Language barriers will adversely impact the experience of any service. Language is not only a medium of communication, but also linked to an individual’s identity. We believe that everyone has the right to fair treatment and equality of opportunities, and this is crucial in the housing sector given its role in helping people build communities and settle into an area.
Having recognised that tenants and employees in the housing sector come from diverse backgrounds and have varied native languages, we have partnered with Together Housing to help it overcome some of the language challenges that its faces.
Isolation and misunderstandings
Language differences can result in misunderstandings, feelings of isolation and a lack of rapport. If the housing sector is to deliver on any kinds of diversity and inclusion commitments, it must consider any technologies that can help. Together Housing began using our Pocketalk device in 2020 and it has had a huge impact both internally and externally.
Tahir Idris, diversity & inclusion lead, Together Housing, said, “To put the issue of language barriers into context for our organisation, around 25 per cent of our residents are from non-White British backgrounds. In fact, as many as 27 other languages are spoken in our neighbourhoods.
“Urdu, Polish, and Arabic are some of the most prevalent languages among our communities. We also have languages as rare as Tigrin, Oromo, Shona, Aramaic, and it’s those people who speak minority languages that can often suffer the most inequalities and challenges.
“Together Housing is proud to offer those who don’t speak English a range of options to help communicate with our teams. The tenant’s voice is more important to hear than ever before, not least after the events of the Grenfell tragedy, and we ignore it at our peril.”
Traditional phone-based services
Most housing providers understand that they are duty bound to provide interpreting and translation services. Many of them use traditional, phone-based interpreters, just as we’ve done for many years. These are understandably popular because they only need low-tech skills and they use the humble telephone.
On a traditional ‘interpret and translate’ call, the interpreter acts as a go-between the housing officer and the tenant to ensure both parties are understood. Despite everyone’s best intentions, the conversations tend to be stilted and rather stop-start in terms of flow.
A 20-minute call costs around £30, but the overall cost can mount up during the course of a busy year, whereas Pocketalk is a one-off cost so there’s no further cost the more you use it, which Together Housing described as its ‘killer advantage’.
Over the past year, Together Housing has used Pocketalk for immediate and accurate translations of up to 82 languages, something that it would find impossible to do manually.
Pocketalk uses wi-fi, mobile data or a personal hotspot to provide language translations in real time, via either a dedicated device or app (announced for 2022). All users do is press a button as they speak; when they’ve finished speaking, Pocketalk provides an immediate translation.
Together Housing recently explained how, when running a course to help a group of Syrian refugees integrate into the local community, Pocketalk had been an essential aid in greeting and starting conversations with the Syrians on the course.
Providing a positive experience during an unsettling time is so important; Pocketalk can help to break down barriers via easier, faster and more authentic translation.
Joe Miller is the general manager of Pocketalk.