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The need of interpreting needs

Multiligualism series 2

By Anthony Fornaro

Listen to Tony and read his article. Yes, you car read while you listen.

To interpret – to decide what the intended meaning of something is. This is quite a wide explanation for a very deep and pluri-dimensional meaning concept such as interpreting, especially when this come to be contextualised in a Multilanguage environment. In fact, an interpreter it is not only a mere oral translator but a proper intercultural mediator and to whoever is wondering right now whether we need good interpreters in the modern society or not my answer is going to be YES – why? Because it’s a small world!

Let me be clearer.

Over the last 18 years, international migration has increased by almost 50%. This means that the majority of the countries all over the world have to deal with at least one minority language, even though most of these countries are monolingual. By using the term monolingual, it might be assumable that, as the minorities are not included in the national/official language, it is not the government business to over watch them. Well, if anyone was supporting this idea I’m afraid, you’re in for a fight! The Multilanguage topic is becoming a matter of importance especially when it comes to public services. An example of this is the story of Willie Ramirez, a poor Hispanic guy who had suffered the consequences of a bad interpretation. When the family was trying to explain to the interpreter what happened, this one translated the facts forgetting he was a mediator. Instead of contextualizing what he had been said by translating the meaning rather than the words, he preferred to make a literal word-by-word translation from Spanish to English giving wrong hints to the medical team. This lead to a medical disaster and the wrong treatments. In order to prevent these scenarios many countries are adopting a “monolingual but…” policy. Doing so one or more minorities are somehow protected and the role of interpreters for public services reconsidered and enhanced.

In fact, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, being an interpreter is most of the times a big deal! This means that to be a good interpreter you should go through qualifications, never ending courses and economic efforts, sometimes with little financial reward and high competition. Moreover, not everyone has the chance to do afford such time and money. For example, in Oregon, in the US, only 3% of the medical interpreters are certified, which is scary! So, what would you do if you had just moved to a foreign country and cannot afford to pay a professional interpreter, or there are not enough professionals around, but your child is becoming fluent thanks to their young age? Silly question – you make a language broker out of them! Unfortunately, this is a very controversial choice. If on the one hand the children have the chance to improve several skills and their cognitive development, on the other they are exposed to a great amount of stress for their age. Also, their ‘mediation’ might be influenced by the affection towards their parents or any other relative they are interpreting for.

Making the state of play we can undoubtedly say that the more people from different cultures will keep moving out of their countries the more the need of professional language mediator will be a touchy subject. Also, it is a public service providers’ responsibility to make sure that well trained interpreters are always available at someone’s disposal. It is unacceptable that young children should mediate in situations when the topics are the parent’s health or financial situation! In order to avoid this also fresh-moved family should take note of their responsibilities towards the choice of moving and try to learn the language or refer to the local authorities their concerns. As I said it is a small world, but still, there are almost 7000 living languages to deal with!

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