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Children and informal interpreting
It is not uncommon for asylum seeking and refugee children to take on an informal translation role for their parents and other family members in communicating with community members and service providers.
This role can include:
- Language translation for someone who does not speak English
- Sign language for a person who is hearing impaired
- Scribing for someone who can speak the language but cannot read or write in either their first or second language, or both
When families migrate to a new country, children often acquire competence in the new language before their parents or other family members by attending school in England or because they may have been learning English at school in their home country.
Adults from asylum seeking families may find it difficult to learn another language as quickly, or may not have the opportunity to develop any language skills they may have developed to a higher level.
This could be due to:
- Being excluded from the community either socially or in terms of employment and therefore not having the opportunity to practise a new language
- Feeling nervous about integrating with a new community and be too fearful or shy to approach others or join community groups or language classes
- Being unaware that language classes are available locally
- Not wishing to learn a new language and integrate with the new community in order to hold on to their own culture
The role of interpreter can often fall to the children and young people within the family in a variety of situations including:
- The asylum claim
- Health services; including translating medical information between the health services and family members who may be chronically sick or disabled
- Social services; including assessments
- School e.g. parents’ evening or enrolment at school
- Benefits agencies
- The shops and local community
This role as interpreter can have different impacts upon the young person:
- The role can cause a considerable amount of stress and tension, as well as frustration and embarrassment for the child and parent. They may worry that they are not translating correctly and that they may get wrong important information regarding the family’s health, well being or asylum claim
- The child could resent the role of interpreter or resent their parent for needing them to do it. This is particularly so if they are missing out on school or on socialising with peers in order to attend appointments
They can find themselves in a position of power and responsibility within the family that could shift the family dynamic resulting in the child having authority over the parent
- Tensions caused by these changing dynamics can also result in adult (particularly adult male) resentment at a perceived loss of authority to the child
- Children should not be expected to interpret information regarding health and social care needs that is inappropriate for their age or that the parent may want to keep confidential.
The Children's Society © 2013. All rights reserved. Charity Registration No. 221124