Remote Engagement and Coordination Online Toolkit

Communication across languages

“Indigenous language interpreting services are critical for effective two way engagement between government and non-English speakers.”
Commonwealth Ombudsman-Accessibility of Indigenous Interpreters: Talking in Language Follow Up Investigation (2017/18).

More than 100 Aboriginal languages and dialects are spoken in the Northern Territory. Here’s a list of languages spoken by community.

Working with professional Aboriginal interpreters is the most effective way to make sure that people living in remote communities can understand you and  are able to fully express themselves. Use the Aboriginal Interpreter Service to organise an accredited interpreter.

Interpreters need to be booked in advance. Allow enough time to brief the interpreter on your subject matter before the engagement event. Throwing your interpreter in at the deep end will be stressful for them and won’t give you the best results. The Working with an interpreter guide explains what to cover in a briefing.

Plain English

All situations will involve using English — communicating with your interpreter for example. Using plain English when you speak or write will increase your chances of being understood properly. It doesn’t mean being patronising or oversimplifying your message. Almost anything can be explained in plain English.

This AIS page has great tips and examples for using plain English.

To write in Plain English you need to:

  1. Focus on the audience, using language appropriate to that audience.
  2. Be direct and personal.
  3. Use common, everyday language.
  4. Explain technical words or terms in simple language.
  5. Avoid using passive voice whenever possible.
  6. Use verbs and avoid using long abstract nouns.
  7. Use positive language rather than negative.
  8. Order your thoughts in a logical way.
  9. Only include necessary detail.
  10. Write to express, not impress.

Courtesy of Sam McCue


The Aboriginal Interpreter Service offers training for service providers to improve their communication with Aboriginal Territorians who do not speak English as a first language.

Communicating Across Languages training

Last updated: 01 May 2020