our words make worlds

Modern Languages Skills: Personal & Professional Relationships

In this blog Jodie Hare, a member of the Language Acts and Worldmaking Student Advisory Board, writes about her experience attending Modern Language Skills: Personal & Professional Relationships, a workshop run by Mothertongue.

Discussing trauma in any language is a struggle, but when you’re forced to verbalise an experience in a language that is not your own this can be even harder. For many people, this is a real obstacle and only ensures that they are more likely to supress memories, feelings and thoughts surrounding a traumatic event rather than seek any form of help. It is for this reason that the work of groups such as Mothertongue, a multi-ethnic counselling and listening service, is so valuable. Over the course of a day at King’s College London’s Strand campus, one of Mothertongue’s psychotherapists explained to a group the importance of language in counselling, and asked us to reflect upon the ways in which a modern language degree helps us to understand the dynamics of various therapy situations, and how the skills we acquire through language learning can help us approach situations with empathy and respect.

The skill that the group deemed to be most important was listening, and while this may sound obvious, for those involved in languages it is particularly significant. The ability to listen in depth to the language one uses to describe a moment allows you to form a coherent image of said person and the impact the moment had upon them. Furthermore, listening allows the therapist to process the information they are provided with, and also ensures that the patient feels that their words are appreciated and deemed worthy. These listening skills become particularly important when an interpreter is introduced to the situation, and so we discussed the presence of this interpreter and how it affects the dynamics of therapy. A major issue we discussed was the difficulty of creating a solid relationship with a patient/therapist with the constant presence of a third party who takes your words and changes them into something you don’t understand and can no longer control. Another thing we noted was the interpreter’s responsibility to accurately relay a personal experience and having to work to correctly reproduce the emotions that the patient is describing. This can be made more difficult due to the fact that not only does the interpreter often have to find a way to translate something that only exists in one of the two languages, but also, they must wrestle with the fact that concepts in one language can mean something so different in another.

Overall, it became clear that one’s linguistic identity is an important part of a person’s therapy process and can affect how successful the therapy is. Language allows one to establish a successful clinical relationship and it is important that we take notice of the language switching which may occur during therapy sessions and what this means for the patient, and hopefully this will help us understand how we think and feel in different languages.