In this page
When gathering information to supplement this report’s findings, it became clear that there remains a limited number of formal research or organisational based reports in regard to the forced migrant population in Wales in general, and very little focusing on the need for an effective interpretation services.
Of this limited number of published reports, some issues were raised that impact on the availability of good quality and timely foreign language interpretation services. They related to employment and education, health, housing, Violence Against Women, Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV) and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). Of equal concern is the lack of published policy documents produced by local authorities and other public sector organisations, such as health boards, criminal justice services; they all described forced migrants as ‘asylum seekers and refugees’ and the vast majority not having (or not publishing) stand-alone forced migrant policies, but rather integrated the topic into their strategic equality plans. However, both Swansea and Cardiff council are exceptions here, as they both blazed the trail with their City of Sanctuary status.
The following documents were also useful:
- Welsh Government ‘Nation of Sanctuary: Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan’
- Wales Audit Office report, ‘Speak my language: Overcoming Language and Communication Barriers in Public Services’
- Equality Act 2010
- Social Services and Well-being Act (Wales) 2014
- Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015
The Welsh Government is keenly willing to provide sanctuary to people forced to leave their countries of origin and is clearly determined to ensure those arriving in Wales are fully supported to settle, integrate and flourish. However, without a robust evidence base there are only insights into what may be happening which may not be enough to facilitate the development of efficient and effective services.
Findings from project interviews
The primary research findings are organised by cohort.
The forced migrant population of Wales
Barriers to interpreter services
Barriers for forced migrants accessing foreign language interpretation services have been categorised in several ways, based on findings, personal, societal and institutional. A second set of groupings includes psychological, relating to the way the individual perceives the service, financial, relating to the cost of service which is not always covered by the organisation and resources, relating to the capacity versus demand for the service.
Summary of barriers to access and take-up of interpreter services by forced migrants:
- Linguistic: especially when someone’s dialect is rarer. This means relying on those around them or translating apps.
- Information: lack of appropriate and accurate information on how foreign language interpretation services work and its benefits, provided in a language and format fitting to each individual’s needs. This leads to a failure to access foreign language interpretation when needed, especially when an individual relies on digital delivery/online service.
- Communication: how third sector organisations and the Home Office interact with forced migrants and foreign language interpretation services around sensitive issues that require translation e.g. gender-related trauma, sexuality, culture and mental health.
- Knowledge: when during the asylum process translation services are available, what types of services are provided, and how forced migrants could access services without having to rely on others or pay for these services.
- Personal Experience: particularly if there has been issue in the past with translation services and how (if any) care was provided.
- Lack of trust: in public authorities, third sector organisations and foreign language interpretation services. The “formality” of the services alienates the forced migrants even further, as their agency during the asylum process is further removed.
- Discrimination: the likelihood of foreign language interpretation services and practices to discriminate, intentionally or unintentionally, and forced migrants’ fear of discrimination.
The barriers mentioned above are not mutually exclusive, and there are a range of overlaps. Thus, a holistic approach and a collaboration between the third sector and Welsh Government is required.
Speaking from experience: forced migrants
Initial use of interpreters
Almost all participants accessed foreign language interpretation services during their initial asylum claim and their Home Office interview or during a meeting with a third sector organisation. Their views are mixed.
I was so stressed about the (Home Office) interview and on top I had to worry about the translator too! All that stress really affects your mental health!
I was glad to have been provided with a translator. At least the UK cares enough to do that. I know my country does not care that much for asylum seekers.
In my interview with the Home Office, I went with a friend who could speak OK English but not enough to be a confident interpreter. After interpreting for a while, the interpreter seemed not to like what I was saying and in English told the Home Office official that I was lying. My friend challenged the interpreter and the Home Office official shut the meeting down.
I was applying for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. I was a Christian living in a Muslim State and I was being persecuted by the local Muslim villagers. My interpreter was Muslim and did not believe that Muslims would persecute a Christian and so refused to translate. My solicitor explained to the Home Office person what was going on and was asked to take over the interpreting task.
Appropriate use of services
A theme evidenced though all interview responses was a lack of understanding of what services interpreters can provide and when it is appropriate to ask community hubs or third sector organisations to hire foreign language interpretation services. Thus, indicating a communication breakdown on how information regarding foreign language interpretation services reaches forced migrants.
To be honest with you, I didn’t know how it could work. I didn’t realise we would call her, and she would translate over the phone. And what do I do if I must pop in without an appointment? Would they call an interpreter every time I walk in?
Marginalised by lack of services
Moreover, just over half of the participants emphasised that many forced migrants require interpreting services for even the smallest tasks, and that they often feel marginalised and misunderstood, as they fail to liaise with service providers as well as begin their integration.
I want to improve my English even more. I don’t want the Council (Welsh Refugee Council) to have to call an interpreter almost every time I have an appointment. Otherwise, I won’t be able to fit in.
Interpreters removing agency
An important point uncovered somewhat during approximately half of the interviews with forced migrants was that relying on interpreters removes their agency, as their voice is not heard. This results in lack of confidence.
I wish I could use my own voice, share my own story, tell them about me and my life and not have to rely on a stranger’s (the interpreter) perception of me. He didn’t know me and yet my claim relied on his translation.
Expressing narratives, homophobic interpreters and dialect issues
Almost all forced migrants explained that foreign language interpretation is their only way of proving who they are to support their asylum claim. When dialect issues arise, especially during the Home Office interview, their asylum claim is at stake. This is particularly important for LGBTQ+ forced migrants who have more complex narratives to present and who may be dealing with trauma, repression, and denial.
My interpreter was homophobic, never used one again. It took me another two years to learn English.
Translating LGBTQ language from one Arabic dialect to another other does not work because we all use different slang, it’s very country specific. So, if the interpreter doesn’t know the slang, they can ruin someone’s claim. Also, lots of people don’t really want to talk about their (LGBTQ) experiences, for many reasons, some are still in the closet, some are too scared to admit to officials that they are gay.
Effects of stress
Additionally, almost 70% added that they are left feeling stressed, since they have no control regarding exactly what is translated and how it will directly impact upon their everyday life and asylum claim.
