Violette Brentnall

Photo of interpreter Violette Brentnall

Violette is a Farsi (Persian) interpreter with TIS National and believes that interpreting services are essential for non-English speakers to help them achieve independence and autonomy. Violette believes that interpreting is a lifeline for all non-English speakers.

Violette has been interpreting with TIS National since November 2011 and became an interpreter because she likes helping and providing services to people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. She previously worked for many years in the public service in Canberra, in Central Australia with Indigenous people and also worked for many years working with people in Africa.

When planning to retire, Violette decided to begin voluntary work as an interpreter. The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) provided Violette with some material and she practiced her interpreting skills for two weeks with the help of her sister. She sat the NAATI exam and passed with a good result.

Challenges as an interpreter

‘One of the biggest challenges I have faced while working as an interpreter is the differences in culture. Sarcasm is very different between Iranian and Australian cultures. There is a lot of sarcasm in both cultures and both sides become very confused when it’s used…I often need to communicate to the agency or the client and ask them to clarify what they really mean, as I do not want to just take a guess.’

‘Another common challenge I face is when I am working with psychologists and they use certain terminology that I may not know how to interpret into Farsi…I explain the definition of the term to the NES rather than interpret the actual word. I often need to confirm with the psychologist by asking what they are saying and confirming what it means, as I want to be accurate and ensure that I am interpreting the correct information at all times.’

Being an interpreter is rewarding

‘One of the most rewarding moments of my interpreting career was when I was working in a detention centre. There was a miscommunication with the body language of the non-English speaker. The non-English speaker had his arms crossed across his chest and the English speaker assumed that he was being disrespectful intentionally.’

‘In Australian culture this body language is a defensive shield, closing off to social influence, however in Iranian culture it is the most polite way to sit while someone is talking to you.’

‘It was important that I acted quickly to diffuse this situation as both the client and the agency staff member were becoming quite irate. I mentioned that there may be a misunderstanding between the two cultures. I explained to the English speaker that in Iran, sitting with arms crossed is the most polite way that somebody can sit and show attention to someone and that they were actually showing a lot of respect for you by sitting like this. I then explained to the non-English speaker about Australian culture and how it was bad mannered to sit the way they were sitting.’

‘It was so rewarding because the very tense, difficult situation immediately became laughter and relaxed. Both clients apologised to each other and the remainder of the interview flew so well and finished quite positively.’

Tips and advice for interpreters

‘Just be honest. If you don’t know or understand something, tell the client that you don’t understand what they are saying. Don’t try to make it up or try to guess what it means. Always be totally honest, open and communicate with both sides.’

‘If you are in a situation where you are uncomfortable, immediately voice it. For example, I had a man who to every question the agency staff member asked him, he would answer sarcastically and he was getting very rude. This made me feel very uncomfortable and I realised I was developing a bad feeling about him and I was about to take sides. I immediately said I could not continue interpreting for this particular client because I felt very uncomfortable and requested they please get another interpreter.’

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