language fact file: Punjabi

Spoken in: India and Pakistan.

Number of native speakers: 113 million.

Learn some: The general greeting, which you can use at any time of day, is ‘sat sri akaal’.

Fast facts:

  • The region where Punjabi originates is called Punjab, which means ‘five rivers’: panj means five, aab means water. This refers to the rivers Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi and Sutlej, which give the region its incredibly fertile land, making it now as the wheat bowl of India.
  • Punjab is where the Sikh religion was founded in the 15th century. It is home to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site for Sikhs. Included in the temple is a huge langar hall, a place where hundreds are fed for free every day.
  • Punjabi people have a reputation for being fun, lively and hospitable. An important word in the language is masti, which means 'intoxicated with life'.

the linguist's story - Parmjit Butler

Tell us about the work you do for TLS.

I am a freelance interpreter working for TLS. I have varied roles, from doing face to face, telephone and teams online meetings.

What's been your favourite project at TLS?

No one project – my favourite thing is the variety of meetings and calls I have to interpret.

What has been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge I would say is interpreting personal matters of clients, knowing they are going through challenging, stressful times and having wellbeing issues. It can become hard to switch off at times.

Can you tell us about a time your work has made a difference to someone’s life?

A few days ago I had to interpret for a young lady who was going through a very difficult domestic violence issue at home, and just to hear in her voice that she could speak out and somebody was going to listen and be her voice so she could try and get the support she needed... She was so thankful for me to be on that phone line.

Tell us something interesting about you.

I was born in England but my first language growing up at home was Punjabi, as my mother didn’t speak any English. I wish I had started interpreting a lot sooner in life, as I get a lot of joy from helping to speak for people with language needs. I feel as if I finally have found my forever job.

What are your ambitions for the next 12 months?

My ambition for the next 12 months is to work as hard as I can doing what I love. I get such a great sense of achievement doing this. I want to try and start doing some voluntary work too.

Session on cultural competency a big hit

We recently contributed to a training day, helping NHS staff to work in a culturally competent way with linguists. The training was delivered by Central and North West London NHS Trust Community Development Manager, Michelle Poponne, who is conducting a piece of work with the BME Health Forum on the subject.

On the day, the BME Health Forum gave a presentation, covering topics such as:

  • Understanding differences in dialects – not all Arabic, for example, is the same.
  • The importance of booking the right interpreter for the patient.
  • Why the TLS bookings team will sometimes check if there are interpreter groups that a patient would prefer not to work with, for geo-political reasons.
  • Why some service users do not want to have translators from their own community and why this could cause patients to disengage.

TLS supported the presentation and explained:

  • The services we offer.
  • How to book an interpreter.
  • Best practice when working with an interpreter.

Customers who attended found the session informative and useful, one commenting: “I learnt so much from you both. I certainly believe it has helped the team to understand how vitally important it is that we get it right when requesting and working with interpreters, how best to access the interpreting service and how important it is to really listen to our patient’s needs.”

If your organisation is planning to run a session on interpreting, equality and diversity or accessibility, we are happy to help incorporate communication support into it. Speak to your account manager in the first instance.

How your views have changed VISTA

We launched our new VISTA bookings system in November last year and the reception has been very positive. But here at TLS we strive for continuous improvement! That’s why we have invited feedback on the system from all our customers.
 We’re so grateful that many of you took the time to reach out, and are delighted to say that we have incorporated the following new features as a direct result of your comments:

  1. A new way to sign-up to fast-track registration is by providing a registered colleague’s email.
  2. Advanced search features to enable users to filter by language and service type.
  3. When creating a new booking, users can now specify whether they would like to be offered an alternative service type, if we are unable to offer the original request type.
  4. If booking on behalf of someone else, bookers can now add a contact email in addition to the requester. This person will receive all the necessary information directly. This cuts down on administrative tasks and streamlines communication about bookings.

Keep them coming! If you have any more feedback on VISTA, please get in touch by emailing

Your month ahead - important upcoming dates for your calendar

On the calendar

1 February – Time to Talk Day

Mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness launched Time to Talk Day to encourage us all to talk more about mental health and harness the real benefits of chatting – something many of us can get behind! 

Freeing mental health problems from stigma is an important step in getting everyone the help they need, but it is only part of the answer. We know that many of your service users have profound mental health needs, and we provide specialist interpreters where those needs are compounded by communication barriers. 

