How different New Zealand is today from just a few decades ago. Once our population was almost entirely made up of Europeans and Māori. Now Statistics New Zealand tells us, according to projections, that by the year 2026 our population will comprise 3.3 million people of European descent, 820,000 Māori, 790,000 Asian and 480,000 Pacific Islands people. Then of course, within these main groupings will be peoples of many different cultures each with their own languages.
Although these figures relate to the future, the process of population diversification is already well underway. We can all see this every day as we go about our work and leisure activities or at home just reading the newspaper or watching TV. We are already a nation of many different cultures. While no one can argue about the significance of the increasing number of New Zealanders with English as a second language, a natural assumption by some communications practitioners is that due to minimum English language standards for migrants, surely our English publications for communities are getting the message across?
An increasing number of organisations we work with find that this is certainly not the case, and while the reasons to translate are many and varied, a selection of some of the reasons that organisations have chosen to translate are as follows:
• Basic English language skills within some NZ ethnic communities are not sufficient to ensure complete comprehension of information in English, which in turn can be a barrier to understanding, response and/or compliance
• Providing information in the first language of key ethnic communities ensures the communities see the information as targeted towards them, and helps ensure the message is noticed and achieves wider community support
• Translation is particularly key if the message is detailed or complex, or if the importance of understanding the message is particularly crucial for the wider community
• For messages important for community welfare, providing translations ensures no particular community group is disadvantaged in terms of access to the information
It’s worth noting that the size of a particular language group does not necessarily reflect their need for language services. For instance, a refugee group of just a few hundred may be small but the need for material translated into their language may be much greater than for a larger immigrant group with a higher level of knowledge of English.
This is election year, which helps focus our attention on practices and policies to take account of the varying needs of peoples of different cultural backgrounds. One such need must surely be to communicate effectively with each other within a multicultural society.
Translation is important to ensure you get your message across