All Australians have the right to communicate and engage with the Australian Government and other essential services, irrespective of their first language preference, their English language ability or their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. However, some members of Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse communities may experience a language barrier when accessing government and other essential services.
Almost 700,000 people born overseas (and aged over 5 years old) self-reported on the 2021 Census that they have limited English proficiency. This is an increase of approximately 60,000 people since the 2016 Census.
Language services are designed to ensure that people with limited or no English language proficiency can access the services and programs they need. Language services can include:
- engagement of professional interpreters in person, via telephone or video conference
- translation of government documents from English into community languages by professional translators
- translation of personal documents from a language other than English
- information on web sites translated into community languages
- multilingual telephone information
- multimedia resources and other digital media in languages other than English.
Ideally, interpreters and translators hold a credential conferred by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters Ltd (NAATI), Australia’s national standards and certifying authority for translators & interpreters.
The appropriate language service depends on the situation. Many Australian Government departments and agencies have language services policies and procedures. These help to guide staff in determining when and what type of assistance to provide.
Language services here refers to settlement, access and equity objectives for people with limited English proficiency from Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse communities. For information on Indigenous language interpreting see the Protocol on Indigenous Language Interpreting for Commonwealth Government Agencies | National Indigenous Australians Agency. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is responsible for this Protocol.
For information on Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to communicate with deaf people please see the following:
Free Interpreting Service
The Free Interpreting Service (FIS) aims to provide fair access to key services for people with limited or no English language proficiency. Engaging a credentialed interpreter can facilitate better access to essential services for these clients and is particularly important for conversations in technical, legal or health contexts. See
Free Interpreting Service (FIS).
The FIS is delivered on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs through the
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National).
National Interpreter Symbol
The National Interpreter Symbol is a national public information symbol. The symbol lets people know that they can ask for language assistance when using government and other services. See
National Interpreter Symbol.
Free Translating Service
People settling permanently and some temporary or provisional visa holders in Australia have access to the Free Translating Service. This service aims to support participation in employment, education and community engagement. To verify eligibility or to make an application for the Free Translating Service visit the Free Translating Service website. The website is easy to use and is available in English, Arabic, Farsi and Simplified Chinese.
Australian Government Language Services Guidelines
The Australian Government Language Services Guidelines are primarily for staff in Australian Government departments and agencies. They assist staff responsible for developing policy and administering programs and services for Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse communities:
NAATI, Australia’s national standards and certifying authority for translators & interpreters, is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. They are jointly owned by the Australian, state and territory governments and incorporated under the Corporations Act 2001.
NAATI's role is to set and maintain high national standards in translating and interpreting services. They ensure there is a supply of appropriately credentialed translating and interpreting professionals responsive to the changing needs and demography of Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse communities. See
Interpreting and translating professionals need to recertify every 3 years upon demonstrating their currency of practice and participation in professional development.
For more information, see
Statement of Endorsement of NAATI's certification system.