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Challenges of community interpreting in the public sector in Switzerland


Community interpreting is a specific type of interpreting that can take place in many different communication settings. The fields of application are broad: public institutions (schools, universities, social institutions), social services, specialist and counselling centres, healthcare institutions (hospitals, homes, etc.), civil rights, court issues, public housing and transportation, job training, business institutions, refugee/resettlement centres, immigration, police stations/prisons and detention centres, ecclesiastical institutions, or emergencies of any kind. Depending on the existence and form of any specific regulations there are guidelines that also apply to the judiciary and the authorities.

Why is community/intercultural interpreting so important?

The main aim of community interpreting (also known as intercultural interpreting) is to enable communication between two groups of people that don’t speak the same language and it is needed to implement important community services. Community interpreters have to have relevant competences to understand and convey the content of a conversation so that members of a language minority have the same type of access to public services as majority language speakers. They have the required qualifications and experience in interpreting, and are guided by a professional code, breaking down the language barrier, shedding light on all services provided by the authorities and ensuring transparency in social welfare matters. Facilitating communication in the field of education, especially between parents and teachers, and accurately interpreting crucial information in court or as part of the asylum process should also be included in their expertise.

Community interpreting is only becoming more essential as connections around the world continue to grow. It has become extremely important to the daily lives of people all over the world by enabling communication.

Language barriers have unfortunately created an imbalance of high-quality public services in some areas compared to others. Community interpreting helps provide access to so many basic things and is also particularly valuable when people may be nervous, under stressful conditions, or struggle to speak for themselves.

What does community interpreting entail?

Community interpreting requires people that specialise in many different areas of languages and public services acting as advocates and translating messages between groups. By doing so, the community interpreter (intercultural interpreter) helps one group access or create community services in a specific area with the help of another, breaking down language barriers, which are often a huge issue when it comes to any sort of improvements or aid in many areas. It is about the participation and integration of people who are not yet fluent in one of Switzerland’s official languages but are still part of our society.

This type of interpreting differs from the traditional simultaneous or consecutive interpreting used at conferences or lectures because community interpreting creates a special relationship between the speakers and the interpreter through both spoken and sign languages.

Many people in need of community interpreting services are immigrants or refugees, who are often families with children. It is not uncommon for families to move to places where they may feel safer, but unfortunately, they may not speak the same language as the rest of the community around them. Therefore, the need for public services, such as social security, family services and health care make community/intercultural interpreting a vital resource for people who cannot speak the local language.

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What are the daily challenges faced by community interpreters?

Community interpreters face daily challenges that other interpreters do not. They need to be fluent in the languages they interpret, knowledgeable in the public services involved and aware of the cultural implications of the interpreting work.

They must overcome language differences, as well as cultural, class, race, gender, and socioeconomic disparity. Due to the variety of possible impediments, a community interpreter must be aware of the many possibilities for misunderstandings or lack of communication through cultural and linguistic differences, the potential for racial prejudice, as well as the difference between the status and power of the service provider and the relative powerlessness of the client. For example, miscommunication increases the risks of medical errors, inappropriate treatments, or people being falsely accused or jailed, fined, or penalised in some way.

What are the benefits of community/intercultural interpreting?

There are multiple benefits from using a community interpreter, including communication, implementing public services, minimising risks, among others. For example, people’s lives can change. Many families that use a community interpreter were displaced or are even refugees, so by using an interpreter to overcome a language barrier, these families can find the public services they may need. Using a community interpreter to implement public services in an area in which they were scarce is also life-changing for many people who did not have access to the basic amenities they required.

To conclude, language barriers present problems, but a community interpreter can solve them, helping patients and healthcare professionals communicate, or helping families find a safe place to live. People must always stay connected and foreign language or cultural diversity do not need to become roadblocks to effective communication.

CB Multilingual has a solid experience in the field of community / intercultural interpreting and can provide the right solutions for these kind of intercultural communication challenges with its network of highly qualified interpreters in various disciplines and languages. Its commitment to established quality standards and consistent track record of customer satisfaction makes it the ideal solution for your particular situation.

Please feel free to contact us at any time and we will find the right community interpreters / intercultural interpreters to meet your needs.