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  • Writer's pictureShelley Purchon

How to explain 'safeguarding' to speakers of other languages

Many of my clients have to explain safeguarding as part of their job. If that's you, have you found this concept tricky to explain to people who speak English as a foreign language? Have you found an effective way to do it? This article, which includes a video demonstration, will help.


What is safeguarding?

"Safeguarding is a term used in the United Kingdom and Ireland to denote measures to protect the health, well-being and human rights of individuals, which allow people to live free from abuse, harm and neglect." Wikipedia

Here in The UK, everyone who works in a public sector job has a responsibility to look out for signs of abuse and neglect, and report their concerns. They have been trained to know what to look for and how to report it. This includes teachers, social workers, counsellors, healthcare staff and employability advisors.

Why is safeguarding difficult to explain?

In some countries safeguarding exists under another name, and in some countries it doesn't exist at all. On LinkedIn I'm connected with professionals from all over the world. Yet as my poll demonstrates, many of them do not know what safeguarding is.

These comments (made by my connections from The US and Australia) illustrate the fact that the meaning of the word 'safeguarding' is not easy to guess-

In The US, protective legislation exists and public sector staff are expected to look out for signs of neglect and abuse, but the catch-all term of 'safeguarding' is not used. On the other hand in some other countries this awareness (and the legislation surrounding it) may not even exist. People who have moved to the UK from those countries are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding what safeguarding is and how it might affect them and their loved ones as they build a life here.

Why do all immigrants need to understand safeguarding?

So that they make informed decisions about what to divulge and how to behave around public sector professionals. This knowledge puts them on an equal footing with people who understand how this country works because they grew up here.

For example

If you are a mental health practitioner, a social worker or an employability advisor, it is likely that you explain confidentiality to every new client at your first meeting with them. Safeguarding concerns are an important exception to confidentiality, and immigrants deserve to understand this just as well as their counterparts who grew up in the UK do.

How can you explain safeguarding?

In this video you will see how I would explain safeguarding slowly and clearly to someone with an intermediate English level. However, if the person you are speaking to does not have sufficient knowledge of English to understand this important concept you should book an interpreter.

how will a good interpreter explain this?

If no equivalent concept exists in their home country, a skilled interpreter will explain what 'safeguarding' means in their own words. Obviously this means the phrase will take longer to say than your original phrase took - don't be surprised or concerned if this happens.

Stick with trained interpreters.

Bear in mind that an inexperienced interpreter could make a literal translation of the term 'safeguarding.' The end result might sound sufficiently plausible that nobody raises an eyebrow, even though the client hasn't really understood its implications. Phil Muriel is a registered and qualified public service interpreter who has seen the consequences of this first hand-

Learn to spot (and book) skilled interpreters.

Did you know that interpreting is not a regulated profession? Here at English Unlocked we provide training on how to work effectively with interpreters. We also have a free guide to help you know which qualifications to request when booking interpreters.

Learn to speak slowly and clearly

Do you like the way I speak in the video? If you would like to learn to do the same, sign up for our workshop on how to speak to learners of English. You will learn 15 practical tips to help you 'unlock your English' when you are with clients or colleagues who learned it as a foreign language.


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