Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

In Other Words; the Interpreters’ Story


Over the coming months, GRAMNet will be publishing excerpts from ‘In Other Words; the interpreters’ story’, an anthology recently published by Mothertongue multi-ethnic counselling service. Mothertongue’s founder and CEO, Beverley Costa, introduces the series:

Mothertongue multi-ethnic counselling service is a culturally and linguistically sensitive professional counselling service which provides professional counselling to people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in their preferred language. Since 2009 we have run a dedicated Mental Health Interpreting Service which is funded by the local CCG and Health Authority. We have a firm commitment to training and regular clinical supervision for all our interpreters who work in a mental health context. From our supervision sessions it has become very clear that this support is very rarely available for all interpreters. They have no other outlet for the feelings and thoughts which they witness and experience and without adequate support the burnout rate can be very high.

As a creative response to this situation we worked with a creative writing facilitator to facilitate a creative writing group for interpreters to write about their personal and professional experiences: who they are (when they are not interpreting what other people want to say), what led them to becoming an interpreter, what impact the work has on them. We were awarded funding from Awards for All, The Big Lottery and the result is this anthology In Other Words: the interpreters’ story.


Said and unsaid


Being from abroad gives you a keen ear for British euphemism — and hypocrisy. Here are some common English phrases and their real meanings (and some unspoken responses). The pieces that follow are the interpreters’ experiences of this genre.

Isn’t the weather nice today?
(Translation: Why are you wearing that thick coat? What are you hiding?)

How nice to see you!
(Translation: What are YOU doing here? Were you invited?)

You look well today!
(Translation: Unusually… [Or] You’ve lost weight.)

You are so kind.
(Response: Aren’t I normally? [Or] Don’t lie, I know you hate me. [Or] Of course I am – unlike some…)

It’s freezing outside, isn’t it?
(Translation: You’re not wearing enough clothes! [Or] You’re wasting a lot of electricity, keeping it this hot in here.)

I love you, you’re so lovely.
(Response: What are you after? What are you hiding? What have you done now??? I don’t have time for this. [And] I’m NOT doing your washing!)

You’re welcome!
(Translation: Next time, do it yourself. [Or] You ungrateful little so and so.)

How are you all?
(Response: All? It’s just me and my husband, can’t you remember two names? [Or] You don’t really want to know how we are, do you?)

Please, do go ahead.
(Translation: Hurry up, I haven’t got all day!)

You know what I mean!
(Translation: You may, but I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. [Or] I have no intention of explaining myself any further.)

So nice to see you again!
(Translation: I only saw you yesterday! [Or] Haven’t you go any other friends?)

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At the Housing Department. The housing officer is here with the client. An application has been put in for the Deposit Guarantee Scheme. Initially the client was told that it would take two weeks to process.


Officer: I’m sorry I haven’t contacted you sooner!

Client: Don’t worry. I know how busy you must be. (What with I haven’t a clue, since nothing’s been done…)

Officer: But now that we’re here, what did you want to know?

Client: It’s just that four weeks have gone by and I have received no communication. I brought all the requested documents as soon as I was asked for them.

Officer: Yes, I’m sure everything is in order and they’ll only need adding to your file. (I have no idea where they are; I only hope you have copies.)

Client: Well — could you please tell me how things are progressing?
(I hope you haven’t lost them.)

Officer: Well, it’s all running as expected. There’s not much to report.
(I really haven’t a clue; I haven’t had an update, but then nor have I asked for one.)

Client: I see. (You haven’t bothered to check, so you could let me know.)

Officer: It’s all quite clear, there’s nothing for you to worry about.
(I really must go and try and find those documents.)

Client: Thank you. (Now you’ve really got me worried.)

Officer: Goodbye. See you soon.

Client: Goodbye, and thank you. (For nothing.)

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‘A conversation with two meanings’



Clinician: How have you been over the last 2 weeks? (Give me straight answers today.)

Client: I’ve been fine. (She just wants to see me shout and cry.)

Clinician: Has anything changed since we last met? (I wish you’d talk about your feelings.)

Client: No, everything is the same. (Nothing ever changes anyway: she (the interpreter) knows what it’s like in our families.)

Clinician: Explain it to me so that I can understand. (Stop evading the question.)

Client: (Starts crying.) You’ve not been listening, just like everyone else.

Clinician: It must be very painful for you to talk about these things. (Get on with it; I’m running out of time and patience.)

Client: You don’t understand what it’s like. (I wish you’d stop pretending that you care.)

Clinician: Help me understand. (Now I’m really losing my patience.)

Client: Just looks away and says nothing. (It’s just a job for you.)
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Look out for the next extract ‘As the Song Goes’, which explores Guida’s experience of interpreting for Social Services. This piece will be published in early August. A full copy of the Anthology can be requested here.


One comment on “In Other Words; the Interpreters’ Story

  1. Pingback: As the Song Goes | Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

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This entry was posted on July 14, 2015 by in Mothertongue anthology and tagged , , .
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