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SFU partnership with Access Pro Bono helping local Chinese speakers

August 27, 2015
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Students in SFU's Legal Interpretation and Translation Certificate visit the Richmond courthouse.

By Amy Robertson

Thanks to a partnership between SFU Continuing Studies and Access Pro Bono, a non-profit in B.C. that provides legal help to people in need, Chinese speakers like Helen Chang have less to worry about.

The Vancouver small-business owner has always found the English language barrier a challenge. This summer, though, she found herself dealing with a legal issue, which caused a great deal of anxiety. Because she speaks primarily Mandarin, she didn’t fully understand the legal case, and she was afraid she’d say something wrong.

Fortunately, Access Pro Bono recently started offering Chinese/English interpretation and translation services through SFU Continuing Studies students. Chang spent time with her lawyer as well as an SFU interpreter, and is feeling much better about her case.

In June 2015, the student volunteers completed SFU’s Legal Interpretation and Translation Certificate, which includes an intensive primer on Canadian law, an overview of specialized legal vocabulary, and advanced interpretation and translation skills training. They also observed court proceedings.

Li Ding, an SFU graduate who is still volunteering with Access Pro Bono, has loved the opportunity to help people struggling with legal issues. “When you go to see a lawyer, something is wrong,” he said. “It’s a huge burden.” Speaking about a family he interpreted for recently, he said, “I can feel this case brought significant results to them.”

Ding was so inspired by his time in the SFU program that he plans to become a lawyer.

Amanda Chen, another SFU graduate who is volunteering with Access Pro Bono, loves the fact that she can combine valuable practice time with the opportunity to help others. “It really makes a difference,” she says.

Access Pro Bono helps between 5,000 and 6,000 British Columbians each year, and about 45 per cent of those speak English as an additional language, said Jimmy Yan, the organization’s project and information officer. About a third of those have low English proficiency and require the help of a translator.

Yan said they get about four requests a week for an interpreter and translator who can work in Mandarin and has specialized legal vocabulary. He’s pleased that SFU is helping Access Pro Bono provide more services to their clients. “We want to help clients bridge the language gap to access legal information and services,” he said.

Access Pro Bono will welcome a new crop of students in September when SFU’s next Legal Interpretation and Translation Certificate begins. In addition to continuing to work with grads, Access Pro Bono plans to offer practicums to SFU legal interpretation and translation students.