Integrated Interpreting for staff and interpreters of NGOs supporting refugees

Integrated Interpreting training based on intercultural philosophy for NGOs supporting refugees with a somatic, emotional and cognitive approach.
Mental Health & Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS)

Integrated Interpreting for staff and interpreters of NGOs supporting refugees

Integrated Interpreting training based on intercultural philosophy for NGOs supporting refugees with a somatic, emotional and cognitive approach.

People touching hands in a circle in a room.

HomoInter workshop.

The project in brief

Implemented by

JAHA Institute Centre


South Korea (Seoul and Gyeonggi province)


This project is renewed every year thanks to a fund that subsidized us annually.

  • First year: May - November 2018
  • Second year: June -November 2019
  • Third year: ongoing (2020)


Our practice is an interpreting training for staff and interpreters of NGOs supporting refugees. Its particularities are as follows: the reinforcement of the collaboration between interpreters and NGO staff ; the integrated approach of training interpreting (Somatic, Emotional, Cognitive Approach); and the psychological education regarding the trauma.

Project aims 

To better understand the uniqueness of our practice, here are some particularities of the interpreting service in Korean refugee NGOs.

First of all, engaged interpreters are almost all volunteers, non-professionals, followed by any professional interpreters' training. They are often students learning the requested language such as French or Arabic, or people who can speak it. So the turnover is very frequent, at the rate of 6 months or 1 year. On the part of the NGO, they do not have much time or competence, as a result they do just one or two orientation sessions on basic knowledge regarding the refugee and the procedure of the application for asylum.

Second, even though there is a training given by professional interpreters (which is really rare), this training is composed of interpreting techniques that do not seem to be entirely adapted to non professionals. Additionally, the one or two sessions they give are not sufficient.

Third, the concept of collaboration between interpreters and NGO staff is almost absent. We usually think that a good interpreting service depends only on the interpreters' competence. But efficient and effective interpreting in refugee contexts, is much more than that - a system that supports their tasks is needed for better interpreting. This has been demonstrated by our volunteer interpreters whose job is made harder when the needed support to their tasks as interpreters is absent.

For all these reasons, we have set up an integrated training to respond to these contextual particularities.


VIDEO: Communication Chair for Everyone Traveling the World of Interpretation


Resources used

Above all, it was the fund dedicated to the project that facilitated its implementation. But upstream, it was our own experience, difficulties and reflection on interpreting service's reality for refugees as volunteer interpreters. Additionally, many staff and NGOs, including our partners, share and support the needs of the project.

Main activities of the Good Practice

First of all our training is not univocal but participative, especially in a somatic way. There is an active interaction between the participants, and with the instructors. By talking about their experiences, we feel that we can help and support each other.

For example, to explain neutrality, one of the key words of the code of ethics, we don't use only the word but also embodied activities linked with a cognitive and an emotional approach.

Further, our training includes psychological education and offers participants, especially interpreters, a space to talk about their experiences, to be listened and to be understood. We have seen that such a space and time has greatly supported the interpreters who must always remain as a shadow.

Finally, throughout our training we offer many opportunities to communicate between interpreters and other groups of co-working professionals such as psychologists, NGO staff, social workers, etc. to promote mutual understanding.

Unlike many trainings generally done just in a verbal way, the intergrated approach via body, and especially the simulation during the training, was a good practice as it helps us better understand the situation of others, including refugees. It helped me a lot. - NGO Staff.



  • Seoul NPO centre
  • MAP (Migration to Asia Peace)
  • Nancen Refugee Rights Center
  • Refugee pNan

Challenges and how they were overcome


Above all, one of our challenges is the financial side.To conduct a training, we need the budget from its creation to the analysis and the conclusion of its results.

Another challenge is the need for networking and communication with other organizations of the same nature as ours. Unfortunately, in Korea it seems to us that there are almost none.

How they were overcome:

We have now been able to conduct this project for 2 years thanks to the funds from Seoul NPO Start-up. However, we need further funding for the coming years. In the long term, we will try to ask each NGO to share a part of the preparation and management costs of the training. The NGOs we work with strongly agree with the need for such training but they cannot satisfy this need due to lack of time, budget and staffing. Hence, we try to be a hub for refugee interpreters training and staff care to help NGO activities and their sustainability.

In relation to expanding our network with similar organizations, we usually find them and contact them through online means as they are abroad. Likewise, we are constantly finding means to improve our informational resources and exchange knowledge  in order to get further inspired for our training.  International events such as the Global Refugee Forum are of key as they provide the space for this exchange and learning.  


VIDEO: The Second Story of Communication Chair for Everyone Traveling the World of Interpretation


Results of the Good Practice 

We conducted our training 4 times (as one day workshops for each time) with a participation of 52 people in total.

Through the feedback of the participants, we could verify some results as follows:

First, they all responded positively to the question "Where you able to apply your knowledge from the training to your activities / in the field?.And, how to apply it?" For instance, understanding of the entire interpreting process, namely what should be done before, during and after the interpreting service or on possible psychological difficulties after interpreting one or more traumatic events.

Besides this and above all, the most important result achieved is the space given to interpreters to talk. Through our training, they can speak for themselves about difficulties that they would not dare to express normally. This allowed them to feel relieved and supported. As mode of example to show the value of this space during a training session: when groups shared their experiences, a participant started crying during her speech. She had just started volunteering as an interpreter as she had done it 2 or 3 times total. Until that moment she felt a certain discomfort but she did not know exactly where it came from. But in exchange with the other participants she realized her state, repression of her emotional difficulties when she had met refugees and heard their stories.

In addition, self-care and psychological education are key elements that this project brings forward. For example, one participant spoke of her nightmares and realized the importance of the need for self care and psychological education in advance to interpreting for refugee situations.

Apart from that, we have received a lot of feedback as it was a new approach, which was very pleasant and active through the body (somatic).

Last but not least, the improvement of a mutual understanding between interpreters and NGO staff was very important. We are sure that such understanding will make a great contribution to building a sustainable system of interpreting in Korean NGOs that support refugees.

Before this training, I had never met other volunteer interpreters. The simple fact of being able to meet them, communicate and share our difficulties really helped me a lot. - Volunteer interpreter. 


How the project meets the GCR Objectives

Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

For refugees, interpreting service is not an option but an absolute necessity in their lives. Many of them receive this service from NGOs supporting refugees. However, as mentioned above, the interpreting training for their interpreters doesn't seem to be sufficient in terms of quantity nor quality.

This project, through our integrated training, helps these NGOs to provide quality interpretation service in a sustainable manner. As consequence, this helps refugees in Korea to better understand and access basic public services, and to live more harmoniously in Korean society.

Next steps 

The following steps are in progress:

  • Regularity of the training (annual) and development of its content (basic & specified modules).
  • Regular (seasonal) self and staff care session for NGOs' interpreters and staff, which is "RRR Inter-station".


Submitted by: 

Daenam OH, Project Manager, HomoInter Project, JAHA Institute Centre

Jaeyoon PARK, Project Manager, HomoInter Project, JAHA Institute Centre