Some things I’ve been through are quite difficult to discuss and I was worried that because the translator did not know me personally, my background may be downplayed or over exaggerated, which I was afraid may be detrimental to my claim.”
Problems with phone foreign language interpretation
76% of the forced migrant participants mentioned that phone foreign language interpretation is not a great solution, as they feel that interpreters will not take time to listen properly to their specific issues and in some cases, they appear not to want to understand the cultural issues which are important to their claims.
I didn’t want the officials (Home Office and interpreter) to think less of me. I wanted to build rapport with them, to show that I am worthy to be in the UK. But I wasn’t sure if the translator would interpret correctly or fill in the gaps in my story. I am a shy person and I come from a strict religious family. I didn’t want anyone else to hear about my life or judge me without knowing what it really means to be a gay Nigerian.
The need for more diversity within the Home Office
If more Home Office and third sector staff were themselves from minority ethnic communities, there would be a better understanding of dialect and cultural issues as well as more opportunities to confidently communicate and integrate
I would feel safer and more confident to interact and communicate, if more Home Office staff looked like me, spoke my language or if they were from refugee background. Because only then they would be able to empathise with us.
Formal interpreter providers
The UK is supported by numerous foreign language interpretation services organisations, along with innumerable global providers operating remote services. Three of the most used providers in Wales were interviewed or engaged with. It was disappointing that 3 other contacted providers did not engage with this research, with 2 only willing to participate anonymously. However, their choice not to do so was respected with an understanding that a position of independence, client confidentiality, commercial sensitivities along with government jurisdictions complicate the provider landscape.
Summary of the barriers to access and take-up of interpreter services by forced migrants using formal in foreign language interpretation services.
- Recruitment and retention of interpreters: problems with the operating model. This is a demand driven ‘Just in Time’ model resulting in no guaranteed work for the interpreters.
- Professional development: there is no supported Continuing Professional Development with the onus being on the interpreter to manage and fund their own development.
- Unregulated service provision: while regulation comes with its own problems, so does having no regulations.
- Operate with no training: it is possible to operate with no formal training or qualification as there is no statutory guidance in this field.
- Poor incentives: there are few incentives to gain recognised qualifications as there is no guaranteed returns on investment.
- Professional conduct: there is a lack of robust training regarding codes of conduct, safeguarding or managing confidentiality.
- Interpreter/client match: there is a lack of incentive for providers to match the most appropriate interpreter with clients as any delay may result in the booking organisation going to a different interpreter service.
- British Sign Language (BSL): there are unacceptable waiting times for BSL interpreters.
- Gathering forced migrant demographic data: there is a lack of adequate information gathering from support bodies and commissioning agents, making matching client to interpreter services more difficult.
- Rights: lack of knowledge regarding the rights of forced migrants.
- Providing information to interpreters: there is a lack of information sharing with interpreters. This becomes a barrier to fully efficient and effective foreign language interpretation, particularly for complex, legal, health or sensitive cases.
- Remote technologies: providers have not fully embraced the advantages of using remote technologies, and overly rely on Language Line with all its known deficiencies or push for in person services.
Speaking from experience: interpreter services
Wales is a very diverse country with a long and proud history of welcoming immigrants and forced migrants from all over the world. As a result, “we use just over 120 different languages in Wales, not including Welsh and English” (formal provider).
However, the most commonly used languages remain relatively static with limited movement between places within the top ten most requested languages. However, as Wales continues to play its part in offering sanctuary to displaced people from across the globe, certain fluctuations can be seen in linguistic needs as Wales responds to the varying humanitarian crisis, such as the recent conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan and now in 2022, the effects of the Ukrainian invasion.
Our most requested languages rarely change Arabic is the most common, followed by Polish and then BSL. The other 7 top languages are Lithuanian, Czech, Mandarin, Cantonese, Urdu, Bengali and Romanian. Obviously, we are now seeing an extraordinary demand for Ukrainian and Russian interpreters and translators. Before the recent crisis those languages were rarely requested. We expect the demand to remain for at least the next 12 months. It is an example of why it would not be easy to have our interpreters as employees rather than contractors. The language needs of the communities’ ebbs and flows which makes long term employment [of interpreters] complicated and expensive (formal provider).
Recruitment, retention and training requirements of interpreters
The issue of recruiting and retaining interpreters remains an issue with all respondents in this research. All organisations that were consulted with did not employ interpreters, but rather commissioned them as self-employed contractors or freelancers. It is assumed that this arrangement gives flexibility to the agencies, allows interpreters to set their own hours and be registered to several agencies, increasing the chances of commissions.
All of our interpreters are self-employed. This is the model we use because interpreter services operates on a supply and demand model. For instance, the current Ukraine crisis is putting extra demand on Ukraine languages and Russian (although Russian is less so) but before the crisis the Ukraine language was rarely required. So, we wouldn’t employ our interpreters on a PAYE basis because of the cost burdens to the organisation without them being a revenue source, this sounds mercenary, but you understand what I am saying. It wouldn’t be a sustainable business model and would increase our costs and therefore our service charges. (formal provider)
It wouldn’t be a sustainable business model and would increase our costs and therefore our service charges.”(formal provider)
The professional recognition of interpreters is very poor, and some agencies treat interpreters in a way that I don’t find acceptable, and I don’t want to be treated, so now I just mainly work over the phone and have moved more over to translation services because I find it more satisfying. (Interpreter)
Interpreter agencies operate on a 24/7 basis with mutually beneficial support structures to operate and offer as many different languages to meet the needs of the communities. For instance, WITS operate with approximately 500 registered interpreters, and have working agreements with other agencies such as The Big Word and Language Line to meet any additional needs if necessary. However, it is unclear how many of their interpreters are qualified or ‘community’ interpreters. Within the WITS interpreter application pack potential recruits are graded as follows:
- little or no experience (under 50 hours)
- some experience (50-100 hours)
- extensive experience (100+ hours)
- hold a professional qualification in language
- hold a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting qualification or are signed up with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (WITS interpreter application form)
Half of the full interview respondents reported that there is no formal requirement to be a qualified or registered interpreter, but agencies encourage people to work towards a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI), and/or register with National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) as they are more ‘bookable’ and attract the highest fees. However, it was noted by almost all respondents, that the qualification process is expensive and does not guarantee a ‘liveable’ income at the end of the process.
