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Lost in translation: Swedes bring in wrong interpreters, report says

"We didn’t understand anything. Not a word," one immigrant reportedly said.

By
Doug G. Ware
Swedish municipality Helsingborg recently enlisted the help of translators to communicate with Romanian immigrants. However, the interpreters spoke Romany -- which is not understood by the Romanian people, a Swedish newspaper reported. Photo: Shutterstock/Daniel Hjalmarson
Swedish municipality Helsingborg recently enlisted the help of translators to communicate with Romanian immigrants. However, the interpreters spoke Romany -- which is not understood by the Romanian people, a Swedish newspaper reported. Photo: Shutterstock/Daniel Hjalmarson

HELSINGBORG, Sweden, April 25 (UPI) -- Imagine being a total stranger to a new country and having officials there bring in interpreters to speak with you -- only they also speak to you in a language you don't understand.

That's what happened in Sweden recently, The Local reported Saturday, based on a report in Helsingborg's Dagblad newspaper.

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The municipality of Helsingborg enlisted the help of translators to speak with Romanian migrants, so they could communicate with various officials and institutions like police and health care workers.

Problem is, they chose the wrong interpreters -- who spoke Romany, which isn't a language Romanians know at all. It's a language with roots in Roma and Sinti culture. Romanian is derived from Latin.

"Romanians don't understand Romany any more than a Swede does," Lucian Bagiu, a Romanian language expert, said. "You could say that there are more similarities between Romanian and Swedish than between those two languages and Romany."

It's possible that whoever chose the translators mistakenly believed there was a connection between Romanian and Romany -- which may be phonetically read as row-main-ey, though it is actually pronounced rah-men-ey.

One official in Helsingborg seemed to suggest the language issue didn't prevent them from communicating with the Romanian immigrants.

"We haven't had any problem communicating with these people with the assistance of the interpreters we have," municipal official Per Pehrsson told Dagblad.

However, the newspaper quoted one immigrant who indicated that wasn't true before a Romanian interpreter was brought in.

"Before, we didn't understand anything. Not a word," the immigrant said.

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