NZSL Interpreter Standards and Workforce review

NZSL Interpreter standards and workforce is part of the NZSL Board work programme. Consultation with the Deaf community, NZSL Interpreters and other stakeholders is now underway to get feedback on options for setting standard for NZSL Interpreters.


Public meetings

A series of community meetings provide an opportunity for Deaf people to contribute to this consultation. Please send any questions about the meetings to

19 June at 3.30 pm
Lower Hutt Events Centre
30c Laings road

22 June at 7.30 pm
Novotel Hamilton Tainui
7 Alma Street

23 June at 7.30 pm
Auckland Deaf Society
16 Hillsborough Road

24 June at 7.30 pm
Christchurch Community House
301 Tuam Street

We have a series of PDF flyers for these events for you to download and share with your community, grab them here: 

Surveys on NZSL interpreter standards

We have a series of surveys for individual people.  Please select the most appropriate survey, this may be more than one.

NZSL Board work and consultation

Josje interviewing Shona about the consultation work

Why is the NZSL Board doing this work?

The Cabinet paper that established the NZSL Board set developing standards for interpreters as a priority.  The NZSL Strategy (2018-2023) includes this as a five year outcome:

“NZSL interpreter standards provide high quality professional interpreting services throughout NZ that meet the diverse needs of Deaf NZSL users”.

What has the NZSL Board done so far?

Work began before the Board was established; particularly through development of the NZSL Act 2006. Since the establishment of the NZSL Act, the Board has also commissioned a number of reports.

What is included in this consultation?

This work has two aspects – NZSL Interpreter Standards and NZSL Interpreter workforce issues. This is because the introduction of compulsory NZSL Interpreter Standards may impact the current and future workforce. In the previous reports, there were also issues of supply and demand for the Deaf community as well as NZSL interpreters themselves.

Scope of the work

In scope:

  • Establishment of NZSL Interpreter Standards
    • Setting standards
    • Assessment against the standards
    • Attestation of ongoing professional development and hours of work
    • Workforce issues unpacked
      • Supply and demand
      • Skills/or specialisations required to match jobs
      • Tri-lingual interpreters
      • Impact of the introduction of Interpreter Standards on the workforce

Out of scope:

  • Complaints and feedback system
  • Funding systems
  • Role and training of Deaf interpreters
  • Evaluating current roles and functions of
    • Booking agencies
    • Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ)
    • Training and professional development
    • Video Interpreter Service (VIS)

What we know from past work

Standards as a quality marker (Fitzgerald, January 2017)

There is general agreement that establishing standards will support the delivery of quality interpreting but that “quality of interpreting is contextual, depending on many factors, including knowledge, and connection with Deaf person, regardless of length of interpreting service” (Fitzgerald, 2017)

Deaf community perspectives on quality:

  • Variability of interpreting quality
  • Lack of interpreting availability

Interpreter perspectives on quality:

  • More resources are required for supervision and training to support the development and maintainenance if quality interpreting
  • A culture of self-reflection in supportive environments must be developed
  • Career pathways need to be identified and supported
  • Incentives and avenues for communicator development should be considered

Current issues in the interpreting sector (Fitzgerald, January 2017)

Three overarching issues impact interpreting:

  • Lack of understanding from hearing people in Government and other agencies about the role of interpreting
  • Time and cost influencing the provision or match of an interpreter or communicator for a job
  • There being no requirement to monitor individual interpreter performance or improvement

Consultation on the establishment of a Registry (Fitzgerald, 2018)

General feedback

  • “The enhancement of standards and consistency in interpreting is seen as needed & normal in the development of most professional groups.”
  • Lack of interpreter availabity and role of communicators, especially in the regions.  “Unqualified interpreters or communicators, in particular, are used in practice and there was signficant support for them to be systematically trained to become qualifed.”
  • There was “... significant agreement that a post-graduation assessment and ongoing commitment to professional development (training and mentoring), as well as enhancing the complaints systems access, are important components of continuous quality improvement.”

Deaf community specific feedback

  • Registration, assessment, professional development, mentoring and a complaints system are equally important.
  • A potential...“advantage of registration for unqualified intepreters is that it would be possible to track them, limit their scope of work as needed, identify professional development needs, and require professional development, such as the ethics paper. p24

Interpreter Registry design

The first interpreter standards report by Fitzgerald (Juanary 2017) proposed the folliwng functions to support the quality of interpreting.