The NRPSI is an independent voluntary regulator of professional interpreters specialising in public services. They have approximately 1800 registered interpreters at any one time. However, to register with NRPSI there are minimum requirements which you must meet:
- full status: minimum of 400 proven hours of Public Service Interpreting (PSI) experience undertaken in UK with a minimum of QCF Level 6 or higher
- interim status: (a) no minimum hours, but minimum QCF Level 6 or higher
- interim status: (b) partial completion of a qualification that meets the full status requirements. Minimum of 400 hrs of proven PSI experience undertaken in UK
- rare language status: the rare language status is for those languages for which there is no PSI qualification available in the UK, however there is a demand for the language from the public services. You must provide acceptable evidence that you can speak the language to an appropriate standard. Standard of English: You must provide evidence of having passed a qualification that tests spoken and written English equivalent to International English Language Testing System (IELTS) band score 7.0 or above (CEFR C1). Qualifications that test this include the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE), Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) and IELTS. A minimum of 100 hrs of proven PSI experience undertaken in the UK is required
As it is a non-statutory requirement to register with NRPSI or similar groups such as the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCi) service commissioners are not aware of the benefits of requiring a qualified or registered interpreter.
Nobody is asking for any qualifications for any experience. And I just feel that the interpreters are not even aware of the role, and they're not aware of the Code of Conduct principles, because it is a profession although unregulated and then they need to be protected, as well as the members of the public have to be protected by principles of the professional conduct just like confidentiality, for example.
Sometimes we see a stepping over the boundaries by an interpreter, mostly from a a community interpreter. It isn’t from a negative, but trying to be helpful without understanding the whole situation. So sometimes, that trying to be helpful becomes a huge problem that couldn’t be predicted.
You don’t have to have a formal qualification to work as an interpreter. In that respect it is totally unregulated, but we do have a code of conduct and minimum standards that we expect all of our community interpreters to adhere to.
The interpreters we work with, there is a dedication to their communities, that they want to help the community and they want to make a difference, to help others and to give back a little. Sometimes it can be a bit of a problem because they cross the professional boundary trying to help, there’s no malice or bad intent, but you have to remember that some of these people are coming from countries where the support mechanisms that we have just don’t exist back home, so they have no frame of understanding of the boundaries of the role sometimes.
We need a flexible approach to community interpreters. The Ukraine crisis is a perfect example. The challenge with Ukraine has been due to a very low population of Ukrainian interpreters. So, we have been able to get people who speak Ukrainian but have no qualifications whatsoever. So, we’ve accepted the fact that they can speak the language and do the interpretation at a community base level to meet the emergency’.
Formal interpreter providers believe the existing system is a success
All of the interviewed professional service providers, believed the interpreter system overall worked well. They believed that this success was gained through using a mix of providers, such as WITS, Language Line, BigWord, Clearvoice, as well as the countless number of other private providers along with the combination of professional and community interpreters. However, there are areas of the system that they thought could be improved. These areas are detailed in this section.
Geography of Wales: a barrier to service
All respondents commented that the geography of Wales presents challenges to offering the range of interpreters required to meet the needs of its diverse population. Previously forced migrant populations in Wales have been mostly located within the city regions of Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham. More recently there has been a shift towards requiring all local authorities in Wales to offer assistance in the resettlement of individuals and families. Whilst this is broadly welcomed it does provide challenges for local services within the more rural areas.
It is much easier in the urban areas of Wales for obvious reasons, however North and West Wales it is more challenging because of the isolated geographical areas. North Wales is a problem mostly as the interpreters are not from the area, they come over from England (Liverpool and Manchester) so then you’re adding travelling time, costs, milage etc so the costs can be quite large when all accumulated together. So, for some appointments the interpreters may travel for 2 hours there and back for a 20 minute appointment.
Technology and innovation
All respondents believed that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has offered many opportunities for services to adopt innovative approaches to engaging with their service users. The most obvious has been the increased use of remote engagement techniques through digital technology, use of online apps and video conferencing platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. This has been a welcome development as it allows much quicker or dynamic appointments with reduced costs.
We have a very good and strong relationship with Language line, so if we are very desperate for an interpreter at short notice, or they’re very remote, we match through Language Line which obviously is interpretation over the phone which isn’t always ideal, but sometimes it is necessary. However, they’ve got a new product called Insight. It is pretty amazing. It’s a 24/7 service through an app, using a tablet, phone or iPad or whatever. It’s an on-demand service, there’s no annual cost, no set up costs, you literally pay for what you use. So, if someone turns up say at a police station or A and E and doesn’t speak English you turn to the app and it will source an interpreter for you from across the world instantly and you have an instant face-to-face (albeit via the app) interpreter. I think it costs something like £1.20 per minute. It isn’t perfect, but for the short, snappy instant needs it’s pretty fantastic. Especially in cases of emergency waiting for an interpreter to arrive or even one available geographically. Also, you may find that actually, even if the per minute is a little higher, you’re using and paying it for a 5-minute consultation rather than a 30-minute consultation with a physical 1-2-1 service.
We’ve seen an uptake in remote engagements. This could be due to ease of access for geographical reasons as well as us all now being used to working remotely. It’s no longer seen as scary or a lesser way of working. We see lots of requests for zoom, teams or whatever platform they want to use to attend anywhere at anytime it’s really up to them how they manage their time and scheduling. Of course, if we see this as a new trend, I’d expect investment in the internet access in hospitals etc. So, it’s really up to the establishments that need interpreter services to make it as easy and safe for interpreters and users to operate remotely, and also if there’s an emerging market for the interpreters to make themselves as accessible as possible to maximise bookings. We will not dictate to them but will facilitate as much as we can to ensure the continuation of service.
British Sign Language and other signed languages
BSL was seen as a real problem area by the providers.
