A linguistic portrait of Geneva

State of affairs and needs as described by an ICV survey
Photo © Camarada
Photo © Camarada
Irene Amodei, English translation by Margaret Flez, Spanish translation by Stephanie Garde
27 November 2008

A new survey has recently been published by the Geneva team of ICVolunteers, called Voix au Chapitre (A Say in the Matter). The survey deals with the linguistic situation of migrants living in the Geneva Canton (where 25% of the population do not have French as their mother tongue) and brings to light three main areas in which linguistic assistance is more than necessary: health, education and administrative matters.
This survey is the result of a field study done on several levels by the ICVolunteer network in close cooperation with many associations, administrative bodies and institutions.  

Voix au Chapitre notes that the population groups in the Geneva Canton whose needs are greatest in terms of linguistic assistance are the non French speaking African communities, followed by Latino Americans and certain Asian groups, more difficult to reach but just as concerned. Despite the presence in the Territory of Geneva of a large number of NGOs, public and para-public institutions, as well as the availability of interpreting services in healthcare and schooling, the survey reveals that these do not suffice to cover the demand and that it would be very useful to set up supplementary linguistic assistance.

"Our work postulate" explains the research team, "is that linguistic assistance for migrants would enable them not only to overcome their reticence to penetrate certain areas of their social environment, but would also give them the incentive and ability to be more active in their new community.  This type of service would increase cohesion and stability in the community through confidence, conflict settlement and collegial structure".

Here follow some of the considerations and recommendations taken from the survey:

  • Of the 350 migrants who responded to the questionnaire distributed for the field study, 60% felt a need for linguistic assistance on a larger scale.
  • The three priority areas which require coverage in linguistic assistance for migrant families are school, health, and administrative procedures.
  • The training level of community interpreters in Geneva is low compared to others regions of Switzerland: only 7% of professionals have passed the Swiss Certificate for Community Interpreters. It seems therefore vital that complementary training in community interpreting is made available, given the importance of understanding interculturality and transculturality.
  •  As a rule it is the family -- often the children -- who are the main pillar of assistance here. Where the family is unable to help, people in need usually turn to friends, or associations, who because of insufficient infrastructure, are not always able to provide the linguistic assistance required.   

After a detailed description of the human geography of the Territory of Geneva, the survey suggests such concrete actions as the setting up of a pilot project within schools.

"In urban sectors with a high concentration of immigrants", explain the researchers "we want to make available to parents volunteer interpreters trained in community interpreting techniques and also specifically in questions relating to school.  Their role will be to facilitate relationships between parents and schools. Interpreting will be one aspect, but we will also organize a permanence each week in the presence of teachers and educational advisers, where parents will be able to discuss at first hand their difficulties and concerns, or simply become familiar with the Geneva education system.

"Our objectives", continue the researchers, "are to increase understanding between migrants and teaching staff, to create a dialogue which respects intercultural parameters, and to facilitate access for migrants to institutions, to break their isolation and to motivate them to learn French in order to become more independent".

If you would like to receive this survey, do not hesitate to contact our  office in Geneva: +41 22 800 14 36.

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