As graduate students of translation and interpreting, we participated in the ReTrans project, conducting face-to-face and online interviews with five people who worked and still work with migrants and/or refugees. During the refugee crisis in 2015, two interviewees with a migrant background interpreted for refugees and migrants. The other three interviewees are Slovenian native speakers: (former) employees at the local Adult Education Centre, and a linguist who works as an interpreter, respectively. Each of them has provided us with an incredibly valuable insight into what to expect when interpreting under such circumstances.
This was our very first interviewing experience and our first encounter with community interpreters and individuals who worked with an interpreter. Before an interview, we armed ourselves with a list of questions designed to capture the chronological experience of the interpreters and according to our research interests (coping with stressful situations, language and cultural barriers). We designed the questions based on what we knew about the interviewees. Despite these preparations, we were still nervous because we could not predict the direction the interviews would take. We knew that we might have to adapt our questions according to what had already been said.
However, our confidence grew as the interviews progressed. A few minutes into the interview, we relaxed and were able to focus on the answers. After each interview, we felt a sense of accomplishment and were happy that we had conducted all of the interviews successfully. We have not only acquired a lot of experience in interviewing but also a lot of knowledge about the discussed topics.
The employees of the Adult Education Centre shared with us the difficulties they experienced when teaching migrants. It was particularly interesting to learn about the challenges of each interpreter, whether lay or professional. At some point, they had problems communicating with the refugees. Surprisingly, at the local Adult Education Centre interpreters are not employed on a permanent basis, which means that the teachers must develop their own strategies to overcome linguistic barriers. In some cases, children step into the role of interpreters. Another challenge that was mentioned by the interpreter who worked for the Ministry of the Interior was the pressure on interpreters to be available at all times. Gaining migrants’ trust also surfaced as a challenge for the interpreters in the interviews, with migrants often fearing that the interpreters will betray them. The opportunity to hear the personal stories from the interpreters was a unique experience for us. Two interviewees explained how they coped with difficult terminology and lack of experience as interpreters. Having no prior education in linguistics or translation made the interpreting tasks – with no preparation time or materials provided in advance – all the more challenging and demanding. In all of the interviews, the emotional and psychological effects on interpreters were addressed. The interpreters said that the refugees often described in detail the unimaginable horrors they fled from or encountered on their way. When interpreting, however, they, as interpreters, must stay neutral and not show their emotions, which exposes them to significant psychological and emotional stress.
The interviews shed light on community interpreting, which is often invisible in contrast to other forms of interpreting. That is why we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to have spoken with so many people that worked with migrants or refugees in various settings. The interviews gave us an insight into the experiences and difficulties that migrants, interpreters, and teachers encounter. Our interlocutors inspired us for this line of interpreting work, and we see ourselves becoming more involved in the field and conducting further research on it. If we are given an opportunity to be community interpreters sometime in the future, we will be much more prepared to take on the challenge.
Lina Pečovnik, Anemari Pušnik, Jasna Vidinić, Tjaša Vovko