Seminar Series - Dr Humera Iqbal

Speaker: Dr Humera Iqbal

Abstract: Child language brokers are children and young people who translate and interpret for family members following migration to a new country. There has been considerable debate within the field of child language brokering about whether the practice poses a risk to children’s wellbeing. After all, child language brokering as an activity takes place across a wide variety of contexts such as banks, retail, healthcare, law, the home, housing and social care. Many conversations in these contexts will be routine, fairly innocuous and are unlikely to present much of a challenge to young people. Equally, there are some situations and contexts where young people may end up engaging in difficult or conflictual situations (see Nash, 2017; Kwon, 2014; Valdes, 2003). These difficult encounters often take place between figures of authority and their families in predominantly white public spaces. This paper discusses the different approaches that young language brokers adopt to navigate the uncertainties of conflictual situations.

We draw on qualitative vignette interviews with young language brokers (aged between 14-18 years old) from schools in London, UK. Our participants were presented with four different vignette scenarios, all dealing with different types of conflicts between the adults in the situations that the language broker in the story had to deal with. In our analysis we discuss three strategies or positions that the language brokers took in relation to either the story character or their own related experience: (i) ‘conflict avoidance’ such as withdrawing from the situation, (ii), ‘the neutral or passive broker’ which was more akin professional translator role or, (iii) the ‘active broker’ who rephrased, made judgement calls and attempted to regulate the emotions of those involved. We will stress though, it was not unusual for participants to move fluidly through these different strategic positions, even during one language brokering incidence. It is the complex intersection of their child status and immigration status that can enable or constrain these different positions. (This work has been conducted in collaboration with Professor Sarah Crafter, Open University). 

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