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Is public service interpreting the difference between life or death?

User Avatar Blogger . 08/07/2010 14:46:09
Clinical Link conference

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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  • At 18:00 on 26/07/2010,
    Jenny Williams wrote:
    In a globalized world it is more than likely that we will all need the services of an interpreter at some point: whether on holiday (especially if we fall ill and need medical attention or have an accident and end up in a police station)or on work-related travel (where we may depend on an interpreter to negotiate on our behalf) or whether we are hosting visitors from abroad in a range of different capacities: from the Olympic Games to film festivals. The inter-connectedness of globalization, whether manifested in multilingual cities or cross-border trade, is only possible because of the work of interpreters and translators. Indeed, if the 'Big Society' means creating cohesive communities, then interpreters will be indispensable.
  • At 17:21 on 23/07/2010,
    Beverly Adab wrote:
    Interpreting as a basic need and a human right ?

    If we read the official policy for Her Majesty’s courts services at:

    we see that provision is made for interpreting support within the criminal justice system, to ensure that those using the system are able to understand and participate in proceedings in an informed manner. There is greater recognition, in terms of training needs and human rights, of this kind of interpreting support than for most other areas of need.

    According to a leading expert, interpreting is often considered by the non-specialist to be mainly about linguistic substitution, word for word: an in-put /out-put model (Pöchhacker 2005). Only trained interpreters are aware of the complexity of challenges which are inherent in intercultural communication, when even apparently equivalent words and terms can be culturally-loaded with different connotations, values and associated meanings, not to mention the mine-field of differences in processes and practices in different legal systems which may confuse those who are marginalized by lack of language competence.

    Turning to the question of interpreting support within the local community, which is so essential for integration of immigrants into a new culture, to enable them to adapt, identify with their new environment and be productive members of their community, we find that, according to Toledano (2010), in many countries, non-professionalised interpreting is ‘the norm’. It is easy to imagine the problems that this can cause, with relatives being asked to interpret in situations where they may not have the requisite body of knowledge or skills set to represent the interaction between, say, doctor and patient, sufficiently accurately to allow for diagnosis and treatment. Toledano (2010) further claims that, “Universities can play a very important part in this process as a norm-setting authority, providing education and by raising awareness of the creation and adherence to community interpreting norms“.

    Franz Pöchhacker (2005) also reminds us that expectations of how different people’s roles should be played out in interpreting situations will also be influenced by the cultural cognitive background of the participants in the interaction, affecting views of the responsibility, reliability and accountability of the interpreter, which may be at odds with the interpreter’s actual experience, especially when a member of the visitor’s family plays this role rather than a trained interpreter.

    The Critical Links conference about to be held at Aston University (July 26-30) is therefore well-placed to play a key role in raising wider awareness of the challenges of all types of community interpreting, in medical, legal, health and social contexts, all of which are essential to enabling citizens and visitors from overseas to engage fully with their community and to reduce the potential for problems linked to social isolation and lack of information. With participants from professional and academic environments poised to debate key issues and share experiences, how can you afford not to be there too !

    Franz Pöchhacker (2005). From Operation to Action: Process-Orientation in Interpreting Studies.Meta.Volume 50, Number 2, April 2005, p. 682-695 http://www.erudit.org/revue/meta/2005/v50/n2/011011ar.html?lang=en

    Carmen Toledano, (2010). Community interpreting: breaking with the ‘norm’ through normalization. Issue 14 – July 2010
    www.jostrans.org/issue14/art_toledano.pdf, downloaded 20.07.2010
  • At 11:58 on 22/07/2010,
    Isabelle Perez wrote:
    As all my colleagues, I am looking forward to taking part in this most significant event for the Public Service Interpreting and Translation professions. In order to promote these successfully and raise their professional status, I believe that it will be necessary for the research community to "make the economic case" for adequate professional PSIT provision, on the basis of studies costing the risks associated with the absence of/ or inadequate provision. However compelling the moral case is, it has to be underpinned by robust financial evidence to reach policy makers in the current context of public sector spending cuts.
  • At 06:37 on 21/07/2010,
    Silvana Carr wrote:
    As a founding member of the Critical Link Conferences, I feel great regret at not being able to be present at the Aston Conference. Heartfelt regret... and envy of more than 300 fortunate individuals who will gain so much from the many presentations and discussions on an issue of paramount importance in our increasingly multilingual and multicultural societies. Access to language services needs to be a cornerstone of a just society. And this requires highly committed, well-trained interpreters working in a community of social service providers who understand the role of interpreters and know how to work effectively with them. The first Critical Link Conference, held in Canada in 1995, brought an awakening to the profession. Interest continued to blossom through the next four international conferences, bringing a stronger understanding of the complexities of this profession. My very best wishes to Critical Link 6; congratulations on the many indubitable achievements of these forthcoming days.
  • At 18:11 on 16/07/2010,
    Christina Schaeffner wrote:
    Do you know that the services of public service interpreters are required on a daily basis? Do you know that the need of interpreting is constantly increasing? And do you know that currently there is no training provision in the West Midlands to fulfil these needs?
    We are very proud that Aston University will be hosting this international conference which will put public service interpreting onto the agenda and into the public eye. As the chair of the local organising committee I am looking forward to an exciting conference. We will welcome more than 300 participants from nearly 40 countries. We have a highly stimulating programme, and I am sure we will have fascinating discussions. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the last week of July 2010, and I hope many more people will join us: professional interpreters, interpreting trainers, interpreting researchers, users of interpreting services, and policy makers. Do come and joins us!
    Christina Schaeffner
  • At 11:38 on 15/07/2010,
    Claire Richardson wrote:
    As a former teacher of English to asylum seekers in the UK and interlocutor in public service interpreting exams, I can see the relevance and importance of this conference and the training issues mentioned.
  • At 15:43 on 14/07/2010,
    Louise Jackson wrote:
    This type of discussion is long over due and the opportunity to discuss this subject in the heart of Birmingham,using Aston's excellent facilities and Academic wealth of knowledge really does embrace all that is great about Birmingham: Cultural diversity and embracing change for the good of society.
  • At 14:38 on 14/07/2010,
    Valeska Hass wrote:
    People very often do not realise that interpreting and translating are not just matters of transferring words into another language. With it comes a whole bunch of underlying assumptions and cultural norms and values. These things are especially important in situations like the ones described by Elaena. I think it is great that Aston hosts a conference that not only gives interpreters the chance to exchange knowledge and skills but also invites a range of people for whom it is crucial to work with interpreters in order to be able to adapt public services and policies to a “changing landscape”.
  • At 14:34 on 14/07/2010,
    Karen Bartlam wrote:
    This looks like a really interesting and topical suject for a conference in the current economic climate and I think it will promote some important discussions
  • At 14:22 on 14/07/2010,
    Toby Bristow wrote:
    Avarice is often the root of all evil, therefore should we even question the financial aspect of this when the moral obligation is so great?

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