BSL is on ongoing problem, we only have about 30 BSL interpreters and the demand outstrips supply. We also have the added problem of a reluctance of BSL interpreters who will work with police interviews because they feel that their work requires a level of scrutiny that they are not comfortable with. The recording of the interviews, that may then require court appearances etc.
BSL interpreters are booked 6 weeks in advance as a minimum. It is one of our most challenging languages. I think people are really ignorant of the needs of the deaf community. Most, if not nearly all, believe that a BSL user will be able to just read the information in English, but that isn’t true. Their language is BSL not English and there is no form of written BSL. I have to admit I assumed that too before taking this job.
We are very occasionally asked to provide International Sign Language, but that is very rare. We have done it on previous occasions.
Ease of access and timeliness
All respondents from all cohorts identified this as an issue.
Pre-arranged meetings are not a problem, if you can book in advance, we will always source an interpreter. The problems are when it is unexpected or short notice. Then obviously depending on the location and the language we may struggle at short notice, which is when services like Language line become necessary, but not always the best means through which to interpret.
Our KPI for allocations is 98% and last month we managed 99.2% so we’re exceeding our targets and we have always been around that figure, and we have never dropped below 95%. So, service continuity is important to our clients, as is being able to operate on a 24/7 basis.
If the meeting is booked weeks in advance, there is usually no problem, however, if it is short notice, we may not get the right interpreter. (Community support worker)
We do offer remote interpretation services, but how that works is for the client and the interpreter to agree we act merely as the finding agent in that respect. So that is up to the interpreters to be innovative to meet the needs of clients, we’ll support whatever it is to match client with the interpreter. (Provider)
I think we give a very good service we offer a pretty consistent service, but we have seen in the last two months a massive spike in demand as the covid regulations have lifted, public services are pretty much back to normal service, but we now have more use for remote interpretation via calls and videos. We don’t see much demand overall for remote interpretation, usually 350 to 400, but this latest report shows 750. (Provider)
Interpreter and forced migrant fit
All interviewed respondents from all the cohorts, in different forms, identified this as an issue.
It’s difficult for us because we don’t know what we don’t know, if we know OK then that means the commissioning officer has asked the questions and the individual has given that level of information. So, for instance, the Afghan dialect has similarities within the Arabic dialect enough for you to understand and interpret, but the Afghans often don’t know that they need to be, or can request the precise dialect they speak and we can then match exactly what their requirements are, but if we don’t know, we don’t know that we need to be specific. So, we’ll just get a request for an Arabic interpreter. Dari and Pashto I think are the most common, and Farsi, but there are really very many different languages spoken in Afghanistan, so yeah it’s the knowledge of the people booking an interpreter to be specific.
If we are told about it yes, when we get an assignment, we ask for as much detail as possible, but often the people needing interpreters especially asylum seekers and refugees, they won’t disclose that much information especially if it’s to do with say sexuality and things like that.
Our ability to match is dependent on the quality of the information provided when we get the assignment and of course the user being willing to disclose such personal information. It is difficult for some people who are very traumatised, mistrustful of authorities, etc.
Formal interpreters stated:
We don’t get any information about the person we are interpreting for. I can tell you why we don’t get any information no one is asking for it! The agencies don’t ask for the information and we end up in tricky situations.
The people requesting the interpreters don’t know what information they should be giving or why it is important outside of the language they need or maybe it’s because it is a centralised request, so the organisation has a specific person that requests the interpreters but are not directly involved with the client at all.
Sometimes they say we can't tell you because of the GDPR. Right, confidential information, for example. I may not be able to prepare for the assignment because it could be a very specific medical condition that you need to research, I mean, even doctors don't know everything about all medical conditions.
Five informal interpreters were interviewed who spoke the following 7 languages:
Two respondents were based North Wales with the 3 remaining based it South Wales.
Barriers to informal interpreter services
Barriers for the informal interpreter sector when providing foreign language interpretation services have been categorised as organisational, relating to the informal interpreter personal and professional development needs, career progression, relationship with commissioning bodies, cost, peer support, cultural fit and personal aims and goals.
Summary of barriers to access and take-up of interpreter services by forced migrants
- Linguistic: dialect issues preventing some quality foreign language interpretation.
- Terminology: lack of appropriate and accurate information regarding difficult terminology.
- Personal support: lack of support for informal interpreters. There are no pre planned structured mental health and wellbeing support for community interpreters.
- Professional support: the professional support that is needed to support these interpreters does not exist.
- Training: while there are training opportunities, face to face courses do not appear to be universally available across Wales, however, online training is.
- Training costs: the training available for community interpreters comes at a cost. Many of the community interpreters are not working so costs are a real issue.
- Peers support: while there is some ad-hoc peer support groups, usually based on friendship, there are no structures to enable this to happen systematically.
- Career development to professional level: while there is a possible career path, this information does not appear to be well known.
- Career/professional development for community interpreters: there is no obvious career path for people who want to remain within the realm of being a community interpreter.
- Knowledge: while all respondents in this cohort understood the asylum processes very well, there was a lack of understanding of the civil and human rights legislative context, and the practical implication of those rights
- The lack of professional support for community interpreters in regards to simple knowledge development.
Speaking from experience: informal interpreters
The role of informal interpreters
All the respondents recognised the benefits and the limitations regarding the use of informal community interpreters. None were contracted by the formal commissioning bodies such as the Home Office, CPS, police, local authorities, and Health Boards, although all had supported people when communicating with these bodies. While all informal interpreters reported that they do support forced migrants, 60% of the interpreters stated that interpreting for older people and new arrivals, was the largest part of their work.
All interpreters reported that while not being directly contracted by state bodies right at the start of a forced migrant’s journey, as the forced migrants developed more confidence and were met in informal settings, trust can develop, sometimes resulting in the forced migrant, requesting their support directly.
Problems with dialects
This was a series issue for all bar one (Polish) of the respondents. They reported that differences in dialect can pose problems if the interpreter and the migrant have quite different histories.
Most Portuguese speakers in the UK are from Portugal with these people making up the vast majority of interpreters. The problem is that most Portuguese speaking forced migrants are not from Portugal. They come from places like Brazil, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Angola. The dialects and slang are very different and can resulting in interpreters getting it wrong.