Make your interactions count

How do you connect with a patient when you can’t talk directly to them? TLS will never assign you an interpreter without the specialist skills for this work, but there are a number of ways to make your meetings more effective and comfortable.

  • Ask your interpreter for a brief pre-meeting chat so you can share any relevant information, such as cultural norms around mental health. When the interpreter and provider work together as a team, the outcome is often improved for the patient. 
  • Never leave the interpreter alone with the service user. This is for their safety as well as to avoid any blurring of the boundaries in their role. 
  • Factor in some time for a debrief with the interpreter. As during a mental health appointment, it’s not just the words used but the way they are used that is important, a post-appointment debrief will give you both the chance to talk about how things were said, eg any peculiarities of speech.


In your diary

LGBT+ at Work Conference - Diversity and Inclusion Leaders (

Inclusion, Equity & Diversity - beyond box ticking. Tickets, Tue 6 Feb 2024 at 09:30 | Eventbrite


February’s dates at a glance


2 – Imbolc/Candlemas, Wicca and Pagan 

3 – Setsunbun-sai, Shinto

7 – Lailat al-Miraj, Islam

10 – Losar begins, Buddhist Lunar New Year Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist

13 – Shrove Tuesday, Christian

14 – Ash Wednesday (start of Lent), Christian Valentine’s Day, Christian Vasant Panchami, Hindu, Sikh and Jain

15 – Nirvana Day, Buddhist

18 – Zacchaeus Sunday, Orthodox Christian

22 – Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Catholic Christian

24 – Magha Puja, Buddhist

25 – Triodion begins, Orthodox Christian Lailat al Bara’ah, Islam

26-29 – Intercalary days, Baha’i

Awareness and events

1-29 LGBT+ History Month

1 – World Hijab Day

1 – Time To Talk Day

1-7 – World Interfaith Harmony Week

4 – World Cancer Day 

5-11 – UK Race Equality Week

5-11 – Children’s Mental Health Week

6 – International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation 

6 – Safer Internet Day 

11 – International Day of Women and Girls in Science 

12 – Red Hand Day for Child Soldiers

15 – International Childhood Cancer Day

17 – World Human Spirit Day 

20 – World Day of Social Justice

Language News Multi Cultural

In other news: stories from the language industry and beyond

US study reveals that language-based discrimination limits access to mental health services

A recent study in California showed the implications of not offering language support on access to mental health care. Using the example of Spanish, a very widely spoken language in California, the study demonstrated how difficult it was for service users to receive good quality care if they were not fluent in English. One of the report’s key findings was for interpreters to be included in healthcare planning as well as delivery. 

UK Parliament Q&A on the Accessible Information Standard for public sector health providers

In December, MP for Crawley, Henry Smith, asked the Commons about levels of compliance with the Accessible Information Standard, a way of ensuring access to healthcare for those with communication needs. Click on the link above to read the response by MP Maria Caulfield, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health and Social Care). 

And finally…

Lost in translation! Tourists share signs they spotted on holiday that didn't quite cross the language barrier 

Machine translation has come a long way, but this article about mistranslations spotted on holiday is a hilarious demonstration of how far it still has to go! Knowledge is powder…

Sign language bsl

Language fact file: British Sign Language (BSL)

Number of native users: There are more than 87,000 Deaf users, from a total of 151,000 users. (source: British Deaf Association)

Learn some: The easiest way to communicate with a Deaf person using BSL is to finger spell words. Have a go using the RNID BSL Guide:

Fast facts:

  • Signing between deaf and hearing people has been around for hundreds of years. The first recorded use of it in the UK is in 1324, when a deaf man named John de Orleton used signs to formally transfer property rights to a family member. 
  • BSL is the fourth most widely used language in the UK. However, just as with spoken languages, there are regional accents, so users from different parts of the country might find each other harder to understand! 
  • Although we usually think of hand gestures when we talk about sign language, BSL also uses facial expressions and body language. It has its own grammatical structures, which do not mirror those of the spoken language at all. 

The Language Shop provides BSL interpreting. Ask your account manager if you would like more information.

Sign language bsl

The Linguist’s Story

Every month, we get to know a bit more about one of our linguists. This month, meet Sarah Meeks, who is a British Sign Language interpreter.

Sarah, tell us about the work you do for TLS. 


"I work as a British Sign Language interpreter so I attend meetings/medical appointments, do stage work at events etc and a bit of performance interpreting too."


What's been your favourite project at TLS? 


