‘Meat’ the experts

We spent some time talking to Martyna Malasinska, Polish language interpreter, and Natalia Zuican, Romanian language interpreter, on the trials and tribulations of communication amongst staff for whom English isn’t their first language and the benefits of getting it right.

Having translated for Blakemans for 10 years behind the scenes, Martyna and Natalia have recently agreed to come to work on site, directly with the Polish and Romanian workers, for 20 hours per week, becoming part of the Blakemans work family. The idea being that they will help out with all communications throughout the factory, from training, occupational health assessments, general communications & HR functions initially, moving on to providing English classes to anyone working at Blakemans who feels that they would benefit from them in the long term. Jane Selman, Head of HR at James. T. Blakeman said “I feel that this is a really positive step in supporting our fantastic Polish and Romanian colleagues and another way that we continue to make Blakemans a great place to work.”

Martyna Malasinska

Natalia Zuican

Q; Hi, it’s lovely to finally meet you both. Can you tell me a little about yourselves?

M: Yeah, sure. It’s funny; I visited Biddulph in 1992 when I was young, with my mum, an English teacher. We have family there. I remembered visiting Toys ‘r’ Us and being absolutely amazed by it, back home, we were just coming out of a communist regime and I’d never seen anything like it. When I came back to the UK to live, I moved to Bournemouth, which had a completely different vibe to Biddulph. I met my husband in 1999 in Poland. After uni he moved to live in London and then to Stoke to work and I moved to be with him in 2011. It was like going full circle, as if I was meant to live here all along. When I moved here, I was walking one day and noticed a Karate school. I had practiced Karate for a long time and was in need of work so I popped in to ask if they needed an instructor. The owner and his wife immediately said yes. They were so kind and friendly, the definition of Stokies. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and those hearts were made of gold. They have now retired and the business is sadly closed but they still gave me a 2 page glowing reference when I asked them. I’m still in Stoke 10 years on; it is the people of the city that make it a nice place to be.

N: I came to the UK in 2012. By 2014 I was working at a recruitment agency in Bolton. We had to find skilled workers form all over Europe for jobs in the UK.  We had to organise their whole lives ready for their move, from travel to accommodation, which honed my communication and interpersonal skills as well as teaching me to perform well under pressure. The job meant that I travelled a lot around the UK. I then became an account manager for recruitment agency KPI in Crewe, where I spent a lot of my time recruiting and training people as well as translating documents for both the employers and employees in my charge to name but a few of my functions in the role. In 2019 I tried to utilise my background in law from Romania when I started to work as a litigation assistant for express solicitors. The legal systems are totally different in the UK, so it was like starting from scratch again. All of these experiences have added strings to my bow and through hard work and determination I have managed to improve both myself and my skill set.


Q: How long have you both been working with Blakemans now?

M: I have been translating for Blakemans remotely since 2013. I had my first visit to site in 2014. An employee who knew me asked me to come into a meeting with her.

N: I have been translating for Blakemans for around 2 years now, although I only came in to meet them all for the first time a month ago.


Q: What are the trickiest parts of interpreting and translating?

M: I’d say that it is understanding what is being said, using the language, the culture and the vocabulary and then understanding the same of the language that you are translating it into so that you can adjust the wording.

N: Yes, it is more like interpreting than translating. If you look at Google translate, it will translate what you put in word for word and a lot of the time it does not make any sense when you get the result. We interpret what is being said, so it is not a word for word translation but is communicating the message more clearly.


Q: How does working on documents from home and live, in person translation differ?

M: They are both quite different. When I’m working on documents remotely, I’m at home, relaxed and time flies, it’s fun and I can check everything before I send it. In person communication is also fun but it can be challenging to translate what someone is saying in real time. It’s a lot of information to go through to understand what someone is saying and interpret that into another language, where you often have to consider the cultural differences in the languages and alter what is being said and adjusting the vocabulary so that it make it makes sense to both parties.  2 or 3 hours is the limit for real-time interpreting as it takes a lot of concentration.

N: It is nice to have a balance between in person and remote working. I agree with Martyna that interpreting takes a lot of concentration when considering the cultural differences that you have to navigate between the languages.


Q: What do you think will be the main benefits for our Polish and Romanian colleagues in having you both on site regularly?

M: Being on site more often is already having a positive effect for me. When I used to come in at one time, my visits were associated with being in trouble but now that I’m here for more purposes, everyone is much more relaxed.

N: I think that the Polish and Romanian workers will feel more confident to take on new roles, to complete training and to express themselves in their own mother tongue.

M: Yes, culturally, there can be a bit of a fear of embarrassment in some cases. People who can speak English may be worried about doing so in case they say something wrong. It stems from teasing in school days in a lot of cases. So to be able to express yourself freely and be understood correctly will be comforting in a lot of cases.

N: Especially when we move on to providing English lessons. Those who are afraid to get it wrong in the real world will be able to practice English speaking in the class and will hopefully be able to use their language skills with confidence.


Q: Have your skills come in handy in other ways since working with Blakemans?

M: Yes, Since Brexit, I have been called upon to aid with import and export declarations on a number of occasions and so I have completed training on customs compliance level 3 & level 4 and am now a customs agent as well as an interpreter. There are around 650 separate documents required for 1 truck load of meat. This training helped me to assist Blakemans with importing onions.

N: Although many of the staff have assimilated with English ways (even those who don’t speak the language) there have been a number of occasions where we have been able to assist in soothing tensions when cultural differences between staff have been misunderstood as rude.


Q: What are your thoughts on having a close relationship with Blakemans?

N: It’s great; it’s a nice company to work for. They really care about all of their staff, which is evident in them having us on site regularly. They are always looking at improvements that they can make with the best interests of their staff at heart and I’m glad that I will get to be a part of that.

M: Blakemans have always gone above and beyond to look after their employees, making sure that they are happy and well looked after. I once sent my husband to a meeting in my place, when I couldn’t make it (he is an English literature bachelor) and I think he hit the nail on the head when he said what a nice company they are and that they care too much about their people at times. What you see is what you get with the people of Blakemans. They’re a very friendly and approachable bunch of knowledgeable and enthusiastic people and I’m really pleased to be able to support both the company and their Polish employees on site, in person.