My personal experience of researching multilingually can be considered as a sort of ‘necessity made virtue’, attempting to translate an Italian expression. Coming from an academic background in the Cultural Studies of Eastern Asia and International Cooperation my research interests placed me within contexts where Italian, despite being my mother tongue and the language I always consider I am translating myself from, was never central in the research design. Neither was it the main language of any of the participants I worked with in China, Kosovo and England.
Central for developing considerations around the multilingual dimension of research practice have particularly been my two years of experience within local communities in the North East of England. Through a regional voluntary sector organisation I have been involved in a range of projects to support the integration and foster the rights of women and girls, focusing especially with ones from asylum seeker, migrant and refugee backgrounds but also engaging with white working class communities in deprived estates. The research work I have undertaken explored issues related to ‘diversity’ and ‘marginalisation’ alongside an awareness raising, training and campaigning aspect with the women themselves.
Central in the research implementation has been the issue of translating participants’ individual narrations into a language-English that has been a central and mandatory working and communicational choice, without it being my first language and often neither it being the mother tongue of the participants. Research experience with such a diverse range of women and my own experience of always working ‘multilingually’ made me reflect on how the emotional component of language risk to get lost in translation, especially when the explored topics encompass a complex range of feelings, ideas, beliefs and concepts that sometimes not only belong to a particular language but to a particular cultural system.
A necessity and commitment for conducting effective research and representing participants’ views pushed me to think how a researcher always ‘external’ to the socio-lingustical context of their participants can engage effectively with them. I became convinced that cultural awareness and openness to diversity together with a flexible multilingualism can support this process, being powerful tools to engage participants and encourage their subjective narrations even on sensitive topics.
I am currently undertaking a PhD at Durham School of Education focusing on pupils’ identities within the context of Chinese community schools in the North East.