"My favourite booking was when a Deaf mother went into labour and a team of interpreters from TLS were on call for a week to see her through labour and delivery. Even though it was very hard work staying awake all night through the labour, being part of someone's magical journey of childbirth was an absolute honour. I'd like to say she named the baby after me but... haha!"


What has been your biggest challenge?


"It's always very hard when you have to interpret bad news. I do a lot of medical and I remember being in an ultrasound once with deaf parents who were told their baby had a hole in the brain and was not expected to live. That was heart wrenching and emotional but you have to be professional and deliver the message in the way the doctor intended, but always with empathy."


Can you tell us about a time your work has made a difference to someone’s life? 


"I remember another medical booking with a man who was taking too many vitamin tablets and his potassium was so high they needed to drain his blood and give him daily blood transfusions immediately. It was very scary having to make sure I was interpreting correctly and to ensure that the Deaf person was understanding what the doctor was saying. I had built up a good relationship with the patient and although he was not a native BSL user and English was his third language, I was able to explain the complexity of the problem to him using visual vernacular. I asked him to relate it back to me so that I was assured that he fully understood. It was a shock to both of us that his life was in danger - the appointment had been a seemingly innocuous blood test but that appointment literally saved his life and he was so grateful to me for helping him understand everything. Often Deaf patients go to appointments and it's 50/50 whether an interpreter will be there. There is a big shortage of interpreters at the moment especially for face to face bookings so I was really proud that my work that day helped to save his life."


Tell us something interesting about you. 


"I play women's baseball and was one of the first players to train with Great Britain before having my children. I have travelled the world and I used to be a DJ!"


What are your ambitions for the next 12 months? 


"To get back into baseball when my 18 month daughter finally sleeps through the night, and to buy land and build my own home."


Book one of our BSL interpreters online now!

TLS Christmas Message 2023

As we look back over another year together, I am filled with appreciation for our customers and the TLS team. 

What a challenging year it has been! Our country and the world continue to suffer from the effects of the global pandemic, wars and the resulting economic pressures we now face. The cost of living crisis has put even more pressure on the public sector, and our customers and communities are having to make difficult decisions daily to deliver the best outcomes they can. Many in our communities face increased intolerance from a hostile political atmosphere. 

Mindful of these challenges, I am proud that we have all done our bit to make the world a better place during this time. You, our customers, have continued to prioritise accessibility and inclusion for your service users. The TLS team has pulled together to overcome financial pressures and continue to put people with communication needs at the heart of what we do. 

While it seems prices everywhere are going up, we have kept ours steady by streamlining internal systems, investing in technology for improved quality and responsiveness and launching our money-saving remote video interpreting service in spoken and sign languages.

TLS customers will know that we stay true to our strong ethical foundations, even during difficult times. This year, we have delivered social outcomes by sponsoring bi-lingual residents to gain an accredited interpreting qualification. We have also developed and delivered a brand new system for Bettertogether, whose Shared Lives service provides long term care for people in our community.

Together in 2023 we achieved extraordinary things, and we are committed to making an even bigger difference in 2024. 

We have exciting plans to share with you over the coming months, so keep reading your Monthly View to stay up to date. On the agenda so far is a new assessment framework for language professionals, sharing and providing training and guidance across a range of equality and diversity related themes and focusing on how we can deliver even better value for money. 

On behalf of the whole team, I would like to thank you for your continued support. Rounding off this unprecedented year, I wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday and hope that 2024 brings you and all your loved ones a healthy and happy year.

- Jaimin Patel, Managing Director.


Specialised training keeps linguists in top condition

The importance of quality language support in medical settings is in the news, but at tls it is always high on the agenda. We are proud to provide linguists who are specialised and experienced in supporting health care bookings of all kinds. 

To keep our interpreters at the top of their game, we recently joined forces with our partners in the NHS North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT) to hold a free training day for our interpreters. 

The aim of the event was to equip interpreters with strategies for clinical encounters, share good practice, improve accessibility for patients and service users and improve quality of care by minimising interpreting errors. 

The trainees shared glowing feedback: “Thank you for a wonderful conference. I can’t believe such quality has been delivered for no cost!” said Helen Merry, a BSL interpreter. Arabic interpreter, Abdulrahman Heidari, commented: “Thank you for holding such a training session, other agencies don't have such events” and Folasade Okunade, a Yoruba interpreter, said: “This is a brilliant program, hoping to attend more trainings in future”.

Book one of our interpreters online now.