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Knowing Our

October 7 or
October 8

September 17-23

Language Liberation at the World Conference

I had the privilege of attending the RC World Conference in August 2013. My job was to assist Xabi Odriozola Ezeiza1 in leading the interpreting coordination. We had to make sure that the conference could be understood by everyone for whom English was not their first language.

Interpreting was done in front of the conference in at least twenty different languages, following a rota.2 At the same time, whispering interpretation was done throughout the room in seven languages.

We made sure that each interpreter up front had a support person. Coordination team members led daily meal tables for interpreters and for people receiving interpreting. Some people wore green armbands to show they were available to give attention to the interpreters. Others wore yellow armbands to show they were available to people receiving interpreting.

 I liked being on a team that was thinking about how to make RC inclusive for everyone. I learnt a lot about how I need to take my leadership much more seriously. I am a working-class woman. My thinking was not valued as I grew up, and it has always been difficult to believe that I can communicate my ideas or that anyone would want to hear them.

At the conference I had to step outside of my comfort zone and do things that felt unfamiliar and new. I decided to be more aware of how I communicated. I noticed how often native English speakers talked compared to non-native English speakers. I noticed that some interpreters put interpreting before doing other things. For example, they gave up their chance to speak out in group meetings or didn’t take time to eat.

The conference provided me as an English woman the opportunity to think about and contradict the messages I had received about my place in the world and what my relationships with other people should look like. I realised how much I usually keep hidden. I received the message, “It is not my business to be involved in other people’s lives, and it is nobody else’s business what happens in mine.” Realizing this helped me to discharge on where I was unaware, making assumptions, and wanting to keep quiet. Most important, it helped me to look at where I had given up on the hope of close connections with all people and to discharge on early separation.

I also realised that to be the ally I want to be to non-native English speakers, and have the relationships I want, I have to question why I speak only one language—the most dominant one at that. Atschool, learning French was compulsory. But without any connection to people from different countries, it was hard to understand why I needed another language. I already felt very separated from mainland Europeans. Now that I have the connections, I can see that learning to speak other languages would reduce the inequality of power between native English speakers and native speakers of other languages. Communication is a two-way thing, so if only one person is trying to do it, it is not really communication at all.

 I have now decided to learn Basque, because “one language is never enough” (in Basque, “hizkuntza bat ez da nahikoa”). Having made this good decision, I get to work on early memories, messages about communication, and where as a young person I gave up expecting to be heard or listened to.

I am changing my mind about the messages I got from the society I was born into, and working out what I think, believe, and want for me. The world feels bigger and more hopeful than ever. As Xabi said to me recently, “I think we will win.” Indeed—I decide we will.

Shirley Thatcher
North Somerset, Bristol, England

1 Xabi Odriozola Ezeiza is the International Commonality Reference Person for Languages  and Interpreting.
2 A “rota” is a fixed order of rotation.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00