The Voice at the Other End of the BBB Call

by Cho Jae-hyon, Korea Times Staff Reporter, 26/06/2010



About eight years ago, Son Bong-ho, an honorary professor of Seoul National University and a well-known civic activist - CEO of Seoul Culture Forum and former president of Dongduk Women’s University - was lured into the idea of providing free interpretation services for foreigners through cell phones.

In early 2002, when the whole country was preparing for the Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup, he was introduced by one of his colleagues to the volunteer service and, without a second thought, he joined. Since then, he has been providing interpretation services as one of the volunteers for "bbb (Before Babel Brigade) Korea," a non-profit organization set up in 2002 with an aim to offer free interpretation services over the phone for foreigners.

Professor Son, 71, one of the active volunteers who has been with the organization since its inception, said he started the work with a simple idea of helping foreigners who go through a hard time because of the difficulty to make themselves understood in their own languages. A volunteer interpreter of English, Son said the interpreters seek to become troubleshooters for foreigners. "There are many kinds of requests from foreigners ― from translations for disputes over rent to those asking for directions,'' he said. ``This work really makes people feel relieved.''

Son, a doctor in philosophy, said he himself had the experiences of communication difficulties when he went to Europe to study in the 1960s. "I know how hard communication problems are when in foreign countries. That's why I have been volunteering for years,'' he said. ``I think volunteers are helping to promote the image of Korea.''

In the initial years, he had many interpretation requests, but, nowadays, he doesn't receive as many calls due to the increased number of volunteers. According to bbb Korea, it has about 3,200 volunteers across Korea who provide interpretation services in 17 different languages around the clock.

Its public relations manager Seo Bo-young said that the number of volunteers has increased by about 1,000 since 2002. She said requests for English, Chinese and Japanese services are the most common and, in turn, many volunteers can speak those languages.

However, the organization lacks those who can speak Vietnamese or Thai. "Requests for Vietnamese and Thai language services are surging recently. But there are not many volunteers for these languages,'' Seo said. ``We really need people who can speak Vietnamese or Thai.'' franck muller replica watches

If any foreigners encounter communicative problems with Koreans, they just need to call 1588-5644 (no area code is necessary). Then they will be connected to one of the bbb volunteer interpreters.

``Before Babel'' means the time before the construction of the Tower of Babel, when myth says all people spoke the same language, while ``Brigade'' means a group of people organized for a specific purpose.

Source: The above article appeared in the Korea Times in November 2009

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