our words make worlds

Languages in Times of Crisis

Title: Languages in Times of Crisis 
Session type: Rountable
Chair: Sophie Stevens, King's College London
Participants: José Farinha, Photographer; Sophie Besse, Artistic Director of PsycheDelight; and members of the Borderline Company, discussing experiences in the Calais Jungle, acting as unofficial translators and their workshops with Translators and Interpreters in the UK


The Languages at Times of Crisis roundtable brought together a group of people who have carried out both official and unofficial work as translators and interpreters in a wide range of contexts. The roundtable focused on the experience of the translator or interpreter as someone who is placed in a paradoxical position: at once a human subject, with all the agency, responsibility and feeling that that entails, and a surrogate, acting solely on another’s behalf.

It explored the opportunities created through their work and challenge the notion of the ‘invisible’ interpreter. The roundtable created a space in which the stories of people who are often relied on as mediators, vessels and instruments of communication can be heard. The idea of crisis was explored in the broadest sense possible in relation to the situations in which the contributors have worked, ranging from healthcare and schools to courts and refugee camps. In this way the roundtable sought to challenge the often-quoted idea that modern languages are themselves in crisis by connecting with people who use different languages to do critical, important and life-changing work in times of crisis. The roundtable provided an opportunity to reflect upon these stories which are rarely shared and facilitated a dynamic, enriching and varied discussion about the work that translators and interpreters do across the world.