Monthly Archives: May 2014

Scotland is relatively comfortable with immigration?

Go to Perth and you’ll find a long-standing connection with Poland, extending to the Polish War Graves in one of the major cemeteries. The Poles, famously, came to Britain during the war to fight for the allies, and many were based around Perth.

Similarly, the west coast of Scotland has many Italians, again, often as a result of the war.   No-one in either Perth or Glasgow has had any problem with these immigrants.

Yet an article in the Economist magazine earlier this year, whilst conforming this, and indeed also noting that the Scots are not as anti-immigration as the English and Welsh, raises some interesting points. A study by the Migration Observatory (which is part of the University of Oxford), says only 58% of the Scottish people want fewer immigrants, compared to 75% in England and Wales. Another survey, by IPOS Mori, says just 21% of Scots regard immigration as one of the most important issues they face, far lower than the 33% UK average.

The Economist warns that Scotland is like London in that both areas are relatively relaxed about immigration. This is because there is relatively little immigration in Scotland and a lot in London, and in these polar opposite circumstances the local population tend not to be too upset about the few/many foreign people in their midst. It’s the ‘difficult’ middle ground, where there are problems, as witnessed in many of the English regions.

What would happen if Scotland votes for independence and there was then an influx of immigrants is unclear. However, one thing would be certain. More immigrants would have to learn English, and more businesses would want to learn some of the incomers’ languages so they could do business with them.   In addition, there would be increased pressure on the third sector and various groups who work with immigrants to help them assimilate and get help, again putting pressure on the language skills of all those involved.   We are aware that Global Connects can be accused of ‘well you would say that, wouldn’t you?’, but that does not make it any less true. It is not just our firm that would need to up its game if we have more non-English speakers coming to Scotland, it would be all those involved in translation and interpretation.

You can see the full Economist article here:


Why does this interpreting stuff matter?

We have to be honest, most people in Scotland don’t think much about foreign languages. When they do, it tends to be to wonder if they dare ask for ‘tres cervezas por favor’. Elsewhere in the UK, where it’s more common to hear foreign languages, they tend to be taken for granted, and we as a nation are very bad indeed at learning them. That’s obviously because we are fortunate enough to speak the most important language in the world. So, why does it matter that a medium-sized company in Scotland offers translation services and interpreters? What difference does it make to me, or you? As always, it’s when the chips are down that you realise what you haven’t got. Say you’re driving along the motorway and someone clips your car as they overtake, causing you to spin out of control and write-off your vehicle.   Everyone gets out, then you discover they can’t speak English very well. It goes to court. Justice must be seen – and heard – to be done. But perhaps it was actually your fault and the other party needs to be able to explain why they think that. How can they do so without an interpreter?

Or take an unfortunately not uncommon experience.   Domestic abuse exists in all societies. Sexual abuse makes matters even worse. Yet for a woman who is not fluent in English and who quite probably does not want to discuss highly personal and intimate details of her assault, it’s absolutely vital that she has the right person helping her.   As Glasgow Violence against Women Partnership Good Practice Guide for Interpreters* explains, an interpreter in these circumstances “needs to be familiar and comfortable with using sexually explicit terms as well as having sufficient language skills to interpret medical and legal terminology.” This is difficult, potentially harrowing work and not remotely like translating your holiday request for a couple of beers, but it serves to show just how vital the work of interpreters actually can be on a day-to-day basis. This interpreting stuff really does matter.

* you can find this on Google: just search for “Glasgow Violence against Women Partnership Good Practice Guide on Interpreting for Women who have experienced gender based violence”.

Growing Exports mean more demand for Translation and Language Skills

The BBC, amongst others, today (15th May) reports on a BCC (British Chambers of Commerce) poll of 2,600 companies which export goods and services that showed over 70% of them expected their turnover to increase in the next few months. The BCC’s Chief Economist said, “Though the rebalancing of our economy towards exports is not yet sufficient, we have made more progress than people realise.”

