Bridging the language gap - with Chinese version

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Civil society & citizenship, Legal literacy, Social justice
Bilingual article

By: Jimmy Yan (2015)

Project and Information Officer

Access Pro Bono Society of BC

CELS Research Assistant



In order to promote justice, students from the Legal Interpretation and Translation Certificate Program1 of Simon Fraser University are now helping clients who have difficulties to communicate in English access a free summary legal advisory service provided by lawyers from the Access Pro Bono Society of BC in downtown Vancouver.

Language skill, as an important social capital indicator, is critical for immigrants to communicate, learn, adapt and thrive well in the adopted country. Every year more than 500 practicing lawyers are providing free legal consultation to over 6,000 medium- to low-income clients at Access Pro Bono’s summary legal advisory clinics across the province. Forty-five percent of the advisory clinic clients identified English as their second language. They were either immigrants or once came from immigrant families. When these clients were asked to self-assess their English proficiency level in a research project conducted in 2014, a quarter considered their English fluency was better than their mother language; 41% were bilingual; and one third acknowledged their English language skill was below the proficiency level of their mother tongue.

When there is a language barrier, equality and fairness may be severely compromised.  In the correlational study of the same research project in 2014, we found bilingual clients were more likely to have completed university education but those clients with difficulties in communicating in English were more likely to include language and culture as major barriers on their way to fairness. Overall, inaccessible legal information was placed by 37% of the pro bono clients as the most prominent barrier to accessing justice. The Canadian court system and the situation of court delays, once very serious in 2012, was the second barrier identified by less than 25% of the clients.

To echo Simon Fraser University’s strategy of engaging students, research and community, Access Pro Bono along with the Legal Interpretation and Translation Certificate Program took the initiative of helping Chinese clients access legal information and free legal advice through translation and interpretation students. Since June 2015, 75% of all inquiries for translation have been successfully matched with volunteer interpreters and over 50 Chinese clients have been assisted by students.  The service and collaboration has been positively received by pro bono lawyers, clients, students and the Program. However, facing a growing number of immigrants and linguistic diversity in BC, the partnership is just a small step towards our cause of fostering a more equitable society for all British Columbians.






語言能力作為重要的社會資本指標,是移民在移居國良好溝通,學習,適應和發展的重要手段。每年卑詩公益法律服務社團旗下的500多名律師為6千多名的客戶提供免費的法律咨詢服務。在所有使用我們咨詢服務的客戶中,45%的母語不是英語,他們或是移民或曾經來自於移民家庭。當他們根據我們2014年的調研被要求對自己的英語水平作出自我評估的時候,四分之一認為自己的英語優於母語,約四成為雙語流利, 約三分之一認定自己的英語水平低於母語的水平。

如果缺乏良好的語言能力,公平公正將會受到嚴重的損害。根據2014年調研中的相關性分析,我們發現雙語流利的客戶傾向於接受過大學本科的教育,而英語水平低於母語的這些客戶,都傾向於將語言和文化列為獲得公平公正障礙的主要原因。 總體上,37%的客戶認為法律信息的缺乏是活的法律公平公正的首要障礙。而加拿大的司法系統和一度非常嚴重的法院案件堆積問題隻被不到25%的客戶選擇位列第二。