Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

lack of institutional resources

August 12th, 2005

The most obvious factor in Turkish language acquisition and maintenance in Germany is that the original guestworkers were not intended to stay, and if they did, they were supposed to learn German, period. It is a very recent phenomenon for persons of Turkish descent to realize that they have the right to speak Turkish (using interpreters), and the general German population (even in education!) has not yet realized that this is a multilingual asset.


Teachers in the German schools here don’t even know the basic structures of Turkish – they make assumptions that bilingual students are struggling with the same kind of issues as monolingual students when this is simply not the case.

There is a similar ethic about speaking German here as with speaking English in the European Parliament, as an attempt to prove something. Again, these speakers are apparently unaware that their attempts can have the unintended OPPOSITE effect, making them appear less intelligent than they really are. It’s a thing of beauty, according to many interpreters, when a speaker suddenly switches to their mother tongue and suddenly everyone realizes that the communication is much smoother and more effective. 🙂

There are many people being taken advantage of by their employers for using their bilingual language skills to facilitate communication in the workplace without being recognized or compensated for this work. So-called “natural interpreters” are commonplace, and for the most part it seems their presence and activities have been unquestioned. “It’s interesting for us for you to reflect. Sometimes I think, yeah, she’s right. Other times I think, why does she think that? Yes, it’s a hard life, but it’s my life. I never thought about it.” ~ a self-described “family” interpreter.

Institutionally there has been no support for maintaining Turkish as a mother tongue. Classes are offered for others, mostly Germans, to learn Turkish as a second language, but these classes don’t meet the needs of first-language speakers who want to improve their own grammar, vocabulary, range of expression, and knowledge of technical fields. A degree for written translation has been available for awhile, but not interpreting. Even today, with pressures building from the EU, there are no Turkish-German interpreting programs: at Interpreter Training Resources (Andy Gilles’ excellent site), which includes links to the premiere interpreter training programs at FASK, University of Mainz, or its affiliate, Germersheim.

I understand some efforts are underway, but the precedents are a lot to overcome. “They didn’t do anything to help Turkish people [the first generation] learn German, and now they expect us to know it.” Reactions to my questions about the provision of interpreting services for every day business bordered on boredom. “This is all very well known [how we translate and interpret for each other]. What is so interesting?” “Community interpreting,” said one interpreter educator, “is a condensed form of all the communication problems that can happen between people. It can teach you a lot about what it means to be a human being.” this is at least part of the reason why Hans J. Vermeer argued that community interpreting should be taught first in all interpreter training programs, and perhaps also why another interpreter insisted that “community and consecutive interpreting are the same thing.”

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