The volume of exports is at an all-time high according to the BCC, with exporters seeking to break into new markets. This is reflected in another report, also today, in City AM, which says that 40% of exporting firms want to take on more staff.

This is good news, not just for the economy as a whole, but also for those individuals who will get these new jobs. And with the focus on exports generally and new markets in particular, there is a concomitant need for interpretation and translation services generally and, of course, for skilled foreign language speakers to go out into the world and develop this new business. With modern technology, there is now a truly global market in translation and interpretation, especially for scientific, technical and marketing materials. Most people, when they think of foreign languages think in terms of their summer holidays.

Imagine a Brazilian firm contacting someone in Edinburgh to try to get their business. If the Brazilian speaks only Portuguese he’s not going to get very far. For business, language is about breaking down barriers and it provides the lubrication that makes the wheels of commerce turn more smoothly. Developing new business abroad is difficult enough, but well nigh impossible when you can’t begin to say “Good morning” in the prospect’s language!

David Orr, Director, Global Connects


Justice – it’s a matter of interpretation

Remember Tamsanquq Jantije, the ‘fake’ interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service?   We understand that for those with any knowledge of sign language, it was clear that Jantije was not employing any ‘facial grammar’ and was making repetitive gestures when the speakers were not repeating themselves.   A failure of translation and interpretation all round, to put it mildly.

When it comes to the important matter of justice in the Scottish Court system, or indeed in any aspect of life and liberty in our country, then it’s unlikely that any deaf person would want Mr Jantije representing them in court.   “I plead not guilty” might be ‘translated’ as “I’m bang to rights, please lock me up!”.

More seriously, interpreting and language skills are vital in a court setting. Scotland has not had the immigration of England, yet there are many people living here who don’t have sufficient grasp of the English language to make the meaning of their speech clear and unambiguous.

Global Connects currently has the contract to provide interpretation services for the Scottish Courts. We’ve been running this since the end of last year, and have found that while it’s complex and demanding (we know that in the course of any long-term contract there will be moments of difficulty and challenge), it’s immensely rewarding from a professional point of view.   Our interpreters represent a wide range of people in court, all of whom are united by their diversity of language and their need to present their legal case, in defence or prosecution, to the best of their ability. We see, every week, cases where justice might not be done – and heard to be done – if the participants were unable to understand one another. While we won’t pretend there are not sound commercial reasons why we do this work, we are proud to be part of the administration of justice for people who might otherwise struggle to obtain it. That’s the real reward for language professionals, who know, more than most, the difficulties of nuance and interpretation and how words can be misconstrued if they are not correct.   Justice, sometimes, really is a matter of interpretation.

What the Scottish Parliament says about language and interpretation

There are many different nationalities in Scotland and many people for whom English is not their mother tongue.  Quite a few need the help of an interpreter, for all sorts of reasons.   So it’s important that the Scottish Parliament recognises this and makes it as easy as possible for non-English speakers to communicate.  It’s called democracy and it wouldn’t exist if we didn’t try to treat everyone in the same way and give all people access to the people who govern us.  So, what does the Parliament say about this?

We’re pleased to say (as language experts this matters to us!), that, in general, the authorities take this very seriously.  For example, did you know you can write or email the Scottish Parliament or any MSP in any language. You can also send in a petition or written evidence to a committee in any language.

The Parliament’s website obviously can’t have every language on it but it does have information available in English and 13 other languages (Arabic, Bengali, BSL, Chinese, French, Gaelic, German, Italian, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish and Urdu).  Also, if you’re attending a committee, meeting an MSP or engaging in parliamentary business then you can get the help of an interpreter if required (not, as one wag suggested to us, so you can understand the politicians!).  However, be aware that two weeks’ notice is usually the minimum period to book the services of an interpreter for events at the parliament.

Finally, the good news is that the Scottish Parliament does not charge the public who reasonably need one and there are no additional charges for sign language either.

If you want to find out more click here: where, you’ll find further links to policy documents and other helpful information.