Translation, Interpreting and the Charity Sector: responding to linguistic and cultural diversity in service provision: Event Report

Greater Manchester’s linguistic and cultural diversity has grown significantly in the past decade, creating multiple challenges for voluntary sector organisations. This GMCVO-University of Manchester joint event brought together representatives and speakers from a range of voluntary sector organisations in Manchester to share their experiences of managing multilingual service delivery. These included housing associations, refugee support organisations, care providers, mental health teams, adult reading initiatives, and domestic abuse services.

During the introduction, Dr Rebecca Tipton of the Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies at the University of Manchester shared examples from the research that inspired the focus of the event. The AHRC-funded Translating Asylum project examines how language support was provided to refugees and asylum seekers who arrived in Britain between the 1940s and 1980s, including refugees from Hungary, Uganda, Chile and Vietnam. The project looks at how charities supported linguistically diverse groups before the professionalisation of interpreting services, and at a time when support was often reactive rather than underpinned by longer-term planning or policy. While translation and interpreting have since become professionalised, the voluntary sector faces new challenges with regard to language needs, particularly in contexts of superdiversity.


The event provided the opportunity to hear from speakers from voluntary sector organisations supporting service users in contexts of linguistic and cultural diversity. Lydia Nelson presented on the work of the Boaz Trust, who provide accommodation and support to refugees and asylum seekers, explaining that interpreters help to bridge cultural as well as linguistic barriers. The organisation endeavours to work with the same interpreters to ensure continuity, and the importance of working with interpreters who share the organisation’s values was a strong message from the presentation. Intisar Zaroug, who was previously supported by the Boaz Trust and now works at the organisation as an interpreter, shared her personal experience of becoming an interpreter and stressed the importance of clear communication in enabling refugees to access appropriate support; effective interpreting and translation support for Intisar enables refugees to ‘regain their voices’ and express their needs.

Luke Godfrey of Victim Support provided insight into the multiple challenges his organisation faces in supporting limited English language proficient victims of crime. Victims are often unfamiliar with the criminal justice system and may have recently been through a traumatic experience, making it difficult to process and remember complex information. Victims may also feel a lack of trust towards legal institutions or authority figures, making it a challenge to build relationships. The interpreter has a key role in ensuring the victim understands the process and the support on offer, but must be able to communicate complex information clearly and rapidly. Victim Support often uses telephone interpreting, which can be useful in emergency or crisis situations, but the subtleties of language and communication may be overlooked if an interpreter is not physically present.

Rebecca Tipton presented research conducted in collaboration with Women’s Aid, a grassroots federation of organisations that campaign to improve support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. The number of service users with language needs who seek support from Women’s Aid in Manchester and elsewhere has been increasing in recent years. However, training for interpreters in working with survivors of domestic abuse is extremely limited, and there is a lack of information for organisations on working effectively with interpreters.

Working in conjunction with the Pankhurst Trust Incorporating Manchester Women’s Aid, Rebecca’s research resulted in guidelines for interpreters working with survivors of domestic abuse and a guide for staff at Women’s Aid on working with interpreters, which she shared with participants at the event. She showed how interpreter decisions over word choice may lead to misunderstandings or risks being underplayed, for example when the meanings of words for sexual violence are deliberately or inadvertently mistranslated. The guidance also shows the challenges facing service providers in balancing risk (and having recourse to professional interpreter) with a service user’s desire for autonomy of expression, even if their level of English is limited. Rebecca spoke about the development of a volunteer interpreter scheme to support service users in low-level and low-risk interactions.

The second part of the event began with an overview of the professionalisation of public service interpreting. Participants heard how a significant Nuffield Report from 1983 prompted reflection on opportunities for language learning and skills development in translation and interpreting in a range of public services, leading to Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (Chartered Institute of Linguists, NVQ level 6) and range of lower level community interpreting certificates.  The presentation stressed that interpreters do not have protection of title and regulation is currently only on a voluntary basis through the National Register of Public Service Interpreters and the newly created National Register of Public Service Translators

The session drew attention to key differences between the models of interpreter provisions present in the statutory and voluntary sector, and differences in organisational policies with regard to commissioning interpreting services. A mixed model of professional and voluntary interpreter services is prominent in the voluntary sector, often driven by affordability and access to suitably trained interpreters. Organisations are encouraged to assess risk levels involved in interactions, ensuring that any volunteer provision is underpinned by a minimum of training and limited to low-level interaction, and professional interpreters are used in more complex interactions, especially where safeguarding is crucial. Finally, the event offered guidance on how service providers can ensure clear communication when working with interpreters. 

The event generated a fruitful dialogue on how voluntary sector organisations in the Manchester area work in contexts of linguistic and cultural diversity. The event was also an important opportunity to gather information on the current approaches taken by participants to language support provisions and on the particular challenges they face in this area. Examples include: how to build capacity among multilingual organisational members (skills and confidence) to support service delivery; how to access funding for interpreting; how to make services more inclusive (to limited English language proficient service users) and more needs-led; best practice in cultural awareness for staff; how to distinguish between the role of interpreter and cultural consultant; how to address problems of social isolation.

Participants reported finding the discussions useful for their own working practices with service users, interpreters and volunteers.

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