I am part of a Portuguese speaking group that is mainly based in Wrexham. We have people from not just Portugal, but from the whole of the Portuguese diaspora. This means that I have had the opportunity of learning the different dialects essential when interpreting.
Arabic is quite different in many different countries. As an interpreter, I am very lucky because my father’s work meant that until I was in my twenties I lived in many countries across North Africa and the Middle East.
When discussing dialect miss match between migrant and interpreter:
It just when people go to the hospital, they leave the hospital without fully knowing exactly what's happening with them. Just different accents, words, and grammar.
Problems with the formal foreign language interpretation services
Three out of 5 respondents had stories of when the formal interpreter services failed in situations where the authorities would not let an informal interpreter assist.
In the court system there are problems, perhaps mainly because they usually don't let us be interpreters. They get someone from Manchester or Birmingham, and they don't always fully understand the case leaving out a lot of information that should be part of the case in court. They just read what's on the paper and that's how they work for a lot of the time.
A man was arrested who did not speak English, and rather than allowing his friend to interpreter in this instance, the police insisted on getting a formal interpreter. This resulted in the individual being locked up for a further 24 hours while they waited for one to become available. The situation was immediately resolved as it was mistaken identity.
In hospitals, when going in for an appointment, the hospital can book in advance an interpreter. The problem is that they do sometimes fail to attend resulting in many months of delay in their treatment.
Reported problems with the formal foreign language interpretation booking systems
Three out of 5 respondents gave negative examples regarding booking formal foreign language interpretation services. The way they are booked can often result in a very poor service.
All the services where I live use Language Line. We (her community) tend to not like them as they make assumptions about who they are supporting and do not find out what our needs are. When I was a forced migrant, they sent a Romanian interpreter who had lived in Portugal for nearly 7 years. I couldn't understand everything as his Portuguese was very poor, let alone his understanding of African Portuguese. This has happened many times, and they still do the same again!
Create registered community interpreters
Three out of 5 informal interpreter respondents wanted their role to be developed and semi professionalised.
It would be great if there were more opportunities for our community interpreters. We can’t register anywhere. Maybe with more opportunities to get community interpreters trained, so they could have something like a card to show authorities in places like hospitals so that they don’t automatically just go directly to paid interpretation service that charges £150 an hour, or even more. Community interpreters only charge about £20 per hour or do it free when supporting people.
The need for mental health and wellbeing support for community interpreters
The need for support systems was mentioned by 3 of the respondents while all expressed the negative impact that being a community interpreter can have:
I mean, you may end up dealing with a terrible paedophile case. And nobody wants that in their head.
Being an interpreter, it can be, it can be very traumatic, you might have to tell someone that they're dying, or that their, their husband beats her half to death, and then you have to take that home with you. There is no support when support could be very helpful.
I think there's a lot of burdens carried by community interpreters without the help and the support to get them get through it. We could create some kind of structure to do that. I don't know. I'm just saying.
Professional support for informal interpreters
Three out of 5 respondents reported times when the lack of formal support and ethical direction has been a problem.
Not long ago, I have known this couple since I arrived because in the UK they were they were in their late 40s and I assisted them on many occasions as an interpreter. One day he told me that he had a rope on his chimney ready for him to hang himself. He said don't say anything to my wife. I did not know what to do so as there is no support for community translators like me. I contacted his GP and told him what happened asking him to create an emergency appointment. He did straight away, and I contacted my friend apologising to him saying that I forgot to tell him that he had a GP appointment right now and that I would take him. He is still alive.
The first or second language dilemma
It was reported by an informal interpreter that there was an increasing dilemma regarding when to use an interpreter who is a first or second language interpreter:
If the interpreter was brought up in the UK, then they can understand more difficult and technical terms than say an Arabic interpreter from the Yemen. But that Arabic interpreter from the Yemen may understand Arabic technical terms better than the UK born interpreter. So, what’s best for the client?
Costs of career progression
While 4 out of 5 of the respondents wanted some sort of careers progression, 3 saw professionalisation through training as prohibitively expensive:
It’s a very unpredictable business. And that’s a problem I think because to progress the courses costs money. The qualifications cost money. And the question is, should the interpreter invest? We are often not rich people, and they really have to think very hard about whether we can afford to do it, is it a good investment? Am I going to get the money back? How many hours will I need to invest to get the money back? All the time I am learning I am not earning, cost of living? can I afford to do that? And some of us know we don’t have to qualify, they don’t have to register and they still can work, so we need some thinking around this area to work out what the incentives to qualify are and what are the barriers for people to do so.
A respondent felt the costs were not too high when done online:
The interpreter course up to level 3 is taught online. This is very good because a lot of us community interpreters have families and caring responsibilities or not very much spare cash for travel, so it allows people to access the course that perhaps wouldn’t have before. There’s something about being in your own home that is comforting, and being in a classroom can be quite intimidating for some people, so it’s working well in that respect. Also, it allows helps community interpreters to be completely comfortable with using online technology and interpreting that way.
However, the 3 respondents from grassroots organisations working directly with forced migrants offered some caution to online technology being the only solution:
New technology is great and most people have a mobile phone, but not everyone can afford the latest phones. Not even my phone can use the QR codes and all that kind of thing. I think sometimes people forget that some people are really very poor, and we know about digital exclusion. Welsh Government talk about it all the time, and then progress ahead with things that digitally exclude people! I was in a meeting the other day with the maternity services and this whole thing, the Welsh NHS is all going digital. But we've got to be careful, that it doesn't widen that gap yeah. So, we’ve got a service, but who is accessing it and who isn’t and ask ourselves why that is? (charity worker)
Working as community interpreters for personal ethical reasons
All interviewed community interpreters expressed that their work focus was for the betterment of their community and not career or financial betterment. One interpreter who had moved back in the realm of community believed the private agencies were unethical in regard to profiteering from what is a necessary service right:
Well I just do telephone interpreting now because, well I’m not keen on working for private agencies, who have reduced their rates for interpreters. It’s just my personal opinion, my belief, that private agencies shouldn’t be making money from public services. They just shouldn’t be making a profit from the taxpayer and exploiting a public service.
