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Ideas for Languages and Interpreting

I have always had to function multilingually, including in RC (I started in RC in the mid-1980s). This has forced me to constantly think about translation, interpreting, language oppression, liberation, and more.

The following are ideas for working on and overcoming the most common difficulties with languages and interpreting. There are additional strategies and tips on the RC website.

Interpreting involves a relationship between the leader and the interpreter. It can be like an elegant conversation and dance between two intelligences that are connected as one.


It is good to discharge about the cultural and linguistic situation of your country, especially if your country is affected by imperialism or capitalism. Before you become an interpreter, you can learn about the damage of imperialism and its harsh effect on your country, culture, and language. This will help you think better about the leader and the languages and is essential for proper interpreting.

You can discharge about the educational system you experienced—for example, the schools, the teachers, the oppression of young people. This will give you more free attention when interpreting and a finer sense for understanding and promoting language liberation.

You must know both languages well—both the leader’s and the one you will interpret. Do not take any interpreting initiatives that will not benefit the leader and the group. Inadequate interpreting can cause confusion for the entire group; it is often better not to interpret at that moment and find another time to understand and share the information.

Knowing the history of the language you interpret will help you think well about the leader.

The moment of interpreting is not the time or place to reclaim your language, nation, or culture, or to share your feelings (you can do that during your minute of group attention and in your sessions and support groups). The interpreting must be an echo, a faithful a reflection of what the leader wants to communicate to the workshop.

If possible, start working on your relationship with the leader prior to the interpreting. I have found excuses to spend a few minutes with the leader—during a break, during meals, on the way to the bathroom, helping them home from the airport or from my house to the workshop, or having sessions together. I can notice the leader’s language—the sound, style, vocabulary, accent, habits, shortcomings, and strengths. This makes me ready to support the leader and offer the most appropriate and least restimulating interpreting possible. The more you get to know the leader, the more you will understand them and the better you will be able to interpret for them.


In my country two dominant languages have been forcibly imposed on our Indigenous language, and in recent years English has also started being introduced to us. We must constantly interpret and translate. When I’m in a crowd, I am more used to [accustomed to] thinking in multiple languages than monolingually.

The difficulties we encounter with interpreting and interpreters can confuse us and make us think that the difficulties are not ours but those of people who do not speak our language, or the difficulties of the interpreters. Interpreters’ difficulties are different from ours. Interpreters sometimes remind us of our troubles, and we can put them on our list for discharging.

The following are some strategies that can be helpful for us as leaders:

Discharge about the following:

• What prejudices and feelings do you have about the language that will be interpreted? What false images, false information, old sayings about the people or about the language that will be interpreted? What about the country and people to which that language belongs?

• How did you speak in your home and what did you understand even if you or others around you did not produce complete sentences or complete words?

• What language expressions or habits or slang did you use at home, with friends, with relatives, or on the street? How did you use language in a special way to distinguish yourself from others, to distance yourself, to build differences? For example, “We are not like them; we do not have their accent; we have other words.”

• At school, in the street and at home, what did you feel and think about yourself or others because you were not understood? How did you behave, what decisions did you make regarding communication? The following are some of my reactions: “Now I won’t say anything.” From now on I won't try to understand anyone, or for them to understand me.” “From now on I will speak in a different way, and I will not address such people.”

• What happened to your use of language when you went shopping, to a doctor, for professional services? What was their language like and how did this make you feel and think about yourself, your language, your people, and about others and their languages and social levels?

• How were you rewarded or punished for your oral productions because you belonged to your social class and because you had your language and culture?

Get information:

• Try to get correct information about the cultures, history, and languages of the people who will interpret at your workshop; reliable sources are often the interpreters themselves. The more you know, the closer these people will become to you and the better you will understand their difficulties, the oppressive situations they suffer from, the imbalances and the disadvantages. You will be able to produce cleaner, more direct oral communication for them, and they will be able to better help you be understood by people whose language you do not speak.

Exchange information:

• Having a session or two with the interpreter beforehand will help everything in that little relationship. The interpreter can get to know your speech, rhythm, vocabulary, words, sayings, and other language behaviors.

• You can tell the interpreter which terms will be used in the subject to be addressed. If the language on a certain subject is technical, not common, or less familiar, then you can send it to the interpreter a few days before.

Both the leaders who receive the interpreting and the interpreters can meet in support groups and have sessions on these issues.

The sooner we understand that this is all about creating relationships (our key to re-emergence), the easier everything will be.

Xabi Odriozola

International Commonality Reference Person for Languages and Interpreting

Araba, Euskal Herria (Basque County)

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of language liberation

Last modified: 2023-11-24 13:35:10+00