Surmounting language barriers in multicultural panels at the Canadian Anthropology Society meeting in Santiago Cuba (cosponsored by SfAA )

by Roland Moore

In this brief note I wanted to share the distinctive experience of presenting in a multicultural, multidisciplinary and trilingual (French, Spanish, and English) roundtable at the CASCA meetings in Santiago de Cuba in May 2018. 


The panel was organized by Marc-Antoine Lapierre (Association des anthropologues du Québec).  The roundtable focused upon the integration of practicing anthropology in work outside of the academy, and participants included Marc-Antoine, Danielle Gratton (Labrri), Leonel Ruiz Miyares (Centro de Lingüística Aplicada, Santiago de Cuba), and myself.

I was uncertain how the discussion would flow, given the absence of many people who knew all three languages.  However, the organizers implemented three strategies that seemed to overcome the substantial barriers implicit in such an attempt:


The first was for the panelists to spend an extended afternoon together in the day prior to their presentations, talking through what they were going to do and getting to know each other better. 

The second strategy was to lean on the linguistic talents of the master of ceremonies, Éric Gagnon Poulin (Universtié Laval), fully fluent in all three languages, filling in gaps and maintaining order as he kept shifting languages to keep the audience from losing the thread of discussion. 

Finally, the organizers made a request of audience members to contribute to the overall success of the panel by identifying generous translators who were dispersed through the audience and would whisper summaries of what was going on to those around them.  Rather than presenting the panel through simultaneous translation headsets, we used a 


far more low-tech method to disperse the information throughout the audience, even if it seemed that no one other than the MC had all three languages fully under control.  

Taking part in the panel as a SfAA member represented a wonderful opportunity to engage with new colleagues from Canadian institutions inside and outside universities and from the Cuban academic community as well.


Photo 1 Caption; Cuban host institution University of the Orient Journalism Department Professors Viviana Muñiz Zuñiga and Yánder Castillo Salina check out the SfAA information and publications. Located by the registration desk, SfAA’s banner and information cards were offered in Spanish, French, and English. 

Photo 2 Caption: SfAA President Alexander (Sandy) Ervin congratulated the SfAA plenary/keynote speaker, Salomon Nahmad y Sitton (CIESAS), “The role of anthropology and social sciences in the changes and challenges of 21st century,” who gave an inspiring lecture in Spanish, with simultaneous presentation of translated slides in English.

 Photo 3 Caption: CASCA participants Éric Gagnon Poulin (Universtié Laval), Marc-Antoine Lapierre (Association des anthropologues du Québec), and Danielle Gratton (Labrri) preparing for the panel in an informal setting.

[See more photos below.]


Roland Moore (Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, or PIRE) works as an applied research anthropologist at a multidisciplinary public health non-profit that he directs, PIRE's Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, California. He conducts research concerning community prevention of alcohol, commercial tobacco, and other drug-related problems in various Indigenous and occupational populations and communities including rural California reservations and remote military bases.  He works closely with seven Tribal and Inter-Tribal mental health problem prevention coalition projects on the California Reducing Disparities Phase 2 Native American Technical Assistance Provider team, which he leads for the State Office of Health Equity. He just rotated off a three-year term on the SfAA Board.

[A recent publication: Moore, RS , Gilder, DA, Grube, JW, Lee, JP, Geisler, JA, Friese, B. Calac, DJ, Finan, LJ, & Ehlers, CL (2018). Prevention of underage drinking on California Indian reservations using individual-and community-level approaches. American Journal of Public Health, August 2018, Vol 108, No. 8:1035-1041.  doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2018.304447]