Others reported similar thoughts to the comment below:
I do it for the community, I help them, they are people like me. My understanding of them and their background helps me provide them a better service that someone who is there on minute and gone the next.
Code of Conduct protocol, data management and training
Whilst all agencies that were engaged with required their interpreters to sign up to a code of conduct, none of the informal interpreters had anything similar. The lack of identifiable professional ethics and standards can be a problem for informal interpreters, in regards to the confidence of the people requesting their service, especially if they identify GDPR deficits. This can result in a diminished service.
As a professional or community interpreter, you are very rarely are given any information about who you are going to be interpreting for. Nothing. Often, it’s just the address and the time of the appointment. That’s it. I think there isn’t just one reason for this there are many. Not even the agencies are asking for information.
The people and organisations requesting the interpreters don’t know what information they should be giving or why it is important outside of the language they need. Maybe it’s because it is a centralised request the organisation has a specific person that requests the interpreters but are not directly involved with the client at all.
Sometimes they say we can't tell you because of the GDPR. Right, confidential information, for example. Or I will not be able to prepare for the task because it could be a very specific medical condition that you need to research, I mean, even doctors don't know everything about all medical conditions. This is where community interpreters have an advantage because we often know the people involved.
Nobody is asking for any qualifications for any experience. And I just feel that some interpreters are not even aware of the role, and some are not aware of basic Code of Conduct principles, because it is a profession although unregulated and then we need to be protected, as well as the members of the public have to be protected by principles of the professional conduct just like confidentiality, for example.
Welsh Geography and the universal coverage of interpreters
The 2 North Wales based interpreters stated that the size of Wales and the structure of population centres makes timely coverage extremely difficult.
It is difficult in Wales because most of us interpreters either live in the bigger cities or outside of Wales, and I don’t think it is right that the private agencies charge travel fees which you could travel for hours and hours there and back for a very short assignment. It seems very wasteful to do that.
Public sector stakeholders: commissioning agents and migration / integration officers
For some of this cohort, their ability to participate in this research has been heavily restricted by the current Ukrainian refugee crisis. However, although cohort figures were less than anticipated, researchers are confident that the issues and themes emerging from the data is an accurate snapshot which gives a broad understanding of the issues experienced by commissioning agents in Wales.
Barriers to usefully obtaining the most appropriate interpreter services
- Lack of knowledge or awareness from agents regarding the supplementary needs of the forced migrant population.
- A general lack of comprehensive booking systems.
- Face-to-face or remote video conferencing supported foreign language interpretation is considered the more successful medium. However, it is more expensive and can have time delays.
- The geographical nature of Wales indicates the need to improve remote video conferencing foreign language interpretation services which will benefit the whole of Wales, not just the rural areas.
- Cultural awareness and equality training of all interpreters is necessary
- Basic training which must include ethics, confidentiality and codes of conduct must be made available to all informal and formal interpreters.
Speaking from experience
BSL and other signed languages
The sign language interpretation services for forced migrants are poor with there seeming to be little knowledge within the commissioners or the support groups:
A family we have been supporting, the father is deaf due to the effects of a bombing raid. He is newly deaf, he has come here and has gained refugee status, so the benefits, they have with refugee status, they were going to have their benefits taken away. The Job Centre was saying you're not applying for jobs, etc so we’re going to stop your benefits. He didn't speak English and couldn't sign or say he didn't use BSL. His only method of communication was shouting very loudly in his own language. I contacted maybe five different agencies that work with deaf people in Wales. all of the national providers all of them and then they will signpost here there, and everywhere, and not one of them provided support for a speaker of a language who is also deaf. If I hadn’t accidently come across this family, they would have been sanctioned and desolate. It’s ridiculous. (charity worker)
Technology and innovation
All 11 interviewed commissioners were office based and fully appreciated the benefits of online face to face video as an interpretation aid. It appears that there is a transition taking place within organisations where non-office-based staff are prevalent:
I mean, we've all started from an NHS point of view, we've learned quite a lot from COVID. Yeah, because we're not a tech savvy workforce. So, for us to have, gone over to MS Teams and whatever it was we were using before it's been quite a shift for most NHS staff. My experience of over 20 plus years of nursing is that having interpreter services via the telephone is really difficult. So having the ability to do it face to face or at least on a screen it's just the outcome for the patient is so much better. I get that sometimes you can only do it on the phone, but I would say the gold standard should always be in face to face. (NHS staff)
My impression is that it’s so much better for the patient to be able to have that in person or at least on a screen. I totally understand about the geographical challenges within Wales that comes with that, but even just being able to see the face [online] makes such a difference, so if we can further embed technology to assist with that, then yeah the outcomes for the patient will be much, much better. (NHS Staff)
Ease of access and timeliness
All 11 interviewed commissioners, saw the interpreter booking lead time, as a crucial factor in the availability of service:
So, from previous experience, I’ve learnt that you have to book ahead to get the interpreter you need or want so we’ll try and book quite a long time, at least a week, in advance. But for that reason, I have never been told they’re not available or been asked to wait for availability. I don’t think that is a problem here, but I know that’s very different for my colleagues in A and E where the need for immediate interpretation is necessary. (NHS worker)
Never had a problem in this job nor in my previous, but that may be because it was all booked in advance of a set event. I’ve never worked in a frontline role, so maybe it is an issue for those that do. I imagine it could be actually be the case. My experience of needing interpreters was for community events, seminars, workshops, and events of that nature, so all booked well in advance. (Local authority)
Interpreter and forced migrant fit
All 11 respondents, in 1 form or another, commented on the ‘all too often’ lack of fit between the interpreter and the forced migrant:
I guess 1 area here is retaining the dignity, respect or confidentiality of patients. I would never out someone as gay to WITS if I didn’t have the expressed permission of the patient, neither would I ever disclose or request that information from a patient without a clinical need to do so. So, we keep the requests to the absolute bare minimum, of language needs, age (maybe), male or female, and then a brief background to the situation. (NHS worker)
If I'm speaking for instance to an Urdu speaking woman, you see the woman who has been a victim of domestic violence, fleeing domestic relationship, and if the interpreters bring in their own opinions on this sensitive subject, then yes. Some communities believe this should never be discussed outside the family. (social services)
The Right to Interpreter services
Two respondents clearly stated that having access to an interpreter is a right, and that this right was not always provided:
We see a lack of awareness that to have services provided in your language is a right not a privilege, especially when it comes to health and social work or housing. These are complicated areas and it’s vitally important that the person understands everything that is being asked or said or agreed. (Local authority)
The organisations such as local authorities do not share the information with all their members of staff that interpretation services are a right not just a bonus offered service. Equally service users are not aware that it is their right to have the services provided to them in the language most appropriate to meet their needs. (Local authority)
Geography of Wales
Geography itself can become a barrier. The reasons presented by 3 respondents included travel distance for interpreters, commissioner familiarity, and the lack of understanding that that access to an interpreter is a right.
