Immigration, non-professional translation and child language brokering. Case study

Child language brokeringBologna - Margherita Pancaldi - Immigration, non-professional translation and child language brokering. Case study: the stories of five young ad hoc mediators in Emilia Romagna.

The objective of my master's thesis at the University of Bologna (Language, Society and Communication faculty) was to present the phenomenon of child mediators, that is, when the children of foreign people act as linguistic mediators for their parents. I analyzed its characteristics and implications through real examples told by young ad hoc mediators of foreign origin and residents of Emilia Romagna, Italy. In this article, written specifically for the purpose of publication on the website “The Language Sector”, the work will be presented in a summarized and more general way, but it is available (including its bibliography) in full version for those who request it.


Objective and result

To begin with, I selected a sample of five young people of foreign origin who agreed to help me and respond to an interview, to relate the theoretical studies on child mediators with the practical and real examples told by the five young people. Furthermore, in order to be able to carry out an accurate analysis and not to create a fertile ground for fake news, it was first necessary to focus on immigration in Italy and Emilia Romagna since one of the criteria of the interviews was that the interviewees resided in this region. Indeed, in this way it was possible to see the real data and have a clear idea of what is happening in Italy.

Speaking specifically of the people interviewed, they are a young Romanian, a Ghanaian, a young man whose parents are Spanish, a boy from Kosovo and a girl of Moroccan origin born in Italy. Regarding this, the interviews first analyzed the migratory experience of young people, then their life in Emilia Romaña and finally their experiences with mediation. The analysis focused on the contexts in which young people most frequently mediate and on the positive and negative emotions they might feel. Finally, the experience of ad hoc mediation was approached from a purely linguistic point of view, analyzing the strategies used. For example, particularly interesting are the data on self-censorship by children in sensitive situations, practiced in order to prevent their parents from unnecessary suffering or discomfort caused by racist comments or offensive language. The responses recorded were consistent with the theory of the phenomenon, which was always used as a reference for practical analysis to understand the phenomenon in its entirety.

Basically, through this study it was possible, on the one hand, to see how, in today's reality, child mediators are widely used in different areas from which children would normally stay away, and on the other to increase awareness about child language brokering. and its both positive and negative aspects, to move in the future towards a direction that allows solving it to prevent it from continuing to exist.

Work methodology

To discuss the methodology of this work in more detail, I first focused on immigration in Italy and Emilia Romagna. Indeed, it has been seen that in the last forty years Italy has become, after Spain, the second destination for immigrants in Europe, after a century of massive emigration.

To briefly describe the reasons foreigners bring to Italy, it is seen that people with work permits continue to decrease, although it is still the second most important reason after family members. Instead, humanitarian protection permits have increased considerably.

In addition, the presence of the same countries on the list is observed at the national and regional level in Emilia Romagna, that is, Romania, Morocco, Albania, Ukraine, China and Moldova, in this order.

At present we must know not only the recent history of immigration to understand the processes that have led to the current situation, but it is also essential to know how many foreigners live in Italy and in our region, where they come from, why they are here, to what services they can access and in what situations they live. Only in this way will it be possible to ensure that phenomena such as child mediators are not invisible and that appropriate solutions can be found for all stakeholders.

Then, I focused on the phenomenon of non-professional translation and mediation carried out by children from a theoretical point of view, thanks to studies on the subject, the contexts in which it is most frequently verified, for example in public offices, schools or hospitals; techniques used by children, such as visual translation or simultaneous interpretation; and the feelings it generates in young mediators.

Finally, thanks to the case study, some fragments of the interviews with five young ad hoc mediators children of foreigners and residents of Emilia Romaña are analyzed. Their migration experience was first analyzed: where they come from and how many years they have been in Italy and in Emilia Romagna: four of the five people interviewed came to Italy with their families for economic and work reasons; instead, a family, that of the boy from Kosovo, escaped the war. Another question had to do with what language they speak to their parents: in this case the experience related by the boy from Ghana turns out to be particularly interesting. In fact, the young Ghanaian said that not only one language is spoken at home but three:

M: What language do you speak at home?
G: Italian, Ghanaian and English. All at the same time, I first say the word that is most spontaneous to me, then maybe we change languages ... and they follow me, we are used to speaking in three languages continuously.

It can be seen that it is a very useful and above all very widespread technique: practically a lingua franca is created, a koiné that includes several languages with different characteristics but which, in any case, ensures perfect communication and understanding between all the members. of the family who speak those languages.

I also asked the interviewees to do a self-assessment of their language skills, both in Italian and in the language spoken by their parents. Some consider that their level of Italian is higher, while others claim to know the other language better.

Then, I focused on her experience in Emilia Romaña, observing some fragments related to her school education, her work and eventual episodes of racial discrimination suffered in this region.

Addressing specifically the phenomenon of mediation made by children, I asked at what age they began to mediate for their parents (almost all around eight years old), which of the two parents most frequently needs help with the Italian language (in three Of the five cases the mother needs more help: sometimes because the father speaks Italian better, having arrived in Italy a few years earlier, as can be seen in the response of the boy from Ghana:  "My father came long before us, he came at the end of the nineties, to look for work, and I arrived here in 2005." Or rather, simply because the mother takes care of bureaucratic matters and is more in contact with the Italian language).

In the interviews, special importance was given to the contexts in which young people mediate more frequently and the responses recorded were consistent with the theory of the phenomenon presented in this article: parents need help in public offices, in the bank, in the post office, doctor, school. For example, it is particularly common for the phenomenon to take place at school; however, it is important to repeat that there is a well justified opposition to the use of children in the role of mediators in sensitive or problematic situations. School, according to some studies, is one of the most frequent places in which children and young people act as mediators: in fact, children of immigrants tend to translate notes and letters from school to their parents more often than any other document.

Likewise, the emotional aspect was observed, with the analysis of the positive and negative emotions experienced by the young ad hoc mediators. In fact, the emotional component is particularly important in the development of young mediators. Also in this case there was an affinity with the theory of the academics: young people said that they feel proud and useful, but mediating can also cause anxiety, shame and they feel that they are wasting time doing something boring:

M: [...] how do you feel when you have to? What do you think are the negative aspects? And the positive sides.
H: The negatives ... well, there is always the fear of mistranslating. Misinterpreting some words and making mistakes, that is, giving another meaning to the phrase and creating problems ... maybe even serious. There was always some fear of an incorrect translation.

In any case, to conclude this article, it should be noted that this work was not intended to propose a solution to this phenomenon, since it could indeed already exist: everything is linked to the interest of the political class towards immigration and the needs of foreigners present in our territory. Even simpler, it can also be said that everything is simply related to the money that the institutions are willing to provide to solve this matter. Therefore, it is more about giving visibility to a situation that even many professionals in the linguistic sector ignore, in order to recognize the needs of immigrants and satisfy them with specific migratory and linguistic policies that favor the creation of an intercultural society.

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Author: Margherita Pancaldi

Machine translation: SDL Machine Translation (previously SDL BeGlobal)

Post-editing: No post-editing

Source language: español (es)

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