Children and teenagers take an important role in migratory processes. Schooling and linguistic immersion in the new society help children learn the official language(s) of the new country faster than their parents might do. For this reason, parents and other relatives with limited language proficiency (LLP) in local languages often rely on children and teenagers to translate and interpret for them when they need to communicate in the host society. One of the terms used by researchers to refer to this phenomenon is “child language brokering”. Antonini (2015:88) provides the following definition:

Child language brokering (CLB) denotes interpreting and translation activities carried out by bilingual children who mediate linguistically and culturally in formal and informal contexts and domains for their family and friends as well as members of the linguistic community to which they belong.

The term “language brokering” was introduced by Tse (1995) and it seeks to emphasize the fact that language brokers, unlike professional interpreters and translators “influence the messages they convey and may act as a decision maker for one or both parties” (Tse, 1995:180). Previous research on CLB seems to confirm this influence of children when they are asked to interpret: they may change statements to maintain social equilibrium and to avoid arguments or discrepancies among primary participants, to accommodate them to cultural expectations or to hide bad news concerning themselves (e.g. bad school reports) (cf. Cline et al, 2010). Moreover, children may help parents with related everyday bureaucracy, such as filling forms (Pryor, 2017).

CLB is also related to “natural interpreting”, which in turns derives from the notion of “natural translation”, first coined by Harris (1976: 5) and defined as “the translation done by bilinguals in everyday circumstances and without special training for it”. Harris advocated that Translation Studies should primarily draw on data from natural translation instances, rather than from other professional or semiprofessional branches of translation (Harris & Sherwood, 1978).

Apart from García-Sánchez (2010) and Foulquié-Rubio (2015), studies of CLB have been rather scarce in Spain, even though the phenomenon is mentioned in broader studies concerning other topics. For example, Beltran Antolín & Sáiz López (2001), who studied the first Chinese migrants who arrived in Catalonia, claim that many Chinese rely on their children to act as translators, interpreters or mediators, and that this makes procedures easier to deal with, because children are usually more easily available than professional interpreters or mediators (as may be the case in schools, social services or healthcare settings). Arrasate (2018) reaches similar conclusions in her study with the Pakistani community living in Barcelona.

The project Young Natural Interpreters: Child language brokering in education, social services and healthcare (RTI2018-098566-A-I00) seeks to shed light on this topic by describing CLB in the province of Barcelona. The methodological approach combines quantitative and qualitative methods, namely questionnaires, focus groups and interviews. Furthermore, the project takes into account the various perspectives of the actors involved in child-mediated interactions (child and young interpreters, former child interpreters, parents, public service providers).




Antonini, R. (2015). “Child language brokering”. In F. Pochhacker (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies, London: Routledge, p. 48.

Arrasate, M. (2018). Procesos de llegada y experiencias educativas de mujeres de origen pakistaní en Barcelona. PhD thesis. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Beltrán Antolín, J. & Sáiz López, A. (2001). Els xinesos a Catalunya. Família, educació i integració. Fundació Jaume Bofill / Editorial Altafulla.

Cline, T., et al. (2010). Recent research on child language brokering in the United Kingdom. MediAzioni: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies on Language and Cultures, 10, 105–124.

Foulquié-Rubio, Ana-Isabel (2015). Interpretación en el contexto educativo: la comunicación docentes-padres extranjeros. PhD thesis. Universidad de Murcia.

García-Sánchez, I. (2010). “(Re)shaping practices in translation: How Moroccan immigrant children and families navigate continuity and change”. Mediazioni, 10, 182-214.

Harris, B. (1976). The importance of natural translation. Working papers in bilingualism.

Harris, B. & Sherwood, B. (1978). “Translating as an innate Skull”, in D. Gerver and H.W. Sinaiko (eds.) Language interpretation and communication. New York: Plenum Press, 155-170.

Pryor, C. (2017). Language brokering: When you're the only one in the house who speaks English. ABC News.

Tse, L. (1995). “Language brokering among Lation adolescents: prevalence, attitudes, and school performance”, Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 17, 180-193.

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