Cultural linguistic mediation (Introduction)

The phenomenon of migrations is transforming Italy into a multicultural Country, where persons of different languages, religious backgrounds and cultures live together side by side. To know the other person's historical, cultural and religious background is certainly one of the fundamental aspects towards a realisation of a harmonious cohabitation and for better management of the immigration phenomenon. Cultural Mediation appeared and asserted itself in Italy only recently, on the basis of experiences already begun in other European Countries, thanks both to overcoming of an original vision in terms of emergency in approaching the migratory phenomenon, and to overall political choices favouring integration of the immigrated population. The texts Testo unico sulla disciplina dell'immigrazione (Unified laws on the discipline of immigration) and the Documento programmatico relativo alla politica dell'immigrazione (Practical document on immigration politics) both characterise cultural mediation as a constant element used in politics social intergration, indispensable to allow new citizens to exercise their rights on one hand and in facilitating cultural integration in our society through mutual acquaintance and exchange, trying to assure equal opportunities in respect of diversity on the other hand. Here lies the challenge of the integration politics, in the need, today more than ever present and felt, to introduce, respect and to appreciate the cultural diversity, surpassing the mutual mistrust, fears and prejudice, towards preventing discriminatory, xenophobic and antiracial behaviours and to allow a democratic, orderly and positive cohabitation.

1. The functions of mediation

Analyzing mediation needs of service seekers pertaining to minority cultures and of functionaries that must answer their foreign clients, cultural mediation can be delineated as a twofold and mutual process to decode communication applied to three levels:
a). Practical – directive order level
b). Linguistic - communicative level
c). psycho-social level

a) The first order of mediation, demanded more or less explicitly by clients of ethnic minority has a practical - directive function: confused and faced with new social-institutional and political-bureaucratic systems, they ask from their co-nationals (or from natives with which they have established a privileged relationship) to be guided in their first contact with services and with institutions of the new country.
Immigrates will seek mediation when for example, they have to enrol their children to school, when they have to refer to health service system for their children’s vaccination, go through bureaucratic practices, and so on.

b) Mediation carried out in institutions and in public services has a specific linguistic-communicative function that stems out from direct interpersonal relationship between functionaries and their foreign clients pertaining to different cultures: functionaries cover a professional and/or institutional role; while the others, for needs or hardships they encounter, they find themselves in a position of fragility and dependency in confrontation with those providing services to them.
Cultural mediation has the objective to create a communicative context in which persons of different cultures can consider as normal what at first seemed strange or bizarre because it belonged to a culture different to one’s own.

c) Analyzing the context of ethnic minority service seekers, two interpretations are possible:

1. The first will consider all clients seeking public service, irrespective of their ethnic origins, as seeking mediator services because they find themselves in disadvantaged conditions. According to this interpretation, the difficulties of ethnic minority service seekers are qualitatively different from those experienced by Italian citizens, but would only differ in the disadvantage’s entity.

2. The second interpretation pones deeper questions and demands more radical solutions than the first one but appears more adapted to finding solutions relative to discrimination problems. It demands analysis of typology and dynamics of the discrimination.

If disabled service seekers in wheelchairs have difficulty in physically accessing a public service, the foreigner service seekers can have difficulty in accessing information for them incomprehensible. In the first case ramps are needed, while mediators and translations are required for the second case.

2. The role of Cultural Linguistic Mediator (CLM)

A Cultural Linguistic Mediator is a professional representative with the task to facilitating communication and understanding, both on linguistic and cultural level, between service seekers of ethnic minorities and functionaries in agencies or public service offices, self presenting in an equidistant and neutral way between the interested parts.
A mediator is called to carry out the activity of facilitation with impartiality and must guarantee confidentiality on the contents of a conversation. A mediator collaborates to the definition of strategies of information diffusion considering its impact upon specific cultural areas.

3. Rights of the Cultural Linguistic Mediator

The mediator has the right to:
- Be informed in detail on the case in issue;
- Refuse to breach laws of Italian state, of the service or agency responsible for mediation services;
- Refuse to carry out duties when lacking necessary competences or necessary formation;
- Refuse to participate in cases of discrimination, racism, abuse of costumes, culture, beliefs and values of any among the foreigner seeking service, office functionary and the cultural mediator, self reserving the right to be protected legally.

