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18 November: Dr Kate Haworth, Centre for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University

Language and Communication Training for Police Interviewers: Applying linguistics to professional practice

Abstract

This paper will discuss the outcomes of a recent project completed by Kate Haworth and Nicci MacLeod, which involved developing and delivering training courses for police interviewers on language and communication. A key part of the project was to work alongside practitioners in developing the materials, in order to ensure both practical relevance and a sound grounding in linguistic theory. The project was funded by the British Association for Applied Linguistics.

We held one-day sessions at three English police forces, during which we delivered training based on our research on both witness and suspect interviews. The training materials covered a number of linguistic concepts, selected from our research findings and hence their (perceived) relevance to police interviewing, and illustrated through examples from our data. The key underlying aim was to provide interviewers with insight into their own linguistic behaviour in the interview room, and how this can (unintentionally) influence what is said by an interviewee. After each training session, participants completed questionnaires and took part in a focus group in order to provide us with feedback. In response to this, the training materials were revised before delivery to the next force. This resulted in a set of training materials developed and adapted in response to practitioner input, as well as a set of questionnaire and focus group data detailing police interviewers’ views on their existing skills in language and communication, and how they themselves consider that linguists can best contribute to their practice.

This paper outlines the training activities which we delivered, alongside the feedback each linguistic concept received. We’ll discuss the challenges of the project, including the perils of going into a professional context as academic ‘outsiders’ and telling practitioners how to do their job. A summary and analysis of the feedback will be provided, including some of the unexpected outcomes in terms of what practitioners actually want from academics. Overall, the response to the training was overwhelmingly positive, indicating that there is a real opportunity for linguists to become more directly involved in police interviewer training.