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Auslan: what is it, and why is there a national shortage of translators?

Close up of hands in to gossip gesture, in the background blurred image of three people

Auslan is a visual form of communication and the language for the Australian Deaf and hard of hearing community. Auslan is essential for the economic, social and personal participation for the Deaf and hard of hearing community who use interpreters for all modes of communication – it facilitates access to work, the legal system, education, health and the community.

Auslan is a visual-gestural language which means it uses movement to convey grammar and meaning at the same time, with 38 hand shapes and 28 variants. Head and facial movements and expressions convey emotion and emphasis.Interestingly, Auslan’s grammatical structure is closer to Chinese or French than English. Here’s an example: “I saw a beautiful red car this morning” (English) would translate to “Red car beautiful this morning I saw” (Auslan NDP).

Auslan is only used in Australia and overseas there are other versions. Auslan is more like British Sign Language (BSL) than American Sign Language (ASL), which means Australians can often understand BSL and vice versa.

National Auslan Interpreter Shortage

Currently there is a national shortage of Auslan interpreters, which restricts access to communication for the Deaf and hearing impaired community . The NDIS is approving and funding plans and packages with interpreting services however the supply of trained Auslan interpreters remains a challenge.

Studying Auslan

A course in Auslan takes two years and is taught by various institutions depending on which state you reside in. The following organisations have resources that will be able to point you in the right direction to learn Auslan in your state.

  • New South Wales: The Deaf Society
  • Victoria: Vicdeaf
  • Queensland: Deaf Services
  • South Australia: Deaf Can:Do
  • Tasmania: Tasdeaf
  • Western Australia: WA Deaf Society

The Auslan Sign Bank is an online dictionary of signs with videos to accompany each word. If there are words you would like to learn in Auslan this is a useful resource.

Just like learning any other language it takes time and dedication. To be fluent it can take up to six years.

For support workers, resources are available through The Deaf Society for training or to book interpreters. They also offer a basic sign course online that a support worker can do to upskill themselves. The online course is available through the Deaf Society.

Interested in connecting with an independent support worker that knows Auslan? Start searching for independent workers using our advanced filters in your local area today.

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