Breaking through the language barrier

I’ve written before about how campaigning and challenging injustice shows our common humanity. Across the world I have met people wanting to campaign for change. I am interested in how to break through the language barrier to support them.

My first experience of running a campaigning workshop with an interpreter was in Tajikistan. I was never convinced that the Russian interpreter fully understood the word ‘campaigning’. It was not my most successful workshop. Some years later I ran a workshop in Peru, but I made sure that I had time in advance with the Spanish interpreters to clarify their understanding of campaigning. This workshop worked so much better!

Campaigning is a hard enough word to explain sometimes in the English language as it has so many connotations. This is also true in other languages. So time with the interpreter is just so important.

More recently I ran a workshop in Sri Lanka with a Tamil interpreter. The Tamil group was so keen to learn and they asked such great questions. However I found it really hard to answer them as I need to build up a flow to my argument. But having to stop after every sentence for the interpreter makes it very hard. This is a skill well worth practising!

I’ve also just run a workshop in Bulgaria. Here my slides had been translated into Bulgarian. I had two laptops with the English version for me and the Bulgarian version for the screen. Again I found the discipline of changing both slides really challenging!

So it is possible to break through the language barrier. But working with another language is a different skill, and it is one that requires thought, preparation and practice. But it is so worth the additional effort to be able to break through the language barrier!

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