How do I know if a NZSL interpreter is professionally competent?

A professional NZSL interpreter will be a member of the Sign Language Interpreters Association (SLIANZ) and/or the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI), and follow those organisations’ Code of Ethics.

Risks of using an unqualified person


Professional association of interpreters

SLIANZ Code of Ethics

A qualified NZSL interpreter will have undergone assessments in NZSL and English competence, interpreting skills and ethical behaviour by the end of the three-year Bachelor of Arts in NZSL-English Interpreting degree. Being qualified means that the NZSL interpreter has attained a level of competence at which it is generally safe to practise.

Some policies exist that specify the level of experience required. For example, a 2005 Court Circular recommends that NZSL interpreters have at least two years postgraduate experience as a NZSL interpreter in a wide range of contexts before they work in legal proceedings.

Read about using NZSL in Courts:

At present there is no system to assess or rank the competence levels of NZSL interpreters after graduation from the only interpreting programme in the country at AUT (historically a Diploma course but currently a Bachelor of Arts in NZSL-English Interpreting), or to assess their continued ability to practise in New Zealand.

The booking agency or NZSL interpreter will consider all requests before agreeing to provide the service. They need to make a decision on the level of competence required for a particular assignment. The more information about a meeting/event that you can provide in advance and at the time of making a booking, the better that decision-making will be.

The SLIANZ Code of Ethics includes a commitment for NZSL interpreters not to accept assignments beyond their competence.

Risk of using an unqualified person

There are significant risks associated with using lay people or unqualified interpreters (such as family members or friends of the Deaf person, hearing children of Deaf adults, staff members with some experience in NZSL or NZSL students who have not undertaken interpreter training).

First of all, their fluency in English and NZSL has not been assessed and interpretation may suffer as a result. Even if such individuals are fluent in both NZSL and English, there are risks such as bias, conflict of interest, and lack of confidentiality. Deaf people may not feel that they can be completely open about their information under these circumstances.

However, the level of competence required for interpreting is different from one setting to the next (and from one client to the next). In high consequence settings, it will be important to check the NZSL interpreter's experience in that particular setting and the number of years they have been practising as an interpreter.


A qualified NZSL interpreter who qualified prior to 2011 will have completed a two-year Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting (DipSLI) awarded by the Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Since 2011, the AUT programme has become a three-year Bachelor of Arts in NZSL-English Interpreting.

The diploma and degree courses includes a basic introduction to specialist settings, such as medical and legal interpreting. However, it is advisable to check the individual interpreter's experience in such settings to ensure that they are sufficiently familiar with the systems and specialist language they may encounter.

Some overseas qualifications may also be accepted. While overseas interpreters may be judged to have completed equivalent training in NZSL interpreting skills, there is currently no scheme to assess their competence in English or NZSL. Before an overseas sign language interpreter works alone, the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ) recommends that they spend a minimum of six months immersing themselves in the New Zealand Deaf community to build up their fluency in NZSL. 

Professional associations of interpreters

Qualified NZSL interpreters are generally registered members of the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ - ) or the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI - ). Membership of these organisations is voluntary. Both organisations have an interpreter's Code of Ethics, which members are required to sign and agree to follow. 

SLIANZ is the national professional body for NZSL interpreters. SLIANZ represents and advances the profession of sign language interpreting by keeping members and consumers informed, and by promoting high standards of practice and integrity in the field. SLIANZ is not a booking agency. NZSL interpreters listed in the SLIANZ directory should be contacted directly if a booking is desired:  

All SLIANZ-member interpreters listed in the directory have completed the minimum of diploma training or equivalent / higher overseas training.

SLIANZ Code of Ethics

1. Professional Conduct

Interpreters uphold the standards of conduct, the aims and reputation of SLIANZ. They conduct themselves in a responsible and professional manner. They show respect towards all parties involved in an interpreting assignment. They respect and support their colleagues.

Aim: To maintain trust in interpreters as professionals and to maintain the reputation of SLIANZ; to support and further the interests of the profession and their colleagues, beyond their individual interest.

Explanation: Interpreters accept responsibility for their work and conduct; they are committed to providing quality service in a respectful and culturally sensitive manner. They are reliable. Interpreters deal honestly and fairly with other parties and colleagues, and are responsive to their needs and language preferences. They are transparent and honest in all business practices. They offer colleagues reasonable assistance as required.

2. Confidentiality

Interpreters maintain confidentiality and do not disclose information acquired during the course of their work, or details about specific assignments.

Aim: To protect the privacy of parties communicating through an interpreter, and to maintain the trust of consumers in the integrity of professional interpreters.

Explanation: Because interpreters hold a position of trust and deal with personal information, they are bound by strict rules of confidentiality.

3. Competence

Interpreters only undertake work they can reasonably expect to perform competently and for which they are professionally qualified through training and credentials.

Aim: to ensure that effective interpreting is provided and that professional standards are upheld.

Explanation: In order to practise, interpreters need to have adequate levels of expertise. Those who work with interpreters are entitled to expect that the interpreters are appropriately qualified. Interpreters always represent their credentials honestly.

4. Accuracy

Interpreters remain faithful to the meaning of the message at all times and, to the best of their ability, interpret the message in the manner in which it was intended.

Aim: Consumers communicating through an interpreter will be able to exchange information exactly as they intend, without distortion of meaning.

Explanation: Accuracy means complete and undistorted transfer of the message. The content and the intent of the original message are preserved in the interpretation.

5. Impartiality

Interpreters observe impartiality during any interpreted encounter and remain unbiased throughout the communication exchanged between the consumers.

Aim: To enable both parties to trust that the interpreter will be a neutral facilitator of their communication, staying within defined role boundaries.

Explanation: The purpose of interpreting is to allow parties who do not share a common language to communicate effectively with each other, retaining the full intent of the communication conveyed. Interpreters are not responsible for what the parties communicate, only for complete and accurate transfer of the message. Interpreters do not allow bias factors to influence their performance; likewise they do not soften, strengthen or alter the messages conveyed.

6. Clarity of Role Boundaries

Interpreters maintain clear boundaries between their own task (as facilitators of communication through message transfer) and the responsibilities of other parties in a situation.

Aim: To ensure that the interpreting task is not compromised by other tasks.

Explanation: The focus of interpreters is on message transfer. Interpreters do not, in the course of their interpreting duties, engage in other tasks such as advocacy, guidance or advice. Where interpreters are also employed to undertake other tasks, they will not engage in these tasks while interpreting. Interpreters employed to undertake multiple tasks will clearly indicate when they move between interpreting and their other role(s).
Interpreters should explain their role to consumers in line with this Code.

7. Professional Development

Interpreters continue to develop their professional knowledge and skills.

Aim: To maintain and improve standards of service.

Explanation: Interpreters commit themselves to lifelong professional learning, recognising that individuals, skills and practices change over time. Interpreters continually upgrade their language and interpreting skills and their understanding of interpreting contexts. Participating in professional development helps to develop and maintain a critical perspective on one’s professional competence and practice.

Complaints procedure

If you have a complaint about an interpreter who is registered with SLIANZ, your first point of call should be the interpreter themselves, or the agency through which the interpreter was booked.

If the complaint cannot be resolved in this way, please contact the SLIANZ Secretary by email:

Read the SLIANZ complaints procedure:

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A guide to working with NZSL interpreters

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