills setting higher quality standards for the Deaf community.

Government decision-making for spoken language interpreters.

In 2018, a cross-government Senior Officials group agreed that from 1 July 2024 all spoken language interpreters must have a level of National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) credential to work in New Zealand. Initially this decision did not include NZSL or te reo Māori interpreters, however these languages have been invited to join the programme.

What is NAATI?

National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) is responsible for setting, maintaining and promoting high professional standards for the translating and interpreting industry in Australia.  Currently over 180 languages are assessed.

The New Zealand Government has a contract with NAATI to provide testing and assessment of spoken language interpreters in New Zealand.

What about NZSL Interpreters?

Deaf NZSL users should experience high standards of NZSL interpreting. We have a well-qualified interpreter workforce. Interpreter Standards for NZSL, as with other languages, provide greater confidence for users of interpreting services.

In August 2022, the NZSL Board made a final recommendation to use NAATI certification for NZSL Interpreters. NAATI certification won’t be in place from 1 July 2024.  A date for NZSL interpreters will be shared once it has been set. 

The development and monitoring NAATI NZSL certification will be developed with New Zealand qualified, experienced interpreters and NZSL experts.

The Board’s expectation is that NAATI certification will be the standard for all NZSL Interpreting work.

Certified Interpreter (CI)

  • Qualification:  Degree, previous Diploma or endorsed international qualification
  • Level of skill: Experienced

Current qualified and experienced interpreters will only be required to test at the Certified Interpreter level.

Certified Practicing Interpreter (CPI)

  • Qualification: Degree, previous Diploma or endorsed international qualification
  • Level of skill: New and recent graduates

New and recent graduates would test at the Certified Provisional Interpreter (CPI) level and once they have gained more experience, will need to test at the Certified Interpreter (CI) level.

Currently MBIE is offering the Recognised Provisional Interpreter (RPI) credential to NZSL interpreters who wish to get a NAATI credential. In line with NAATI’s standard practice for all languages, once a test for CPI NZSL and CI NZSL is in place, the RPI NZSL will only remain valid until its expiry date (three years from the date it is issued). After that, interpreters who hold an RPI NZSL will be required to take the CPI NZSL test to retain a NAATI credential.

MBIE is not providing funding to test for:

  • Certified Specialised Legal and Health Interpreter
  • Certified Conference Interpreter

Why has the NZSL Board recommended the use of NAATI certification?

There are several reasons for this recommendation.

  1. Government responsibility:  The funding, implementation and ongoing management of NAATI certification will be led by MBIE.  This aligns with the NZSL Board’s belief that all government agencies are responsible for providing equitable access to high quality interpreting services for Deaf NZSL users. 
  2. Consistency: NAATI certification will be the same for all interpreters, NZSL and spoken languages.  This ensures that implementing and monitoring the standards will be streamlined and thereby more effective.
  3. Expertise: The development of an assessment system is complex.  NAATI are already established and deliver assessments for over 180 languages.  NZSL experts will be used in the development and delivery of an assessment making it fit for a NZSL context.
  4. Strategic use of funding: The NZSL Board have an annual fund to maintain and promote NZSL.  Accessing the NAATI system is a cost-effective way to monitor the quality of interpreting as the NZSL fund would be significantly reduced if required to pay for a separate NZSL interpreter assessment system. 

What does this mean for NZSL interpreters?

Once implemented, all NZSL interpreters who wish to be available for government-funded interpreter work will be required to have a qualification and NAATI certification to work in New Zealand. This involves:

  • testing of interpreting skills at each certification level (CPI or CI)
  • Re-certification every three years providing evidence of ongoing professional development and hours of work as an NZSL interpreter.

What happens next?

Work is needed to develop a NAATI NZSL interpreter test and train NAATI examiners.  New Zealand-based NZSL expertise will be used to develop and delivery all tests.

All existing NZSL Interpreters are encouraged to register with MBIE’s transition support package. For eligible interpreters, the package covers financial assistance relating to training and assessment costs, test preparation support and payment of test fees.

The Office for Disability Issues (ODI) will work with an Advisory Group to ensure the process is working for all and provide feedback on the implementation to MBIE.  The Advisory Group is made up of representatives from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) who provide NZSL interpreting training and the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ). The Advisory Group will have Deaf and hearing representation.

How can I find out more information about NAATI Certification?

Significant changes have been made to the Certification System in recent years. We strongly recommend that you visit the NAATI website to learn more about the certification system and process.

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