Why bring an Interpreter along to Appointments?

Authors: Dr. Phil Jochen Kramer, Leyla Jagiella & M. Albarzawi 

People who have not learned German as their mother tongue, but as a second language, may ask themselves: why should I bring a translator along to an appointment? We recommend it, as they take on very important roles in a variety of situations, including in therapy and counselling or at BAMF (German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees) interviews.

The point here is to convey the meaning of what has been said from one language to another. In this regard, it is also often necessary to take cultural aspects into account, for example in order to recognize which outcomes are being expressed. At the same time, the translation should be as close to the original statement as possible, without the translator adding in their own interpretation. We find the term “language mediator” very appropriate for this role and therefore use this term in the following text. (Other names for people who translate include e.g. translators, interpreters, cultural mediators.)

In some situations, a person you trust can be a good person to carry out this language mediation. For example a friend or family member. However, in other situations it is important to have a qualified and professional language mediator on hand:

In therapy and counselling it can be important to be able to speak in your own mother tongue, in order to be able to better express feelings and desires. Language mediators who have been specially trained for therapy and counselling situations have also learned how to deal with stressful and painful topics. Furthermore, you do not have any personal relationship with them. Trained language mediators are therefore important in order for you to be able to speak more freely and impartially.

The same applies in courts or for refugees in BAMF interviews, where it is necessary to give detailed reports of painful experiences.

How can I find someone who translates?

In the case of psychotherapy and counselling, it depends where they take place:

  • Psychosocial centres have their own pools of language mediators. Ask your therapist about this.
  • Outpatient therapy with a psychotherapist: In this case, it is usually necessary to find someone who translates yourself. The professionals working at your place of accommodation, social workers or organisations who support refugees/migrants can help you in your search.
  • Counselling centres sometimes keep a pool of language mediators. Ask your counsellor for more information.
  • Counselling centres who specifically support LGBTQI* refugees or migrants often keep a pool of language mediators.
  • Important for the BAMF interview: The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees keeps its own pool of trained language mediators. You can request a language mediator who is sensitive to LGBTQI* issues. However, it is not guaranteed that such a language mediator will be available. It is also possible to bring your own language mediator to the interview. However, they must be registered before the interview appointment.

Can I trust the language mediator?

It is important that you are able to trust your language mediator in order to be able to speak freely and openly about LGBTQI* issues that are important to you. In order to make sure that you get a language mediator that is sensitive to LGBTQI* issues, who can talk about issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity in both languages and who have sufficient knowledge, you can contact LGBTQI* institutions, groups or specific counselling centres, for example:

Tips for conducting appointments with language mediation

Make sure to speak with the counsellor directly and not with the language mediator. The counsellor is responsible for the procedure and outcome of the session. Side discussions with the language mediator before, during or after the session are not desirable, but if they do happen, they should be made clear to all involved.

What can I do if I am not respected by the language mediator or am discriminated against?

If you don’t feel respected by the language mediator, you have the right to interrupt the appointment and say it. This applies if the language mediator uses disrespectful language and if they show through their body language that they are not OK with what you are saying.

If you feel that you are not being treated well by virtue of being LGBTQI*, then you can get support form LGBTQI* organisations.

If you have fled your home country and have the feeling in your BAMF interview that the translation is not respectful or does not reflect what you have said, then make sure to point it out immediately. At the end of the appointment, have the translation of the entire interview translated back into your language and check if everything was reflected as you had meant it.

You can find further tips on the use of language mediation in counselling sessions in our handout for psychosocial professionals, language mediators and those receiving counselling.

Last updated: 06/24/2021 - 14:43

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