To SATI, or not to SATI?

Stamp of Approval

Would you trust a doctor without a practicing licence to help you when feeling sick? Would you sit down and eat the food prepared by a restaurant that is not licenced? Absolutely not! My health and wellness are way too important both for me and my loved ones, to risk food poisoning or even worse – death. The same principle applies to practicing interpreters: as an individual or organisation; I would be very skeptical approaching an interpreter that has no accreditation for my important meeting, and ultimately risk miscommunication and a tarnished reputation.

Each industry has authority bodies that regulate practices and protect the interests of individuals, communities, and organisations. This is to ensure that work is done at a level that meets or exceeds expectations developed in that specific industry. For example, the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa) is the statutory body in the medical industry that regulates professional services offered by health workers in South Africa. The CGCSA (Consumer Goods Council of South Africa) advocates for food safety and food waste best practices across the retail industry.

For us interpreters, this institute is SATI.

Who is SATI?

The South African Translators’ Institute (SATI) is a professional association for language practitioners in South Africa; ranging from translators, text editors, interpreters, lexicographers, proofreaders, and copywriters. A system of accreditation was introduced in 1990 aimed at improving the standing of language practitioners; maintain a high level of competence; and adherence to a strict code of ethics. The system began with translation and has since expanded into other related language services.

Failure is not final

In 2017, I failed my first attempt at getting accredited. I gave it my best shot and felt devastated to learn that I failed the exam. Honestly, the exam criteria is difficult – it tests all the skills needed for language practitioners to serve and thrive in a competitive industry. Furthermore; overcoming difficulty ensures a high standard of competence needed for real-life, often stressful working environments.

Fortunately, through determination and support; I re-applied in 2018 and passed the exam. There are currently only 12* SATI accredited SASL interpreters in South Africa; hopefully this number grows over time. (*Number updated accordingly).

3 Benefits of SATI membership

  1. Ensure best practice

Being a member of a recognised association helps individuals comply with ethical requirements of their industry and maintain a high quality service. As an interpreter; being a member of SATI helps me stay accountable to fellow interpreters who look up to me; I am responsible to conduct myself professionally and ethically at all times being fully aware how my decisions may impact generations to come – positively or negatively.

2. Peace of mind regarding competence

The most rewarding feeling I get when working with clients is the re-assurance of getting the job done, very well – I can deliver on the promise to always give my best. Displaying competence is a great way to build credibility, trust, and respect with clients, while giving them a peace of mind to focus on the task at hand.

3. Networking opportunities

SATI hosts regular webinars, workshops and training; and as a member I have access to this information because I am on their database system. I receive weekly emails circulating updates of job opportunities, news of other language practitioners, and connecting with fellow professionals. It’s a great way to network and learn from other related language industries.

Strict Regulations

There are some provisions made by SATI that individuals need to be aware before they become members and get accredited. Honestly, these factors have divided the interpreting industry; making it difficult to commit to membership and accreditation. These include lapsing of accreditation if membership fees are not paid; and the year long turn-around time to re-apply if deemed unsuccessful.

However, in the true spirit of SATI and its determination for maintaining excellence for all language practitioners; SASL interpreters looking to become accredited must show evidence of either a language qualification; 5 years experience supported by professional references; and at least 3 month membership.


Accreditation is a controversial topic in our industry – I’m pro accreditation. There’s a deep sense of pride, honour and integrity knowing that I’m dedicating my life to serve with excellence. My advice is go all the way! Invest in your professional interpreting career through training and skills development, mentorship, or accreditation; do whatever it takes.

Anything worthwhile won’t come easy – it’s hard work, consistency, and determination. When you know your why and understand how it fits into the bigger scheme of things; you will be motivated to keep going even when failure comes.

By Yellow Owl

Welcome to Interpreter Insider, so glad you could join us! As an Insider you’ll be a member of this limited group of like-minded thinkers with exclusive knowledge about the ins and outs of the interpreting industry – and other related topics. You will have access to insights, experiences, tips and Yellow Owl's personal take on what the future of SASL interpreting may look like. Thuli Zikalala is the founder of Yellow Owl. This blog is a reflection of her bold decisions made about a year ago that led her to this very moment. It is a collection of the lessons learnt along her journey. Enjoy!

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