MigraLingua: socio-cultural communication for and with migrants

By V. Krebs, edited by Amy Kirby, versión española Daria Finskaya Levchenko
19 August 2015

Community interpreting services and programs are a way to address the linguistic gap between migrants and their host country. One such program is called MigraLingua, which is coordinated by ICVolunteers. Initiated in Barcelona, Spain, in 2006, the MigraLingua Program has developed activities in different countries, including South Africa, Senegal, France and Switzerland. 

The MigraLingua Program was recently presented at the Ugra Global Expert Meeting on Multilingualism in Cyberspace, held in Ugra, Khanty-Mansiysk, located in the Russian Federation from the 4th to the 9th of July 2015.

This article, a synthesis of the presentation, aims to share some of the experiences of MigraLingua and tackle how practices of this kind can best be shared within the Maaya Network (World Network for Linguistic Diversity) and used in new countries and contexts.

In Geneva, Switzerland, MigraLingua assists individual migrants with interpreting and translating. The Program also provides community interpreters to the city’s social institutions, collaborating with the City as well as organizations, such as the Geneva Red Cross

Introduction courses to community interpreting are organized regularly. Sandra Oliveira, interpreter for Portuguese and who took part in the training in January 2015, described the role of the interpreter as: “The interpreter plays a very important role and has a great responsibility, because as an interpreter you are not only the bridge between two languages, but also two cultures and two realities, which are sometimes completely different.” She added that, while working as a community interpreter, she could help migrants to communicate and thus better integrate into their new life in Geneva.

In addition to the linguistic support provided through community interpreting and translating, the MigraLingua Program develops activities promoting interculturalism. This includes a photo campaign, as well as socio-cultural and music events. The MigraLingua Photo campaign aims to help the public discover new cultural realities while developing a network of artists interested in the topic. The campaign was launched during the ‘Week Against Racism’ at a poetry recital titled 'Celebrating diversity' and where poets or poetry lovers could read, in any language, their favorite piece of work. 

This kind of cultural, musical or networking event is organized regularly at ICV Arcade. Art can be compared to a language and is an important aspect of cultures. The experience of an artistic performance related to a different culture opens the doors to discussions and mutual understanding. It is in this sense that the Caravanes du Monde concept  proposes world music, fusion live concerts, dance or even martial arts performances to give the opportunity to experience cultural diversity in a positive setting. During the events, the culinary specialties of the people, ethnic group, region or country represented by the artistic performance is put forward. These events are also a means to get in touch with community organizations and to network. Digital recording then makes it possible for these musical performances to be shared beyond national borders. 

In addition, the Community Café (Café Communautaire) was initiated in 2015, in order to strengthen collaborations among diverse institutions and organization working on the field of migration. Debates, sharing of best practices and partnering for a specific event are among the specific activities of the Community Café.

Finally, ICV's experience has shown that projects implemented in places like Geneva often have to take into consideration the various languages spoken by the population and the integration of newly arrived migrants. For example the ACTing initiative, a project financed by the European Union and of which ICV is a partner, provides support to seniors in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The ‘social agents’ are trained to be able to give courses to elderly people who choose an activity they would like to realize, i.e. learning how to send emails, to be in touch through Skype with family in other countries, to share pictures through their mobile digital devices, etc. It turned out that several of the individuals who signed up to become social agents were themselves migrants searching for an activity in which they could socialize, make contacts, learn the local language and acquire professional experience. 

The MigraLingua Program has been implemented internationally to answer language barriers in various ways, taking local needs into account. MigraLingua has expanded internationally because linguistic support to migrants is of the utmost importance for integration within the host country and/or to improve communication between individuals within a region.

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