China / Education

Students offer foreign language help for airport users

By Tang Yue (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-27 08:07

Travelers passing through Beijing Capital International Airport who cannot speak Chinese need no longer worry about communication breakdowns, thanks to volunteers from Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Starting this month the students, based in a call center on campus, are offering translation services for passengers who speak French, German, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and Korean, from 8 am to 6 pm.

Passengers who are not at the airport can still make an inquiry about its services by calling the multilingual hotline on 96158.

Student volunteers have been translating in these seven languages, plus English, for emergency services since 2010, according to Zheng Dapeng, the multilingual service center's office director.

"That we can speak their native language doesn't only help them explain their issue, it instantly makes them feel more comfortable and builds trust, especially when they are in trouble and are really anxious," said Lin Shihan, a volunteer.

To volunteer at the center, students need to have foreign language proficiency that is equal to or greater than a third-year bachelor's degree level.

The job can also be physically challenging when translations are being provided for the emergency services, as calls can come in at all times of the day.

"It could be 11 pm, 1 am, 3 am or even 5 am, and we have to go out of the dorm to answer the phone to avoid disturbing our roommates," said Xiao Danqi, who heads the English-language service team. "In many cases, the people seeking help are drunk and don't know where they are. Sometimes, they lose their temper. But we have to keep calm and help solve the problem since we are all well-trained and prepared for this situation."

The reasons people contact the call center can range from injury, to a missed flight, to rental disputes.

"A lot of times, the call comes through and it turns out the caller just wanted the Wi-Fi password of the place they are staying at, which we look at with amusement more than annoyance," said Niu Xuchen, leader of the Korean-language group.

She said the work also enables foreign language majors to get a deeper understanding of the country they are studying.

"Personally, I find that no matter how urgent the issue is, the South Koreans always stay very polite. On the other hand, they are also very prudent and can call to confirm about one thing several times," she said.

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