When Paula Santa Cruz came to New Zealand three and a half years ago, she didn't know a lot of English.

"I couldn't speak at all, nothing, like I could say 'hello' and 'thank you' and that was that. But then I went to school and that helped a lot."

On Thursday evening the 19-year-old graduated as a translator - after completing a course through the Hamilton Migrant Services Decypher programme.

Business Manager for Decypher, Leanne Salisbury, says the course runs over 12 weeks.


"It's quite a comprehensive course because it covers working at the hospital, working for the police, working for immigration, maybe counselling or even psychiatrists, even our driving lessons here at the centre. So our interpreters work all over the place," Mrs Salisbury says.

Now that Ms Santa Cruz has graduated she can work as a professionally qualified Spanish translator.

"I know how it feels not to be able to communicate and to express whatever you're feeling. That is something very difficult when you just come to a country. First you have the shock of having a new culture in front of you and you have to adapt yourself to that culture," Ms Santa Cruz says.

Previously Ms Santa Cruz would translate for her mother, grandmother, and grandmother's friends to help them out, "but I wasn't doing it properly".

"When you do the course you learn how to do it properly how to do everything in a professional way. For example, you don't speak in the third person, you don't say he said this and this. You have to speak in the first person. Also, you understand how important confidentiality is," Ms Santa Cruz says.

For Dolly Leon, who's also from Colombia, having an interpreter is necessary as her English is limited.

"It helps me to communicate in my own language," Ms Santa Cruz interprets on Ms Leon's behalf.

Mrs Salisbury says interpreters are essential for migrants resettling in a new country and community.

"Interpreters sort of fly under the radar. They're not really seen out in the community or anything but they're very valuable to the people that are settling in our communities. To refugees and migrants that move to the Waikato, who don't have much English, they really couldn't survive without an interpreter," Mrs Salisbury says.

Although she's still perfecting her English, Ms Santa Cruz is happy with her new job.

"You are able to help those people to communicate... this means a lot to me."

Translating services across the Waikato are increasing with more than 400 interpreting assignments each month in courts, hospitals and, of course, at the Hamilton Migrant Centre where 53 different languages are spoken.

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