We do see in rural areas that not everyone is aware of translation services and overly encourage the use of family members to interpret for them, often this includes children which isn’t always appropriate. (Local authority)
“Quality is good from WITS as you’d expect. I think the issue isn’t much of a problem in the cities, but the problems arise in rural settings. Often in face-to-face meetings interpreters need to travel up from say Cardiff to Brecon and then there is the added cost of travel expenses. I mean this is an added burden for the LA to cover, not the service user, but it is an issue of course with ever decreasing resources. I think though that having interpreters travel into an area has an upside because in rural settings the communities needing interpreters are quite small, so an outsider has less chance of being personally connected to the service user. (Local authority)
In the more rural areas of Wales, many of the services that are coming into contact with asylum seekers or refugees, have never had to think about providing another language outside of Welsh or English. In most cases, it isn’t a reluctance to provide an interpreter, it is as simple as not being aware of how to do it, who to ask, what to do, whether they are allowed to, or whether they should do. I think an awareness raising campaign within the organisations, and the communities is necessary. (Local authority)
Objectivity of interpreters
A social worker whilst understanding the benefits of community interpreters also identified potential problems.
When people are interpreting for somebody of the same culture or friend, they really want to help them and so maybe interpret something out of context to support them. In general, if from the same culture, interpreters sometimes minimise negative things said or try to over blow it, to support the person. I am a multi linguist and sometime able to understand the language of the person and so I can see just what they are doing. Sometime you can sense a compatibility issue and that sometimes comes out in how they interpret including the intonation of words which contain much information itself.
Concerns about lack of training
Five of the interviewed commissioners commented on the issue of training:
I really think training is very important. Providing information is very important. But, I suppose the hospital may be reluctant to give information about the patient and the medical condition if they are not reassured those interpreters are bound by confidentiality or that they have signed Code of Professional Conduct.
We know that there are many interpreters that are out there working that have not had any formal training and are working in very complex environments like ours where the need for confidentiality or knowledge of conflicts of interest are extremely important but are not being sufficiently followed or let’s be honest, I don’t think some people are even aware of it. That is a very real problem.
The training, up to level 3, is apparently pretty good and they go through conflicts of interest and confidentiality, but I don’t think enough time is given to it.
Third/voluntary sector and migrants support bodies
Barriers to interpreter services
Barriers for the third and voluntary sector organisations accessing and providing foreign language interpretation services have been categorised as organisational, relating to the interpretation need and demand each organisation has been facing since the “migration crisis”, financial, relating to the cost of the services/related budgets and cultural, relating to the aims and goals of each organisation.
Summary of barriers to engage with interpreter services for Third Sector Organisations:
- Linguistic: as the linguistic needs and demands change frequently, prompted by world events and internal relocation, the third and voluntary sectors have to frequently adapt the accessibility of their services and support, by hiring new staff, and constantly recruiting new volunteers.
- Staff and volunteers: most of the third and voluntary sector organisations primarily rely on staff and volunteers to provide ad hoc foreign language interpretation services. Some organisations have seen a sharp staff and volunteer decrease, post-COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the character of the foreign language interpretation services has changed. In many cases, the forced migrants must book their appointments far in advance to secure an over the phone foreign language interpretation, which is less approachable and friendly.
- Financial: especially post-COVID-19, third and voluntary sector organisations ask for the service referees to cover the foreign language interpretation fees, which have increased alongside the interpretation providers fees. This makes foreign language interpretation a challenging aspect of budgeting.
- Monitoring: it is becoming increasingly challenging for third and voluntary sector organisations to record information where they have identified linguistic interpretation gaps, as they lack a centralised system (or even any system) to capture information at the outset.
- Waiting times: most of the third sector organisations explained that the foreign language interpretation services they use are inflexible. There are increasingly longer waiting times for appointments which impacts the forced migrants wellbeing. The voluntary and third sector organisations, all expressed their reliance on community interpreters for their general day-to-day foreign language interpretation needs.
- Distrust: many communities have developed their own network and support groups to allow for ad hoc foreign language interpretation. However, such community network help is not monitored and contributes to perpetuating distrust toward the foreign language interpretation services offered by the third sector.
The barriers mentioned above are not mutually exclusive, and there is a range of overlaps. Thus, a holistic approach and a collaboration between the third and voluntary sectors and Welsh Government is required.
Speaking from experience: third and voluntary sectors
The migrant and COVID-19 crisis
The migrant crisis and COVID-19 have contributed to a sharp increase in foreign language interpretation needs across Wales. The third and voluntary sectors are struggling to meet the demand and the ever-shrinking funding makes it challenging for smaller organisations to keep up with the increasing foreign language interpretation service fees.
We get multiple translation requests daily. I would say that since 2016 with the war in Syria and now with Covid, the demand has tripled. We are an established organisation, and we still find it difficult to keep up with the demand. I can’t imagine how smaller organisations manage.
Issues with private companies’ interpreter services
The ways in which translation is provided by private companies was a recurring theme expressed by all respondents. Ensuring effective translation services are available in a person’s language and dialect of choice is a constant stress for the third sector. Foreign language interpretation services that are available whenever needed, ensure accuracy, and used without fail is far from the norm. Smaller organisations suffer, as they must organise their own services around the availability of translation services. The waiting times are increasingly longer, which appears to be time consuming for staff and not tailored to the needs of the third sector.
