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Case 5: Access to community services

Watch Lisa Ambrose talk of the need to create a safe space for interviews with victims of abuse.

In this interview child therapist and consultant Lisa Ambrose talks of the need to create a safe space for interviews with victims of abuse.

She stresses the importance of effective collaboration with interpreters, but also the pitfalls involved in dealing with people who, very often, are not qualified translators, and may well have personal or community links to the victim.

She talks of space as ‘critical’, and ‘paramount’ for the communication process. And she describes the ambiguous, often personal reaction to proximity and distance.

Another issue stressed by Lisa as well as by other professionals working with translators is that of neutrality and confidentiality, which go hand in hand with the need for the translator to relinquish his or her own agenda.

In his book Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli (2010; In the Sea there are Crocodiles, trans. by Howard Curtis, 2012) written with Eaniatollah Akbari, a young refugee from Afghanistan now living in Italy, Fabio Geda gives a moving and also eloquent account of the young man’s decision not to speak through an interpreter at his asylum hearing.

Here the migrant is not only the ‘translated man’, as in Salman Rushdie’s definition, which we encountered earlier: he also becomes a self-translator.

Siediti, mi hanno detto. Mi sono seduto. Quello è il tuo interprete, hanno detto, indicando un ragazzo vicino alla porta. Ho detto che avrei preferito fare senza. Grazie. Parli bene l’italiano, quindi, hanno detto. Ho risposto che sì, lo parlavo abbastanza bene. Ma non era solo quello. Se parli direttamente con le persone trasmetti un’emozione più intensa, anche se le parole sono incerte e la cadenza è diversa; in ogni caso, il messaggio che arriva assomiglia di più a quello che hai in testa, rispetto a quello che potrebbe dire un interprete – o no? – perché dalla bocca dell’interprete non escono emozioni, escono parole. E le parole sono solo un guscio. (pp. 150-51)
Sit down, they said. I sat down. This is your interpreter, they said, indicating a boy, next to the door. I said I preferred to do without. Thank you. So you speak Italian well, they said. I replied that yes, I spoke it quite well. But that wasn’t the only reason I didn’t want an interpreter. If you speak directly to people you convey emotions more intensely. Even if you stumble over your words and don’t get the intonation right, the message you get across is closer to what you have in your head, compared with what an interpreter could repeat – don’t you think so? – because emotions can’t come from the mouth of an interpreter, only words, and words are just a shell. (pp. 206-07)

Emotions, as we already saw in the first week, can enter the space of translation, just as do the voices and the bodies of the people who translate or who are translated. And just as the medical students in the previous example took control of the class through peer translation, so here the migrant takes centre stage through self-translation.

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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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