Social Inclusion strand
Grupo Alfaqueque, University of Salamanca
(Icíar Alonso, Jesús Baigorri, Concepción Otero and Críspulo Travieso have carried out this project with the cooperation of Poliglotti4.eu, the European Academy of Yuste Foundation and COMUNICA)
Data collectionDuring the summer of 2011 questionnaires were distributed to nationals from different European countries who work in the field of governmental and non-governmental social services with the aim of finding out certain patterns of perception and behaviour with people experiencing communication difficulties, inter alia: a) frequency of contacts; b) occurrence of communication difficulties; c) solutions applied; d) examples of best practices; e) potential proposals of improvement; and f) impact of those contacts on employees’ approach to multilingualism. The total number of completed questionnaires is 246, a figure that attest to the intensive work of compilation carried out as well as to the descriptive value of the report. Data from the questionnaires were processed with the SPSS statistical programme, which provided the database that allowed the research team to carry out the analytical work. An additional database was created to store the qualitative responses from participants.
Brief description of the results
Over 90 percent of the respondents have direct contact with users of their services. So they speak about their own personal experience. Almost 30% of the respondents declare that their service deals with people who speak foreign languages “very often” or “often” and only in 14% of the cases they declare that they “never” deal with foreign-speaking people. The figures are only of about 11% of “very often” or “often” occurrences when referring to communication disabilities (such as users who are deaf, mute, etc.).
Over 50% of the cases of language related difficulties occur with labour migrants. Fifty-eight percent of the people who seek assistance from public services go accompanied by someone to help them. In over 70% of the cases they go accompanied by a relative (40%+) or a friend (30%+) and only in less that 20% of the cases by a professional interpreter or social worker. Communication problems are solved in 60% of the cases by non-specific staff and only in under 30% of the cases by professional interpreters or by linguistic and cultural mediators.
Only 35% of the services provide users with information in other languages.
The tools they use to solve communication difficulties are in over 40% of the cases pictures or dictionaries and only in 12% of the cases videoconferencing or telephone interpreting services. Only 25% of the respondents say that their service cooperates with other services. And only about 9% of the respondents say that their service has a good practice manual or an established procedure to deal with cases in which a communication problem occurs. The perception by respondents about the level of satisfaction in the solution of communication problems is satisfactory in about 50% of the cases and unsatisfactory in only about 23% of the cases. However 82% of the respondents say that their performance would improve if they were given courses in other languages and in specific techniques.
Some of the main conclusions we can derive from the results are:
- A majority of social services rely on ad hoc solutions to resolve their language communication difficulties.
- Although many respondents declare themselves satisfied with current arrangements, when figures are cross tabulated by the scope of the services, a relatively high level of dissatisfaction emerges in key areas, such as health and legal services.
- A great majority of our respondents consider that training in language issues would improve their professional performance.
- The limited use of advanced technologies as tools to facilitate communication in public services, as attested by our respondents, opens enormous opportunities for improvement, potentially involving many actors.
The outcome of this report can be of value for policymakers at different levels (from local to supranational), civil society organisations, teaching institutions in the field of languages (including applied linguistics, translation, interpreting, and socio-cultural mediation), social and political researchers, and the media, among others.