"If people can't speak English, particularly migrants, they are at a disadvantage because
they won't be able to integrate into British society, get a job and get off benefits."
The same nerve that gets über-twitchy when I hear people refer to translation costs as being too high in relation to patenting. Patenting as a whole is an expense game - applicants have to pay to file, defend and maintain their patent for up to 20 years, usually with the help of an attorney. Large and at times prohibitive sums are involved. Translation fees are part of these sums. One part.
However, when talk turns to reducing “patenting costs”, the real target is very often just “patent translation costs”. These measures don’t take into account the fact that patent language is incredibly complex, that applicants pay through the nose for attorneys, and that the patenting process involves many convoluted steps. But it seems that solving these long-term issues is too much of a headache and going for the translation part of the puzzle is easier.
In much the same way, Eric Pickles didn’t want to risk a headache by giving proper thought to non-english speakers’ long-term needs. If he had, he’d realise that providing certain services and documents in their native language would actually help them integrate and get jobs.
I’m not getting all huffy and puffy about this because translation is my bread and butter. I’m upset because I’m someone who needs the kind of services the article refers to.
When I arrived in Italy I didn’t speak Italian and I didn’t have a job. Three years later, my Italian is reasonable, I have Italian friends, I work and I contribute to the Italian state’s coffers. Sure, getting to this stage took effort on my part. There have been situations where my Italian improved faster because no-one spoke English. Like when I’m having coffee with the other mums from my son’s nursery or when I go to the local deli.
In other situations, however, I would never have survived had it not been for someone else’s willingness to forgive my lack of Italian language skills. I wouldn’t have been able to register my business and file my tax returns had my excellent, English-speaking accountant not done it for me. I would have remained dangerously uninformed when I needed to decide what vaccinations my son would have, had it not been for the English explanations of all the vaccines.
It may be true that migrants who can't speak English are at a disadvantage. But sometimes people need help. When they try to get their bearings, navigate the tax system, communicate with their kids’ carers.
They can need help, and still put in an effort to learn the local language and get a job. They can need translation services in critical areas, feel happy with the outcome, and go on to be more confident members of society.