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Free Movement publishes briefing by Dr Judith Reynolds on communicating with foreign language-speaking clients


Guide for immigration law practitioners offers practical advice and tips

Date of Publication:
25 February 2019

Free Movement publishes briefing by Dr Judith Reynolds on communicating with foreign language-speaking clients

25 February 2019

Dr Judith Reynolds of Cardiff University has written a useful and thoughtful short reference guide for immigration law practitioners on communicating with foreign language-speaking clients.

You can read it here on the Free Movement website.

The guide contains analysis and plenty of practical advice and tips.

Reynolds says: "[The] post is grounded in communication-focused research undertaken in the immigration legal advice context, but is hopefully useful in immigration practice in general. I introduce some key characteristics of language and implications for immigration advice work, before discussing how lawyers might approach communicating with clients using a second language in practice, and finish with a section on working with interpreters."

Empathy emerges as a key theme in the guide, with Reynolds noting the importance of building relationships and bonds of trust with clients.

She advises: "Whenever you are communicating in your first language, with clients using that language as a second language, pay extra attention to the three areas of exercising empathy; consciously modifying your language; and being alert to signs of understanding or non-understanding. … It can be a real struggle to make yourself understood using limited second language knowledge and skills … Showing your client that you understand this and empathise with their position can help them feel more comfortable to express themselves."

The guide offers a number of tips to try when your client's language is more limited than your own.

While Reynolds says the approaches she suggests may seem straightforward when read as a list, she notes that it is challenging to maintain clarity of communication all the time, especially when your focus is on the legal issues at hand.

She recommends observing and adjusting your language so that it more closely matches the level of your client's receptive skills, and suggests ways in which you can check your understanding of what your client is telling you.

The guide also offers advice on working with clients through interpreters.

For example: "Ensure that you also take your client's needs, e.g. for an interpreter of a particular gender or ethnic background, or in a particular dialect, into account when finding an interpreter. Even where a client has not expressed any particular requirements, watch your client's body language carefully as they interact with the interpreter. Intervene if you feel that your client is not fully comfortable with the interpreter or that they do not understand each other."