When I went to the Chinatown Pro Bono Legal Clinic in Chicago, I always wished that I could speak Cantonese! A large portion of Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in the last century spoke only Cantonese since Mandarin at that time had not been populated yet. However, in comparison to the big crowd of Cantonese-speaking people who are in need of legal help, most of the law students who come from China today speak little Cantonese unless they are from Cantonese-speaking areas in the Southern China. Whether it is an English-teaching program or a pro bono clinic held at the Chinatown Pro Bono Legal Clinic, it is always the Cantonese-speaking students who are in shortage. I am trying to think if there is anyway that we can expand the volunteer group so as to include more Cantonese-speaking interpreters. Here is what I have thought of.
I first thought that we can teach Mandarin-speaking students Cantonese. However, this is not a practical idea since language is not something that you can learn in a short time. A lot of law students only stay here in Chicago for one year. And the legal clinic is held only once a month. The low frequency of the clinic and the short time of students’ stay makes it hard to teach students Cantonese and then let them volunteer.
Then I thought that a lot of those old people have children who can speak fluent English. So the problem can be solved if the old people bring their children together with them. But this idea is not good since some people come here to consult about wills and distribution of estate, which they might hope to hide from their children before death. Also, as I know, many of those children do not live in Chicago, which put a second hinder on the idea.
So then I thought we could expand the interpreter group by including more college students. It is possible that the Chinatown legal clinic contact the Asian-Pacific student organizations or Chinese student associations in each college to recruit interested Cantonese-speaking students and sign them up in a Google group. We can then send those students emails when they are needed. It might be a potential problem associated with legal terms when people have no idea how to translate. However, in most circumstances, no complicated legal term is involved since student/interpreter’s job is mainly to intake information, and lay people do not describe their daily life using legal terms. Also, the legal clinic can create a list of common legal terms that might be used in the volunteer work.
From a long-standing point, if this group of volunteer is established, the court system can use the same group of volunteers as well for interpretation in court.