There is always an element of challenge with translation. Sometimes the translator doesn’t speak the right Arabic dialect, or no one is available to translate when we need them and the service users have to wait for a few days or weeks to get an appointment. But specifically with the Home Office interviews, we tell our service users to go back and check the video with their lawyer and their lawyer’s translator to correct any translation mistakes. Mistakes happen all the time.
All respondents stated that the language and terminology used through interpreter services, and community interpreters can be problematic, as the interpreters are not always familiar with migration and policy “jargon”, acronyms, and professional and/or technical terms which can make it more difficult for the third sector to offer their services. Moreover, this situation is contrary to the ethos of the third/voluntary sector organisations in their wish to provide people-centred services for forced migrants.
Our staff and volunteers are trained by us to use the right language, the right terminology. They also go through Equality & Diversity training regularly, and they know how to use LGBTQ+ friendly language, for example. Now, I can’t say that this is the case for all translation services because we had people complaining because the translator has used complicated or insensitive language. They are supposed to help us do our job, not hinder it.
In discussion, all the third sector bodies stated that recruiting more people from minority ethnic communities that speak various languages is a constant difficulty, as staff from minority groups appear to be more reluctant to return to employment and volunteering post-COVID-19. However, this has also been a long-term issue.
Shortages of staff and volunteers impact the day-to-day operations of the third and voluntary sectors, as both sectors rely on staff and volunteer interpreters to cut down on their expensive use of private foreign language interpretation services.
We are constantly trying to recruit more volunteers and staff from ethnic minority background that are multilingual. It’s much harder after Covid, because the world has changed so much and BAME people, who were especially affected by the pandemic, are still reluctant to get back to the old “normal”. This has a knock-on effect on our day-to-day needs and demand for translation, as we have to limit our face to face services and spend more money on translation services.
All respondents outlined that client/interpreter trust as a key issue.
The lack of provision for interpreters/translation in “formal” settings, such as hospitals, forces third sector organisations to rely on family members and friends to interpret, which can present other challenges as they may not be aware of specific terminology.
We have a duty of care which is partially met. We would love to be able to provide all our service users with appropriate translation whenever they need it, instead of them having to reply on friends and family who may mean well but don’t always translate accurately. We’ve had more and more cases of service users not getting the right prescription because of a mistranslation. We can’t control that.
Interpreter/customer fit issues
Sensitive foreign language interpretation services are a focal point for the third sector. The research highlighted examples where the response of the interpreters had not reflected and/or understood cultural/religious beliefs/gender/sexuality of the individual.
Many times, service users request a male or female translator which is not always provided. We deal with people that have experienced severe trauma and such requests must be taken into consideration by the translation services. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to weigh in the urgency of the translation.
It's not only as a case of affordability. It's quite hard to get hold of an interpreter who can match like the needs of the clients and the refugees and asylum seekers. It is often easier to go to community interpreter to match the needs of the refugees and asylum seekers. The problems come with technical language.
However, when one support organisation was asked about how they achieve interpreter/customer fit, they stated:
A checklist for informal interpreters, pointless, because they'd be like, tick, tick, tick. Oh, cool. And then send me only Arabic speaker they have available. The reality is that we just don’t have the luxury of choice hence mismatches regularly occur.
The cost of private translation services
The affordability of the private translation services is another issue. As large pots of funding have been allocated for COVID-19, the translation budgets for the third sector have suffered.
We use Big Word which is expensive, they charge per minute. But then we have access to translators worldwide. It’s unsustainable to keep using them though because are budgets have taken such a hit with COVID-19 and usually for our projects the Welsh Government does not allocate a translation budget- which they absolutely should.
We don't use any interpreter services, only community-based ones, because like, we can't afford it. The cost means it's just not assessable to pay for any interpretation services. Last year, the centre had a surplus of just £500, so how can we?
Make it free and easily available:
Arranging appointments with someone who doesn't speak the same language with you is really difficult. I'd like to actually see the Welsh Government take on some initiative and provide a free and not a charged services where you can just call down an interpreter or get on the phone and be able to translate on the spot. I don't know what the financially limitations are, or even the physical limitations that would be on the government's behalf.
Problems due to the reduction of face-to-face discussions
Some third sector organisations rely on face-to-face discussion at community centres as their main point of information. One of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the language barrier has been very difficult to overcome without face-to-face contact.
90% of our services are face to face. It’s challenging when we turn people away because the waiting times with the translation service is so long. It impacts the quality of our service and our users well-being.
Digital exclusion remains a key issue, as various third sector organisations cannot communicate with their service users. However, the pandemic has had a positive effect; some people are now better able to use technology and some third sector organisations have provided access to smart devices and training for online meetings.
We regularly top up our service users’ phones and we provided them with tablets and laptops during the pandemic. This doesn’t mean that people know how to use technology or certain software (like zoom) or even translation apps.
A third sector respondent stated
New technology is great and most people have a mobile phone, but not everyone can afford the latest phones. Not even my phone can use the QR codes and all that kind of thing. I think sometimes people forget that some people are really very poor, and we know about digital exclusion. Welsh Government talk about it all the time, and then progress ahead with things that digitally exclude people! I was in a meeting the other day with the maternity services and this whole thing, the Welsh NHS is all going digital. But we've got to be careful, that it doesn't widen that gap yeah. So, we’ve got a service, but who is accessing it and who isn’t and ask ourselves why that is?
We also cannot assume that everyone is literate. A lot of our service users they often have no formal education and cannot read in their own language let alone English or Welsh, so just shoving translated material in their hands and assuming they’re then fully informed is just, well it just isn’t very good of us is it and then we punish them for not knowing what they’re supposed to do. It’s awful really. So yes, modern technology, but it isn’t the answer to everything.
Sense checking interviews
Six people from the target cohort were asked what their thoughts were regarding this report’s conclusions and recommendations. Four responded, all very positive, although there was a wish for pan-organisation community support hubs outlined in the conclusions sections to be an actual recommendation.