Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Babble About Babel

As Britain becomes increasingly polyglot the translation and interpreting business is growing fast. Some boroughs in London have to deal with more than 50 languages and public bodies are obliged to make arrangements to translate notices and documents as well as offering live interpretation (sometimes done by telephone). The Human Rights Act obliges courts to provide interpreters when needed, and there is a large pool of available people who speak the new languages of London. People who can get by in English from day to day may still need an interpreter to cope with the specialised language of a court of law. Business is good for specialists in Eastern European languages, as many Polish or Latvian workers discover that UK drink-drive and traffic laws are more stringently applied than they are at home. A few months ago one of my colleagues conducted a remand hearing in Russian, in which he is fluent, because no interpreter was available. Strictly speaking he should not have done so, but the Ways and Means Act came to the rescue.
Some of the interpreters we see are regulars, such as the Tamil, Mandarin, Portugese, French, Spanish, Punjabi, Farsi, Arabic and suchlike. Less usual are Twi, Tigrinya, Amharic and Jamaican Patois, the latter sounding like an odd version of English with occasional bits of other languages tossed in, rather like Pidgin (yes, we have a man for that too). I believe that interpreters get something like £75 per half-day, and for that they may have to work for ten minutes, or in the case of a trial, three hours without a break. Even the good ones slow things right down though, and a complex trial with interpretation often runs on to day two or three.

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