Kaohsiung City is recruiting foreigners with a range of language skills as interpreters in an effort to overcome communication barriers that have sometimes led to big legal and cultural misunderstandings.

So far 144 recent immigrants have been trained by the Social Affairs Bureau in the southern city, the United Daily News reported. They speak Chinese, English, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Filipino, Cambodian, Burmese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and French.

Phạm Huyền Anh, deputy director of the Stella Maris International Service Center in Kaohsiung, who is fluent in Chinese, English and French as well as her native Vietnamese, said that having access to an interpreter could make all the difference for a foreign worker.

She recalled that a Vietnamese woman who had been sexually assaulted was almost turned away by police because she smiled while recounting what had happened and it was assumed there must have  been mutual consent for the sexual contact.

“I explained to them that it was an example of cultural differences, as  Vietnamese women tend to hide their grief or to shy away from embarrassing incidents by smiling,” Phạm said.

She said it was important that interpreters familiarize themselves with local jargons and understand their clients’ cultural backgrounds in order to give precise and accurate support.

While newly-arrived immigrants are the main target, Pham noted that the community service would also help Taiwanese people get a better understanding of other people’s cultures and needs.