4. Duties of the Cultural Linguistic Mediator

The mediator has the duty to:
- Assure that the interview is done;
- Keep always informed on official directives, circulars, laws regarding situations foreigners and service office functionaries find themselves in;
- Refuse responsibility where there arises linguistic, cultural or personal level incompatibility with any of the two sides during an assignment;
- Clear cultural presumptions and stereotypes of confronting cultures;
- Have both parts constantly informed on what it is happening, translating everything accurately;
- Intervene by:
1. Reformulating, when necessary, the phrases not understood by one of the two interlocutors;
2. Asking clarifications when the content is not clear;
3. Pointing out when one of the two sides has not understood the message even when translation is correct;
4. Pointing out when the message from one of the interlocutors has not been transmitted;
5. Noticing self ignorance in respect of cultures of any of the two interlocutors;
6. Communicating self lack of knowledge regarding specific information;
- Denounce unlawfulness, injustice and discrimination.

5. Cultural Linguistic Mediator’s fields of intervention

Health sector

Hospitals, Local Health Centres (ASL)
The role of a mediator in the health sector consists of: receiving foreigners seeking health services; facilitating communication during visits and interviews with foreign patients; advising and providing explanations to the sector’s working staff on foreign patients’ cultures of origin; provide informative material.
Moreover, the mediator offers assistance to foreign patients in acquiring registration to the National Health Services (SSN) and orientation in hospitals present in the foreigner’s territory of residence.

Legal sector
Police headquarters, Prison, Tribunal

In the legal sector, a mediator’s role consists of: carrying out sworn translations; providing informative material in foreigner’s mother tongue; accompanying foreign nationals to various offices; advising the service staff on the specificities of the clients’ cultures of origin; offering guidelines on bureaucratic processes involved in obtaining documents such as permit of stay, foreigner’s family admission in the country etc).

Social service sector

Local community, Local Health Centre (ASL) social services for children, adults and families.
A mediator’s role in the social service sector consists of; receiving foreigners seeking social services; facilitating communication between social workers and service seekers in case of linguistic and cultural comprehension difficulties such as in educational models, religious peculiarities; clarifying to foreign nationals on roles and responsibilities of professional functionaries in the social sector; advising social operators functionaries to facilitate resolution of cases where foreigners seeking the services are involved.

Working Sector
Job placement office

In the working sector, the role of mediator consists of; advising office functionaries in contact with the public; providing informative material; advising foreign nationals on how to write their resume and compilation of forms; creation and management of a data bank or archives to be used for job search; divulging information relative to obtaining an equivalent of their academic titles; illustrating the procedures necessary to obtain the conversion of driving licences; facilitating settlement of bureaucratic practices common in obtaining documents like the permit of stay in Italy, foreigner’s family admission in Italy, etc.); fostering contacts with potential employers; facilitating in attainment of job contracts.


Education Sector

Child day care centres, Nursery, Elementary and Senior Schools
In educational sector, mediators role consists of; facilitating communication between foreign pupils and their teachers and between the foreign pupils’ families and teachers; to offer temporary assistance to teachers whose pupils have difficulties with Italian language; providing consultancy to teachers to facilitate comprehension of problematic behaviours when found among foreign children; providing instruction in refreshment courses for teachers on intercultural themes; participating in meeting for teachers and foreign pupils’ parents.
Moreover a mediator provides clarifications to teachers and foreign pupils’ families on different educational models; discloses information relative to modalities of registrations foe admission in schools; produces informative material in foreign language about the particular school; takes the initiative of rewriting the school admission application forms in the language of the child’s country of origin; prepares educational material in the pupil’s mother tongue; participates in promotion and valorisation of other cultures; provides advice in multicultural education projects.

Bibliographical references
Castiglioni M. La mediazione linguistico culturale. Principi, strategie, esperienze, Franco Angeli, Milano, 1996
Duccio D., Favaro G., Bambini stranieri a scuola, La nuova Italia, Firenze, 1997
Nigris E., Educazione interculturale, Mondadori, Milano, 1996