What makes community interpreting different from other interpreting is the responsibility of bridging the cultural gap between the client and the public, community or voluntary professional.
I have been a community interpreter, bilingual health and social care advocate, executive coach and community activist since 1996.
When I work with open and culturally intelligent leaders and community care professionals, we achieve great things. The communication is successful because all parties are informed both linguistically and culturally and decisions are made based on clear information.
I had one of these situations recently and I feel sharing knowledge and experience is beneficial to everyone involved in interpreting for public or private sector organisations. What made this full day of interpreting stand out from other sessions I have conducted was the openness of the public professionals of East Sussex County Council to respect everyone in the room. They showed us the integrity of being public servants while they followed the process and the procedures of their organisations. They were not arrogant and did not show that they represent a powerful organisation and a powerful country.
They respected my professional role as a community interpreter and welcomed my intervention to clarify cultural facts, customs and norms of the other country. Both sides appreciated my intervention as it was to clarify a cultural misunderstanding.
The art of intervention relies on the community interpreter and the leader of the conference/meeting working together. When we finished the session I handed my time sheet to the lead public professional for his signature. On the comments section he wrote one word: “educational”. When I asked why, he responded “It was the style of your intervention. Without crossing the boundaries.”
I have identified some tips for newly qualified or student interpreters:
• Intervention has to be timely and on the spot when the misunderstanding and confusion occurs (do not drag out the meeting by trying to clarify cultural misunderstandings after the event)
• Everyone in the meeting should be aware that you are intervening to clarify a cultural issue.
• Maintain your linguistic and cultural knowledge so that you are completely up to date with current customs, variations in language and news.
• Maintain up to the minute knowledge of your own country. Culture and language are not static, they change and develop constantly.
The person that chairs a session should:
• trust the professionalism of the interpreter
• be culturally intelligent, if not, be open to listen and learn
• watch his/her ego and the balance of power