We speak of respect for diversity and civil rights in vain if access to these rights is implicitly denied to those who do not or not sufficiently speak “our speak”.
Democracy is not just a technique through which, by means of free elections, representatives are chosen. Democracy first and foremost stands for the importance of each individual with his or her inalienable, inherent freedom of thought and action in co-existence with others with the same right to freedom, in a society that is equal and safe, and that provides equal access to human or civil right “products” for all. In linguistically diverse (local) communities both access to local language learning programs and interpretation and translation are prerequisites to stable local democracies.
Teachers teach. Doctors provide treatment in order to cure their patients or to alleviate pain. These and other professional service providers do not aspire to talk about the service they provide, they just want to provide it. And they want to provide it efficiently. But if they cannot talk to a number of parents of pupils, residents, clients or patients, efficiency and mere customer-friendliness turn out to be hollow concepts, for our cities are indeed becoming increasingly linguistically diverse.
Co-ordinator, Antwerp Interpretation and Translation Service, Antwerp, Belgium
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