Wednesday, 21 August 2013

“Sometimes I just wish I never hear of this term bilingual worker”: difficult clients, emotion work and interpreting with migrants

an article by Geraldine Lee-Treweek (Manchester Metropolitan University Cheshire, Crewe, UK) published in International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion Volume 5 Number 3 (2013)


As transmigration to the UK has increased, so has the need for workers who can provide support to these new communities and carry out the interpretation of different languages.

This paper examines the emotional labour of the bilingual worker role, a relatively new occupational group, from the perspective of bilingual workers themselves. They carry out interpretation work within communities of migrants that speak the worker’s language but, unlike official translators, they usually only have lower level qualifications that only cover face-to-face interpretation skills. “Bilingual work” involves the worker deploying their (usually) home language skills within the workplace.

In the UK, such workers are employed within a host of public services and third sector organisations and are usually recent migrants themselves. This paper reports on an exploratory qualitative study of the emotional labour of 16 Polish bilingual workers, who are also recent migrants to the UK and work on the frontline within public service organisations.

It demonstrates that various strategies are deployed to handle aspects emotional labour and that the stress of such work comes from both organisational expectations and from the difficult clients they often have to interpret for.

The problems raised at work are shown to continue into the community environment, where means of coping appear to be grounded, where possible, in creating physical separation from one’s own community.

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