Interpreter perspectives

Independent registration authority: 

  • Oversight and moderation of quality via assessment
  • Police vetting
  • Managing complaints and feedback
  • Acknowledging practical experience
  • Provision of identification
  • Recognition of international qualifications
  • Public list of interpreters
  • Revalidation via portfolio of work and professional development.  

What has changed?

The Video Interpreting Service (VIS):

  • Operates seven days a week from 8am to 8pm
  • Supports a variety of video platforms such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams

National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) certification 2018

NAATI introducted a new certification framework for interpreters and translators in January 2018.

NAATI's new certifcation framework 

  • Recognised practicing Interpreter
  • Certified Provisional Interpreter
  • Certified Interpreter
  • Certified Health Interpreter or Certified Legal Interpreter
  • Certified Conference Interpreter

Language Assistance Services (LAS) will implement NAATI standards

Since the NZSL Board commissioned reports, the Language Assistance Services (LAS) programme has progressed and in three years-time all spoken language interpreters will be required to have NAATI certification.

Under NAATI, the following functions will be covered and funded by the New Zealand Government:

  • Setting standards
  • Assessment against the standards
  • Attestation of ongoing Professional development and hours of work

Transition programme to Interpreter Standards and NAATI certification

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) holds a three-year transition budget to support the current interpreter workforce transitioning to the new standards.  So far, they have:

  • gathered information on interpreter qualifications and market needs
  • matched the current interpreter workforce to the NAATI framework, identified market needs and any gaps

They will develop and fund opportunities to support interpreters to become eligible to sit the NAATI assessments.

Points to note:

  • Te Taura Whiri will be using the NAATI system for Te Reo interpreters
  • NZSL interpreters are included in the transition budget

Development of NZSL Interpreter Competencies and Standards (McKee & Vale, 2020)

This work ensured that the standards:

  • take into account the NZ context
  • ensure parity with spoken languages to ensure sector understanding of standards
  • draw on international evidence-based research

New option for NZSL Interpreter Standards

What would the MBIE option cover under a NAATI certification system?

The dark blue coloured circles are functions that could be covered under the NAATI system.


What NAATI covers


  • Provision of identitification
  • Recognition of international qualifications
  • Acknowledging practical experince
  • Oversight and moderation of quaity via assessment
  • Revalidation via portfolio of work and PD
  • Public list of interpreters
  • Managing complaints and feedback
  • Police vetting 

Workforce issues unpacked

There are four key areas of investigation in the workforce stream of the consultation.  The purpose is to ensure that knowledge is up to date, accurate and relevant to an environment where Interpreter Standards and Certification exist.

1. Supply and demand

In the recent reviews (Fitzgerald, January & December 2017) members of the Deaf community identified issues that impacted on their ability to communicate as they would wish.  These included not only the variability of quality mentioned earlier and that the a system that did not respond to their needs in a timely manner but did not allow for choice of interpreter and there was concern that the pool of interpreters was not growing. Access to training to become an NZSL interpreter is a particular issue.

2. Skills/or specialisations required to match jobs

Interpreting jobs can be generalist in nature or more specialist, depending on the situation. Specialist areas were identified: (Fitzgerald Jan 2017)

  1. Medical Specialist e.g. surgery
  2. Legal settings e.g court
  3. Māori Kaupapa
  4. Compulsory Education
  5. Child Welfare
  6. Teritiary Education
  7. Mental Health
  8. Deaf Intepreting
  9. Disabled Deaf

In addition, competencies in relation to interpreting standards have been outlined. (McKee and Vale 2020)

3. Tri-lingual Interpreters

There is no qualification in NZ as an interpreter with special skill in Te Reo as well as NZSL. While there are NZSL interpreters with some knowledge of both Te Reo and tikanga, tri-lingual interpreting has been identified as a particular shortage.

Impact of the introduction of Interpreter Standards on the workforce

While there have been reviews that have identified the issues above, the impact of the introduction of standards on the workforce has not been investigated.  These include the requirements and availability of professional development, future costs of certification, and the need for supervision/peer support/mentoring.

Related documents

A review of NZSL Interpreting standards 2017

September 2017 NZSL Interpreter Registry Design Report 

NZSL Interpreter Registry Consultation - June 2018

  • Read the executive summary
  • Download as a PDF document

Developing NZSL Interpreter Standards report

Proposed Transition to adopting NAATI Standards and Certification for Interpreters - MBIE 2021

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