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Is English your second language? Then a multi-lingual solicitor is a must

Tanveer Moughal is expert in all areas of family law (separation, divorce, child arrangements and contact, finances), wills and probate, and immigration as well as speaking four languages including Urdu and Hindi!

Here she explains why having a solicitor who speaks your native tongue is so important.

There are over 4 million residents in England and Wales who do not speak English as their first language. Punjabi, Urdu and Bengali speakers make up three of the top four non-English primary languages.

Throughout the years these UK residents may have learnt to speak English to a fluent level, however this is never a substitute for their mother tongue. I am the first to say that learning a second language is not easy as an adult.

Almost everyone who lives in the UK engages with our legal system at some point in their lives. Whether family issues such as divorce, writing a Will, dealing with someone’s death or even criminal proceedings. It’s not often an individual chooses to be put into these situations but when they do, if they are faced with a language barrier then processes can become more stressful and complicated. 

Remove doubt

Within any proceedings, it is important that you understand what is happening and everything that is being said. Even if your understanding of English is high, there may be terms that you will not have come across in everyday life. In fact, this can be the case for native English speakers too!

For those for whom English is not their native language, the Courts will offer an interpreter. It is worth bearing in mind that it is often not appropriate for family members or friends to interpret, or to even enter the Courtroom with you. I have no criticisms of interpreters as we all know that they do an invaluable job.

However, regardless of who interprets there is always room for errors and misunderstanding which can be crucial within proceedings. Interpreters have a specific skill set, and this is not to advise. In court I have often asked for a question or statement to be put in a different way to aid interpreting. Had I not been there then multilingual errors would have gone undetected.

What you speak and what you understand may be different

Just one example of how much of a problem language can pose is the Mirpuri language. It is estimated that around 60-70% of British Pakistanis who originate from Azad Kashmir Pakistan speak Mirpuri.

Mirpuri is a dialect of Pahari –Pothwari language and exists in spoken form only.

There is no written form of the Mirpuri dialect and Urdu is used instead. However, Mirpuri speakers will not necessarily be able to read or write Urdu. However, when asked what language they speak they are most likely to say Urdu as opposed to Mirpuri!

As odd as this sounds, it is true.

It is important for solicitors and other professionals to be aware of these cultural differences, as it could make all the difference in their clients having a fair hearing.

Since qualifying as a solicitor in 2010, I have represented many couples, parents and grandparents within family proceedings and have advised many with regards to their Will or upon the death of a loved one in English as well as in Mirpuri, Urdu and Hindi. I fear how some of these cases may have proceeded using an interpreter purely due to the legal context and terminology needed.

Many solicitors out there speak more than one language and this is truly priceless when it comes to advising clients as you know that you are advising them correctly in a language that they understand and they are able to express what they want and any concerns they have. There also may or may not be cultural issues involved.

If English is not your native language or you are not fluent in English and you need legal advice or need to appoint a Solicitor, then I would strongly suggest that you try and find one who speaks your native language.

If you are going through Court proceedings, your Solicitor cannot represent you and interpret for you at the same time, so it will be important for an Interpreter to be instructed. If you do find yourself in this situation, then ask to speak to the interpreter before the hearing even if it is by telephone to make sure that you understand each other and this will hopefully put you at some ease.

I offer clients advice across family, immigration and wills and probate, and speak Urdu, Mirpuri and Hindi. I can also offer an initial free consultation by telephone or face to face at client’s convenience including out of office hours appointments and home visits to help clients regardless of location or language.

Find out more about Tanveer, and contact her to discuss your needs.