Panoramaaufnahme Universität Zürich

CB Multilingual: guest speaker at this year’s VALS-ALSA Study Day in Zurich


The VALS-ASLA Study Day took place on 27 January at the Sprachzentrum of the University of Zurich and brought together specialist linguists, practitioners and academics to discuss language practices of and with refugees. Of particular interest was the diversity and creativity of interpreting and mediation practices, in terms of the players and technologies available.

Representatives from Swiss universities stressed to what extent changing political and social circumstances lead to increased needs for community and intercultural interpreters for a given language. They elaborated on the challenges that this entails with regards to the methods and curricula required for training possible interpreter candidates to fill this gap efficiently and in a relatively short time. One of the most frequent concerns is that these persons have very different educational and personal backgrounds.

Silvia Cerrella Bauer, Managing Director CB Multilingual LLC, highlighted different situations in which intercultural interpreters work with refugees in Switzerland, in the Canton of Zurich in particular.

It was also pointed out that it is important to talk to IT specialists responsible for developing tools for automatic interpretation. Normally these specialists do not know the actual needs of the interpreters and possible users of such tools. Therefore, they should be made aware of the specific scenarios in which it would make sense to use such tools and of others where the lack of judgment of the “machine” would speak against the use of such methods.

In Switzerland, people wanting to exercise the profession of intercultural interpreters can be trained and obtain a certification to accredit fulfilment of minimum professional requirements. Many organisations have well-established procedures to admit and continuously evaluate the professional qualifications of intercultural interpreters and offer continuous training and development in the field.

To know more about intercultural interpreting, read our blog: Challenges of community interpreting in the public sector in Switzerland.

How will it be in the future?

Time will tell to what extent it is going to be possible for a machine to give an adequate response to situations in which people have to overcome language barriers to be able to speak for themselves and be understood. This requires judgement and empathy. Can the machine develop these qualities or should it only be used as a support tool, with a skilled intercultural interpreter who knows how to use it and adapt and convey the message accordingly?