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    Languages and cultural knowledge in development programmes

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*** Please note that 'The Listening Zones of NGOs' project has now come to an end. If you want to be kept informed of further outputs and news related to the project, please join our Facebook group at, keep track of our Twitter handle @ListeningZones, or contact the Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator directly (contact details below). ***

final report

You can download our final project report for international NGOs and donors here:

Final conference

How to respect communities in International Development work: Languages and cultural understanding

27th June 2018, Senate House, University of London.

Check the conference programme of this event.  Watch the panel recordings on YouTube.

Latest news

  • A written question on the report of the Listening Zones project was tabled by Baroness Coussins in House of Lords. Read the answer from the Department of International Development here.
  • Dr Angela Crack and Dr Wine Tesseur hosted a free Webinar on the findings of the project for the Scottish-Malawi Partnership and the Scotland's International Development Alliance on 6 December 2018. Watch the recording of the webinar here.


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Read about the project

The University of Reading, with the University of Portsmouth and the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC), Oxford, have received funding from the AHRC for a major three-year project (2015-2018) on The Listening Zones of NGOs: languages and cultural knowledge in development programmes.

Language issues do not tend to have a high profile within NGOs. Discussions at previous workshops, held at the University of Reading and at Aston University, brought together academics and NGO practitioners and have highlighted the challenges the sector faces in using foreign languages in their work. Foreign language policies are often not in place, and funding for translation and interpreting needs tends to be limited. Moreover, evaluative processes usually omit references to languages.

The Listening Zones project aims to explore the role that languages and cultural knowledge play in the policies and practices of development NGOs. It focuses on some of the key issues highlighted by NGO practitioners at the Reading and Aston workshops, including:

  • languages and power relations in the development process
  • organisational awareness of languages and language policies
  • language provision, including working with translators and interpreters
  • communicating with key audiences and partners

The project aims to raise the profile and importance of foreign languages and cultural knowledge in development and to produce practical outputs which are of use to the NGO sector, language practitioners, and academics in International Relations, Development Studies, and languages and translation research.

The Listening Zones of NGOs is designed as an active partnership between academic disciplines and practitioners and aims to increase collaboration and discussion between these groups. Workshops, seminars, and an international conference will be organised to discuss results of the project, present suggestions and receive feedback. Updates on these events will be posted under  below.

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Meet the project team

The Listening Zones project brings together researchers from different backgrounds, creating an interdisciplinary research environment.

Professor Hilary FootittProfessor Hilary Footitt (University of Reading)

Professor Hilary Footitt is the project supervisor and mainly has experience in languages research.

Dr Wine TesseurDr Wine Tesseur (University of Reading)

Dr Wine Tesseur is the research assistant and mainly has experience in languages research.

Dr Angela CrackDr Angela Crack (University of Portsmouth)

Dr Angela Crack is the co-investigator and is an international relations specialist.

Vicky-BrehmVicky Brehm (INTRAC)

Vicky Brehm is the project's research associate. Her background is in strategic research for INTRAC.


Carmen Delgado Luchner (University of Geneva)                                                             

Dr Carmen Delgado Luchner is a visiting post-doctoral researcher at the University of Reading with experience in interpreting research.

Advisory board members include

  • Professor Christina Schaeffner (Aston University)
  • Professor Barbara Moser-Mercer (InZone project, University of Geneva)
  • Linda Fitchett (President of AIIC, Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence)
  • Professor Jeanine Treffers-Daller (Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism, University of Reading)
  • Dr. Julie Gilson (University of Birmingham)
  • Dr. Vanessa Pupavac (University of Nottingham)
  • Professor Tony Chafer (Centre for European and International Studies Research, University of Portsmouth)
  • Rachel Hayman (Head of Research, INTRAC)
  • Helen Machin (Translations Editor, Tearfund)
  • Kate Bingley (Co-Head of Research, Evidence & Learning, Christian Aid)
  • Taitos Matafeni (Head of Impact, Innovation and Evidence, Save the Children UK)

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Research approach

In development programmes, NGOs traditionally position themselves as listening attentively to the voices of the beneficiaries and local communities with whom they work. Despite the fact that this relationship is normally presented by NGOs as a meeting in which local communities speak, and NGOs hear, the role of foreign languages in these encounters passes largely unnoticed.

The lack of systematic study of foreign languages in development work has encouraged the project to focus on the ways in which NGOs listen to their beneficiaries, and the language policies and practices that they adopt.

This project aims to interrogate the frameworks within which development NGOs listen to their local communities, and the role which languages and cultural knowledge play in this listening. It starts from the premise that NGOs create 'Listening Zones' which, like Apter's 'Translating Zones' (2006), are shaped by multiple actors, and by the particular local contexts of NGO activity.

As an initial step in exploring the role of foreign languages in the development dynamic, the project focuses on four large and well-established UK-based development NGOs.

The project will ask five research questions:

  • Which actors (NGO international staff, in-country staff, staff of partner organisations, local communities, language intermediaries, donors) shape the Listening Zones?
  • What role do languages and cultural knowledge play in this shaping?
  • What are the language policies and practices adopted?
  • How do these policies and practices shape power relationships on the ground?
  • How have the characteristics of the Listening Zones changed over time?

Three main sources of data will be worked with: NGO and donor archives and documentation, semi-structured interviews, and ethnographic observations in each case study area.

previous workshops and resources

Previous workshop organised at the University of Reading and at Aston University have addressed the lack of systematic study of foreign language use at NGOs and charities. These workshops were set up as opportunities for academics and NGO practitioners to meet and exchange ideas on knowledge gaps and research needs in these organisations, and to discuss how universities could assist in answering these needs.



  •  'Translating development' seminar, 12 October 2017, Senate House, London. A free seminar co-convened by INTRAC, the University of Reading and the University of Portsmouth, with the support of the IMLR. Click here for the full agenda and here for our pre-circulated note to participants.

- Read Hilary Footitt's blog post reporting on the event on the IMLR's website.

- Watch the video recording of Panel 1 'Translators in development NGOs' with: Alberto Sanz Martins (Translations manager, Oxfam GB), Jessica Matthews (Internal communications officer, Family for Every Child), Patricia Sommer (Freelance translator), Verity Leonard Hill (Translations manager, Save the Children).

- Read the report in the ITI Bulletin (Oct-Nov 2017) by translator Marga Burke-Lowe.

  • 'Listening, Power and Inclusion: Languages in Development NGOs', 2 November 2016, SOAS, London. Read the report.
  •  'Translating in Danger Zones seminar series', A series of six free seminars held at the University of Reading that explores translation and interpreting in a variety of global socio-political contexts, presented by practitioners and researchers.

     Click here for the full programme and abstracts. Watch the recordings of the talks.



  • 'Why are languages missing from the Sustainable Development Goals?', blog post by Wine Tesseur (August 2017)
  • 'Towards a ‘Listening Organisation’? Listening, power and languages in international development NGOs', blog post by Vicky Brehm (April 2017)
  • Read Vicky Brehm's blog post on the Listening, Power and Inclusion workshop held at SOAS on 2 November 2016 (Dec 2016)
  • Read Wine Tesseur's article in the ITI Bulletin November-December 2015 (PDF).
  • Read Vicky Brehm's first blog post outlining the project (July 2015).

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