Chinese has been one of the United Nations’ six official languages for over 70 years, and Mandarin Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Marked in April each year, Chinese Language Day celebrates multilingualism and cultural diversity.
Michelle, a team leader at the Department of Human Services’ Baulkham Hills Service Centre in north-western Sydney, is one of approximately 600 bilingual staff at the department. She is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese, and has had the opportunity to use her language skills every day since she joined the department 13 years ago.
At the start of Michelle’s career, she worked in the Multilingual Phone Service.
“Although I was able to take calls in both English and Chinese, I was always amazed at the number of Chinese language calls I took every day,” Michelle said.
“In our call centres Mandarin and Cantonese rank in the top four in terms of the calls we receive in languages other than English.”
Michelle continues to use her Chinese language skills in her current role as a service centre team leader. Being multilingual has helped her connect with her customers.
“Being able to speak to customers in Chinese always makes communicating easier,” Michelle said. “And with better understanding, we get better outcomes for everyone involved.
“Perhaps because I also come from a non-English speaking background, I understand the possible disadvantages and frustrations some customers may experience with language barriers.”
One of Michelle’s favourite Chinese phrases, Zhu Ren Wei Le (助人为乐), meaning ‘find pleasure in helping others’, is what inspires her work in the department.
“My purpose in life is to stay happy,” Michelle said. “Although there are many ways to achieve that, I’ve found the pleasure from helping others in difficult situations, and bringing happiness back to them, is very special.
“It brings happiness from the bottom of my heart.”
The department has important information translated into over 65 languages, including Chinese. These factsheets are available on the department’s website, along with links to translated podcasts and YouTube videos.
The department provides free interpreting services to its customers and has a national register of interpreters who speak over 230 languages.