An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post:
Foreign citizens living in Ireland could receive harsher treatment by the courts and may even be wrongly convicted due to a lack of qualified interpreters in the country, according to the author of a new report to be published this week.
The report by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), which will be released on European Languages Day on Tuesday, calls for the introduction of a national advisory body to regulate interpreters and encourage more Irish people to become multi-lingual.
â€˜â€˜Interpreters will not always be top-of-the-range people who have the expertise we need because theyâ€™re not properly trained,â€ said the reportâ€™s coauthor, University of Ulster academic, Pol O Dochartaigh, chairman of the RIAâ€™s modern language committee.O Dochartaigh said that poor translation could lead to vital information being omitted in hospitals and the courts.
â€˜â€˜You could easily get a situation where people get a stiffer sentence than they would have otherwise and in a worst-case scenario I suppose you could find someone being found guilty when in fact the mitigating circumstances might have led to their acquittal,â€ he said.
O Dochartaigh said that the shortage of qualified interpreters in hospitals and the courts could lead to legal challenges if an underqualified translator was employed.
He called for a new system to be introduced similar to one used in Germany where an interpreter cannot operate in a court unless they have a recognised qualification.
He argued that this would ensure that interpreters were representing individuals properly.
The report criticises the lack of regulation and the shortage of interpreters in Ireland.
â€˜â€˜When patients come into a hospital seeking treatment, it can be delayed because they donâ€™t know how to explain whatâ€™s wrong with them in English,â€ said O Dochartaigh, arguing that greater emphasis needs to be put on languages in the education process, even at primary school level.
â€˜â€˜By the time you call for an interpreter the situation can get worse and even when you get one they may not be completely familiar with medical language.
â€˜â€˜You could even have a situation where the problem is explained in the patientsâ€™ native language and the interpreter mistranslates it.â€
O Dochartaigh said that Irish peopleâ€™s increasing deficiency in languages could have a negative effect on the countryâ€™s position in the global economy.
â€˜â€˜You have declining numbers taking up French, German and Spanish, never mind any other languages, and what we need is a change of attitude,â€ he said.
â€˜â€˜Thereâ€™s toomuch of this old belief that the whole world speaks English so you donâ€™t need anything else. If the Irish want to make an impact in the export market, theyâ€™re going to have to learn languages.â€
The report found that 2,500 fewer students studied a language at Leaving Certificate level in 2005 than in 2001, while during the same period the points required for language-based courses at third level did not increase at the same speed as for other subjects.