Intercultural Communication
Or … Who Gets Lost in
Lost in Translation?
• The German Coastguard
• Assumptions here: that English is
somehow the default global language
which everyone should learn
• In this case, the professional must/should
learn the language
• Is this true for e.g. doctors? Lawyers?
Police? Call centre operatives?
Lost in Translation?
• Individuals interact with state institutions (e.g. justice
system, healthcare) through language
• In multilingual societies, which language should be
• Can we demand that people use one language for the
• Is that always in the state’s interest?
• Should the state provide education in the language for its
• Should the state provide language education for
professionals (e.g. healthcare workers, police)
• Should the state pay for translators (written) and
interpreters (spoken)?
Language Use in the Justice
• Police / Courts
Honour for Pc who learned Polish : A police officer who learned Polish to work with
the growing immigrant community in Wrexham has been honoured. (BBC)
Sussex Police has launched a recruitment campaign to attract Police Community
Support Officers who can demonstrate excellent Polish multilingual skills. (CityLocal,
A NEW multi-lingual team will help police save thousands of pounds in translation
costs. Last year, Cambridgeshire police ploughed more than £800,000 into providing
translation for victims and suspects who did not speak English. (P’Boro Evening
Telegraph 30/5/07)
TAXPAYERS have witnessed a near-fourfold rise in the cost of interpreter services in
Scottish courts over the past three years. Country-wide costs increased by an
average of 291 per cent over the last three years. The translation service now costs
taxpayers £653,000 a year, compared with £167,000 in 2003-4, according to figures
obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. (Scotsman 04/01/08)
Police dog handlers are learning to give orders to their animals in German, as 16
forces now import canines because of a shortage in the UK. Officers are learning
basic German commands after a successful trial involving Derbyshire police and a
team of alsatians from Berlin. (Daily Telegraph 11/1/08)
Costs and Benefits
• From a political, social and/or economic perspective,
what are the costs/benefits for the below?
• Language Education for Citizens
• For?
• Against?
• Language Education for Justice Professionals
• For?
• Against?
• Interpreting and Translation
• For?
• Against?
Language Education for Citizens
• Long term benefits, not just for justice but also e.g. health, other
areas of society.
• Reduces costs of employing translators/interpreters.
• Reduces burden on e.g. police, lawyers, who can ‘get on with the
• But …
• Long term benefits are just that: long term. Language education can
take a long time.
• People may not be able to learn e.g. ‘legal-ese’ – this is true even
for ‘native’ speakers!
• Second language learning proceeds at different rates and different
people are better at it than others.
• Motivation etc. may also play a part. Would you learn the language
quicker if you were guilty/innocent?
Language Education for Justice
• Already familiar with the technical jargon and how to simplify it.
• Probably highly-educated, possibly better capacity/higher motivation
to learn L2? (N.b.: controversial!)
• Language learning can be done in the context of the centralised
institution – thus success is more measurable
• Probably cheaper than having *everyone* learning the language,
and cheaper than interpreters/translators.
• But …
• Motivation and capacity differs between individuals – being
educated does not guarantee ability or desire to learn L2 (indeed,
there are many proudly monoglot linguists!)
• How many languages should each justice professional learn? One?
Two? All languages of the community?
Interpreting / Translation
Specialist translators can become familiar with technical jargon
They can be used as and when needed, and at short notice
Different languages can be met by a ‘bank’ of translators
Translators probably already know the language anyway, and
haven’t studied it *just* to become a translator.
• But … interpreting is extremely costly.
• In the justice system, two translators are usually needed for long
hearings to avoid fatigue.
• Also, two usually needed in case necessary to clarify what is being
• Interpreters are only human, and mistakes can be and are made.
• Omission / Addition / Substitution / Editorialising / False Fluency
• In the justice system, (mis)translation can lead to wrong verdicts.
• In the healthcare system ...
(Lost in) Translation in Healthcare Settings –
The Problem of Clinical Error
Healthcare setting
Mis-translation can be life-or-death matter
Wrong diagnosis from wrong explanation of symptoms
Wrong treatment
Possible litigation? Increased long-term expense
Short-term expense: ‘My budget is eaten away by having to provide
translation services. Not for people who turn up for their
appointments, overall it’s probably cheaper than letting STDs run
rampant in the community. But my budget goes on people who do
not turn up for appointments!’ - Interview data, Head of GenitoUrinary Medicine in a British city with large immigrant population.
• Flores et al (2003) examined interpreting errors in a pediatric
healthcare setting
• Both professional and ‘ad hoc’ translators made large numbers of
errors. Many of these were of potential clinical significance.
Problems with Translation:
• Omission: The interpreter did not interpret a
word/phrase uttered by the clinician, parent, or child.
• Addition: The interpreter added a word/phrase to the
interpretation that was not uttered by the clinician,
parent, or child.
• Substitution: The interpreter substituted a word/phrase
for a different word/phrase uttered by the clinician,
parent, or child.
• Editorialization: The interpreter provided his or her own
personal views as the interpretation of a word/phrase
uttered by the clinician, parent, or child.
• False Fluency: The interpreter used an incorrect
word/phrase, or word/phrase that does not exist in that
particular language.
From: Flores, G. et al. Pediatrics 2003;111:6-14
Interpreter errors of potential clinical consequence included:
1) omitting questions about drug allergies;
2) omitting key information about the past medical history (a mother’s
statement that her child had been hospitalized at birth for a renal infection);
3) omitting crucial information about the chief complaint and other important
4) omitting instructions about antibiotic dose, frequency, and duration;
5) instructing a mother to give an antibiotic for 2 instead of 10 days (Fig 2);
6) erroneously adding that hydrocortisone cream must be applied to an
infant’s entire body, instead of solely to a facial rash (Fig 3);
7) telling a mother to give soy formula to her infant, instead of a physician’s
instructions to breastfeed only;
8) omitting instructions on the amount, frequency, and type of rehydration
fluids for gastroenteritis;
9) editorializing to a mother that she should not answer personal questions
asked by her physician about sexually transmitted diseases and drug use;
10) explaining that an antibiotic was being prescribed for the flu;
11) omitting and substituting for a mother’s description of her child’s
abnormal behavioral symptoms
12) instructing a mother to put oral amoxicillin into her child’s ears to treat
otitis media
Flores, G. et al. Pediatrics 2003;111:6-14
Copyright ©2003 American Academy of Pediatrics
Flores, G. et al. Pediatrics 2003;111:6-14
Copyright ©2003 American Academy of Pediatrics
Flores, G. et al. Pediatrics 2003;111:6-14
Copyright ©2003 American Academy of Pediatrics
Flores, G. et al. Pediatrics 2003;111:6-14
Copyright ©2003 American Academy of Pediatrics
Flores, G. et al. Pediatrics 2003;111:6-14
Copyright ©2003 American Academy of Pediatrics
• For discussion:
• What do we need to think about when
deciding on language policies in these
specific contexts?
• What kinds of policies can/should we put
in place in the justice system?
• In the healthcare system?
• Should we, as sociolinguists, let our
feelings about criminals / immigrants get in
the way of the facts?
• Or should we presume from a rightsbased, liberal-democratic, and
multicultural perspective?

Intercultural Communication