As UK immigration increases, so does the need for effective translation services
Immigration is now commonplace. As travel becomes more accessible to the masses, people are increasingly leaving their homeland and moving to other countries or regions around the world.
This happens for a number of reasons, including economic prosperity, family re-unification, escaping conflict, natural disaster or political persecution, or simply through the wish to live in a different environment.
The result is that the UK has increasingly become home to a variety of different communities.
The UK has been a preferred destination for immigrants from Commonwealth countries since the 1960s and has huge Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani and African populations. Recently there has been a huge influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Poland joined the European Union on May 1, 2004 along with seven other eastern European countries.
At that time, the United Kingdom was one of just three member states that allowed the new EU citizens to immediately work without restriction within its borders. Now, as a result, the ethnic make-up of the country has changed dramatically.
The 2001 census, for instance, recorded just 58,000 Poles living in the United Kingdom. By 2011, however, the figure had risen to a staggering 579,000 – a jump of around 521,000 in the space of a decade.
Polish is now the second most widely spoken language in the country, with more than half a million residents of England and Wales speaking Polish as their first language.
Since the beginning of this year, migrants from Romania and Bulgaria have also swollen the eastern European population in the United Kingdom, although exact figures are hard to come by at present.
Nevertheless, the presence of more immigrants makes the challenge of bringing communities together even more challenging. It is therefore crucial that translation services are employed effectively.
The role of translation services
Translation services can help to bring minorities together and makes them feel more integrated with the wider community.
The world of those who speak little or none of the local language can be significantly constrained. Foreign language speakers can often find themselves on the outside looking in, leading to feelings of isolation.
Previous studies in the United Kingdom have identified links between English-language disadvantage and social exclusion and deprivation.
Media reports have also flagged up an acute lack of permanent in-house interpreters across a whole range of social provision, including primary health care, maternity care, housing, social services and education.
As a result, the UK government is spending a huge amount on translation. In 2013, £140m a year was spent by all public sector bodies on translation and interpreting services.
Where is translation needed?
While it may be fine for immigrants to communicate with family and friends at home using their mother tongue, this can present problems outside the home when trying to interact with English speakers and services.
The inability to communicate in English risks isolating ethnic communities even more. Below are some examples of where translation is often needed…
- Hospital appointments
- Social worker assessments
- Interviews under caution
- Immigration interviews
- GP appointments
- Court hearings
- Back-to-work interviews
In some instances, in-house bilingual employees are called in to help their colleagues and take on the role of interpreters in such situations. Sometimes immigrants are forced to rely on friends or family who can speak English.
For immigrants in the United Kingdom, learning English can give them the keys to the kingdom.
Some groups and organisations in the country are actively working to help newcomers learn the language, while also temporarily providing services in their native tongue. But this can be difficult, especially as the flow of immigrants shows no signs of slowing down any time in the near future.
Is translation helping social cohesion?
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, complained that the money spent by the government on translation had led to an “incomprehensible situation where no one can speak English as their main language in 5% of households”. So, government strategy regarding translation may not be helping new immigrants integrate into their communities.
Education will be the key in the future. Schools will have an important role to play moving forward, as do evening classes for immigrants who are older. In the meantime, however, it will be translation services that continue to be the dominant force in integrating immigrant communities into local communities.