Translation and language learning as policy options: Questions of costs and literacy development

Anthony Pym


It has been claimed that the provision of translation and interpreting services curtails the motivation of immigrant groups to learn host languages and thus constitutes an unjustified social cost. Studies with asylum seekers nevertheless show no evidence for such a relation, while studies in healthcare indicate that the targeted use of interpreters, mediators and bilingual providers can reduce overall healthcare costs. To make sense of this evidence in terms of language policy, it is argued in this paper that translation and interpreting cannot be seen as an isolated communication solution but must be analysed alongside a series of situational factors: relative access to alternative mediation strategies, the situated building of trust, the risks associated with each interaction, and the length of the intended stay in the country. It is more generally argued that, in many situations, translation and language learning can go hand in hand, since both enhance literacy.


Language policy; translation policy; healthcare communication; literacy

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