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Is public service interpreting the difference between life or death?

Blogger . 08/07/2010 14:46:09

By Elaena Wells, School of Languages & Social Sciences

We have a lot of asylum seekers and immigrants in the UK. We often think that they should all be able to speak English, or start learning the language, but why should tax payers’ money pay for them to have an interpreter? Because if an asylum seeker has a medical or legal problem, and they can’t communicate properly, this could put them at risk.

Public service/community interpreters play a vital and under-appreciated role in helping with an individual’s basic human right to medical or legal assistance. But it still happens all too frequently that family members perform interpreting in medical and legal settings instead of qualified interpreters. This can cause problems and even danger. A recent case, for example, highlighted that a victim of domestic abuse needed to explain her injuries and how they came about, but the perpetrator of the abuse was acting as her interpreter.

This and other issues in interpreting will be explored at the international Critical Link conference later this month, which is happening for the first time ever in the UK. Organised by the School of Languages & Social Sciences at Aston University and taking place between 26-30 July, this major event will bring together representatives from around the world, with delegates from 37 countries already attending.

Professor Christina Schaeffner, from the School of Languages & Social Sciences, explains:

‘This event is of world-wide importance and will provide a forum for researchers, trainers, and practitioners. We hope that it will provide a unique link between Aston University’s research in this area and wider professional practice and academic research. As such, we are inviting public service employees such as health professionals to attend this conference. We are particularly keen on having service providers, service recipients and policy makers at the conference. There is not enough training provision in the UK, let alone government support for training courses. The conference will therefore have a significant role to play in raising awareness of some of the key issues around community interpreting.’

It is time to stand up for the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers to communication services in these difficult financial times and forthcoming public service cuts.

If you would like to attend the Critical Link conference please visit the conference's webpages.

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