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Seeking to ensure equal participation in society for people who need interpreters

Norwegian-Russian academic collaboration to strengthen the role of interpreting in the public sector.

Siv Tonje Sperati Håkensen Published: Updated:
Russian students visiting OsloMet, outside Oslo City Hall

A group of 21 Russian students and teachers recently visited OsloMet. The delegation comprised representatives of study programmes in the fields of interpreting, foreign languages and translation, and didactics and deaf education from universities in St Petersburg, Pavlovsk, Moscow and Novosibirsk.

The visit is part of the project 'The role of sign language and spoken language interpreting in public sector in Russia and Norway’, an academic collaboration intended to strengthen the role of interpreting in the public sector in Russia and in Norway. In this context, ‘interpreting’ includes both spoken language interpreting and sign language interpreting.

The overriding measures in the project involve developing modules and learning materials, in addition to short mutual exchanges. Through these measures, the project will support Herzen State Pedagogical University in developing its teaching and research in the field of spoken language and sign language interpreting. During the visit to OsloMet, the delegation has observed a court case where interpreters were used, among other things.

Hope to establish new study programmes in Russia

The project started up in January 2018. The participants are now in the process of outlining a course for what they hope will become a future study programme in public sector interpreting at Herzen University.

As regards sign language interpreting, OsloMet has made contact with academic communities in Moscow and Novosibirsk that have developed university-level study programmes that can serve as inspiration for the possible establishment of sign language and interpreting as an academic discipline at Herzen.

Language barriers prevent equal participation

Professor Arnfinn Muruvik Vonen at the Department of International Studies and Interpreting is OsloMet’s project manager. He feels that today’s multicultural society characterised by migration and mobility make the importance of good public interpreting services more relevant.

‘In Russia as well as in Norway, there are people who are at risk of missing out on their right to equal participation due to language barriers. This is particularly relevant in our time, when so many people leave their countries of origin for various reasons and take on new roles as members of cultural and linguistic minorities in new home countries, including Russia and Norway,’ Vonen explains.

Project manager Arnfinn M Vonen

He explains that Norway has come quite far compared to many other European countries, but that there is still inadequate awareness of the need, both here in Norway and in Russia.

‘Norway is leading the way in interpreting in the public sector in the European context, but much remains to be done even here before the availability and quality of interpreters are sufficient to ensure equal participation. In Russia, the profession of interpreter has largely been limited to conference interpreters, while both spoken language interpreting in the public sector and sign language interpreting in general has only comparatively recently received a certain amount of attention in education and practice,’ he explains.

Improved cooperation at OsloMet

A surprising unintended effect of the project has been an improvement in internal cooperation at the department. The two interpreting programmes at OsloMet – Sign Language and Interpreting and Public Sector Interpreting – have belonged to the same organisational entity (the Department of International Studies and Interpreting) since 2011, but have not established a well-developed organisational cooperation. This project could change that.

‘We have already influenced each other at colleague level for years, but issues of history, target groups and the ways in which the study programmes are organised have made it difficult to achieve close academic cooperation and benefit from synergies. In our cooperation with Russia, we see a more concrete cooperation on both the academic basis for and the practical organisation of activities,’ says Vonen.


  • The project ‘The role of sign language and spoken language interpreting in public sector in Russia and Norway’ is a collaboration between OsloMet and the Russian university Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia in St. Petersburg.
  • The projects is funded by the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU).
  • The project started up in January 2018 and is funded for a period of four years.