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Language Line telephone interpreting service pilot

Language Line telephone interpreting service pilot begins

Ethnic people throughout the country will be able to talk to key government agencies in thirty different languages over the phone due to a major new initiative launched by Ethnic Affairs Minister Chris Carter today.

A year long $1m pilot of a telephone interpreting service supporting six government agencies delivering services to people from non-English speaking backgrounds is to begin this week.

The service, named Language Line, will enable the Police, the Accident Compensation Corporation, the Department of Internal Affairs, Housing New Zealand, Work and Income, and the Immigration Service to access interpreters speaking 30 different languages when talking to ethnic people.

"About 50,000 people in New Zealand speak no English and at least another 250,000 have only limited English. These people represent a significant block of the population who until now have struggled to access basic government services the rest of us take for granted," Mr Carter said.

"If we want new ethnic New Zealanders to settle swiftly and effectively into our society it makes good sense to provide a cost-effective and practical service that can overcome language barriers.

"Ethnic people have a great deal to offer New Zealand socially, creatively and economically and we do not want those benefits to be lost because of an inability to understand each other.

"I expect Language Line will help both ethnic people and government departments working with them. Telephone interpreting is considerably less costly than face to face interviews, and should prevent misunderstandings and time consuming repeat visits," Mr Carter said.

"During the next year we will get an accurate idea of the level of demand for Language Line and its impact. I fully expect that it could be expanded to a wider range of other government services if the pilot is successful."

Access to an interpreter through Language Line during the pilot phase will be initiated by the government agencies when they decide a caller needs it. It will be free to the caller and available for use by the agencies between 10am and 6pm.

Languages provided through Language Line are expected to include Mäori, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, Hindi, Somali, Amharic, Assyrian, Farsi, Dari, Pashto, Kurdish, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Tamil. Sinhalese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, Myanmar, Niuean, Tokelauan, Tuvaluan, Cook Island Maori, Samoan and Tongan.


Why do we need a telephone interpreting service?

There are now 50,000 non-English speakers in New Zealand and a further 250,000 with only limited ability in English.

The opportunity to interact with government agencies is important for all citizens, and particularly vital for the effective settlement of new migrants. A telephone interpreting service eliminates an unnecessary barrier to using government services for ethnic people, ensuring equity of access for everyone.

The service should also improve the way government agencies conduct their business. It will be considerably less costly for the taxpayer by reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and time consuming repeat visits to agencies.

How will the government agencies use the service?

It will be used in two ways.

Firstly, a government agency participating in the pilot will be able to connect to the service when an ethnic person phones the agency and is able to communicate the language they speak. A considerable amount of education is being done in ethnic communities about the languages available through the service, and the need to communicate the language spoken to the six participating agencies.

However, the service is also expected to be useful to government agencies when ethnic people come into the office. Providing the ethnic person can point to the language they speak on a specially designed chart, the agency will be able to contact Language Line and conduct a face-to-face interview.

Why not just focus on teaching English?

Learning English takes time but for new migrants obtaining work, organising housing and other needs are an urgent priority. The Government wants to ensure that language is not a barrier to ethnic people settling effectively.

English improves through everyday living experiences as well as in formal class settings. Learning to talk directly with government agencies without a support person or advocate, ensures non-English speakers gain confidence in expressing their needs and making themselves understood to officials. Hearing an interpreter repeat phrase by phrase in English what they are saying in their own language, assists people to put in practice the English they are learning in ESOL classes.

Providing a telephone interpreting service also recognises that there will always be people for whom English is a second language and something they struggle with when communicating over complex or stressful matters.

Why only a pilot?

We don't know the full extent of the demand for the service and we won't know until the service has been running for some time and its availability is known throughout New Zealand's ethnic communities.

How much will the pilot cost and how will it be paid for?

Funding of nearly $1 million has been contributed by the six participating agencies and by the Migrant Levy.

Why only six agencies?

The six agencies participating in the pilot are the Police, Department of Internal Affairs, Accident Compensation Corporation, Housing New Zealand, Work and Income and the Immigration Service.

These agencies have been chosen because each have large operations throughout New Zealand and operate in different ways, some focusing on personal contact at neighbourhood centres or by home visits, and some have large national call centres. By limiting the pilot to these six different agencies, we can more accurately measure the best provision of interpreting service for all types of agencies in the future.

Why not agencies in other areas, such as the health sector?

Some areas of the health sector have responded well to the need for interpreting, particularly where there are legal issues of informed consent to medical procedures. Some District Health Boards (DHBs) have interpreting services, mainly working face to face. It is also open to them to contract their interpreting services to other DHBs or indeed other health services.

The Language Line is not intended to duplicate where there are existing initiatives.

Why those 30 languages?

One aim of the pilot will be to establish the level of demand for the different languages.

The first 30 languages have been chosen for a number of reasons: - high volume high proportion of non English speakers with fewer English speakers of that language to support them (Census results have provided this information) very different spoken/written language from English, thus speakers take longer to learn English very different experience of government in the country of origin, thus speakers take longer to understand how to use our agencies are the key languages of refugees or those from traumatic situations who have high settlement needs.

When will the service be available?

It will be available between 10 am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. Research shows this is the period in which most people access government agencies.

Outside normal office operating times, staff may not be available to provide the information people are seeking. If there are emergency situations, the agency may be able to contact other interpreters. Police response outside 10am-6pm will be as per normal operations.

Why can't ethnic people phone the interpreting service directly?

Until the participating government agencies become experienced at using telephone interpreters they wish to understand how to assess which situations benefit from using professional interpreters and in which situations 'bring-your-own' language support is adequate. They therefore need to be the ones to make the decision on when to use the service.

How will Language Line work?

When a request is received, appropriate interpreters will be listed on screen at the call centre – an interpreter will be supplied within 2 minutes in most situations. In the first instance, New Zealand based interpreters will be used. Where this is not available Australian based interpreters will be used. To date twenty-four (24) New Zealand based interpreters have been recruited, for a range of different languages. Eight of these are accredited in more than one language. Active recruitment is continuing with over 200 New Zealand applications being processed. The interpreters will not be in a call centre, they will respond to work on an ‘on call basis’. What will happen after the pilot?

The Minister will report to Cabinet in November on the use of the pilot. Recommendations as to the best type of interpreting service for government agencies will be made, based on the initial operating statistics and feedback from users.

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