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Language & Human Rights | Language Intersection Insights with Lucio Bagnulo

JNCL-NCLIS Insights: Language at the Intersection

About the Episode:

JNCL-NCLIS is proud to introduce the third interview in our Language at the Intersection Insights series. Lucio Bagnulo, the Head of Translation and Language Strategy at Amnesty International, will help us explore the intersection of language and human rights, as well as how multilingualism moves his world.

Visit to explore more language intersections and learn more about this series!

The transcript for the episode can be found below.



Amanda Seewald (00:09):

Hello, and welcome to the "JNCL-NCLIS Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series, where we talk with professionals from many fields to hear their perspectives on how multilingualism moves our world. The Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies proudly presents this series with generous sponsorship support from Vista Higher Learning. I'm Amanda Seewald, current president of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies, JNCL-NCLIS, and today we introduce you to Lucio Bagnulo, Head of Translation and Language Strategy at Amnesty International, who will help us explore the intersection of language and human rights, and how multilingualism moves his world.

Lucio Bagnulo (01:02):

Hello, hello everyone. My name is Lucio Bagnulo I'm the International Head of Translation and Language Strategy. So my language intersection is language and human rights. I'm fortunate enough to wake up every single day knowing that, thanks to my work and the work of my team, Amnesty International's all important messages will get far. Since Amnesty translation function is a powerful organizational catalyst for inclusive and effective communication, as well as a key contributor to achieving greater human rights impact worldwide. So in the end, yes, strategic role of translation contributes to challenging human rights abuses, bringing hope to their victims, and empowering human rights holders in their own language in their own words.

Amanda Seewald (01:50):

So let me ask you a question, how do you use multiple languages in your daily life and in your work specifically?

Lucio Bagnulo (01:59):

So I, first of all, I mean, I have a bilingual family. I mean, I'm Italian. My partner, she's Spanish, and we are trying to raise a bilingual child. So that's for starters. But, I mean, besides that, besides the private life, I'm lucky enough to work for an international NGO and the work in languages, I use on a daily basis. Of course, you know, there is no Italian in my daily, you know, working life, but there is Spanish French and English. So actually I couldn't do my work without, you know, using multiple languages. So it's a very key aspect of my job as well.

Amanda Seewald (02:40):

The next question that I have for you and I, you know, I'm curious as to what you see when you think about how language, and you described that language impacts the ability of Amnesty International to share its message, can you give us a specific example of how that works? Of how the services that you provide and the strategy that you create for Amnesty International actually has an impact on the end objective?

Lucio Bagnulo (03:06):

Yeah, for example, whenever a new campaign is, you know, thought of very, you know, starting stage of the thinking process, we try to work with campaigners or researchers, and try to think how important would be what languages would be important to translate into in order to not just to you know, have an impact as a high level at focus, the, you know, UN or EU, et cetera. But also to make sure that the message gets to the people who have to understand what's going on in their country and can be, or can feel empowered to take action as well. Or even to other, you know other countries closer to the country where human rights violation are perpetrated, they can learn and they can only learn if of course the message, or the report or type of output is in their language.

Lucio Bagnulo (4:06):

So we don't have just to think of English, you know, as a lingua franca. Or French, or, you know, the mainstream languages as they're called. But many times we do translate into many local or underrepresented languages as well. Because I think that there cannot be a more powerful tool than enabling people to understand what's going on in their country and take action from within the country as well. Of course, we have also to consider that sometimes there are governments, which don't allow, you know, this information to go, to get in. But then what's powerful there is that other countries or other, for example, international members who are not located in the country can also take action and they can take action in their own language. I think that's just the power of language really. And access. The power of access to language, or that language gives.

Lucio Bagnulo (5:10):

So that's, that's a bit what happens at Amnesty, and also what I'm trying to also to work on is to try to actually evaluate and monitor the contributional impact of language. So many times, you know, not many times, but almost on an annual basis, Amnesty does a report, an impact report. And the mention of languages is there, but not as much as, you know, one would think because Amnesty invests a lot in languages and in translation and interpreting, et cetera. So I'm trying to gather more information, more about that, and to make sure that language features in those impact reports, because I think it's absolutely a catalyst for change. A change that Amnesty brings, but also an enhancer, a contributor to a greater human right impact worldwide, for sure.

Amanda Seewald (06:10):

That is such an important statement that you've just made. And I'm so thrilled that we'll be able to share that. So thank you for that. But certainly one of the biggest challenges we face is to, is both in our educational system here in the United States, but also in our legislative system to help people understand that monolingualism is not the way, you know, of course, growing up in Europe, you have a totally different perspective here. Yeah. All of us, every attendee we have is either a language educator or an interpreter, or someone who owns a business that is focused on language, education, or language publishing. And when you look at that, you're preaching to the choir there. But I guess what, what I'd like you to think about, maybe if you could say something about is if you could tell students or people in like Gen Z or, you know, people who are getting ready to go to school, or, you know, why even if you're studying engineering or you're studying business, or you're studying anything else to do with government or political science, why is it so essential from your perspective as someone who works in human rights and in language access, why is it so essential that no matter what you're studying language is an essential component and multilingualism.

Lucio Bagnulo (07:18):

Yeah, well, multilingualism, yes is absolutely an essential component that what I would say to them is that first of all, you know, it would create more opportunities thinking of work, working opportunities because they would be, or feel more comfortable you know, speaking and, and working in different languages. And with that it also comes mobility. I mean, in Europe, for example, in my experience, it's very easy to, or more or less easy to go from one country to the other. If you speak the language and you don't have the, you know, if you speak the language fluently, at least you don't have that sense of, you know, to be inferior or not to be understood et cetera. And some something I would also tell them is that I think we have to stop what they, everyone needs to stop considering multilingualism as a threat, for example, to national identity or a barrier to inclusion as, as it's just the opposite to me, because what is actually a threat to national identity or barrier to inclusion is a lingua franca, for example, because many, many times a lingua franca is the result of colonialism or an imperialist past.

Lucio Bagnulo (8:35):

And if you don't, you know, master the lingua franca very well. Well, that's, that's not, you know, it's not an equalizer after all. So I would, I would recommend them to, to learn one or even two languages and to spend time in the country or with the community speaking that language, because it's the only way really to master the language and to understand, and to develop that sensitivity, which is many times used and useful in your daily work. And that's my experience. For example, I wouldn't be able to approach or coach different, you know, people from different backgrounds, if I hadn't spent time learning languages and cultures which are different to mine.

Amanda Seewald (09:23):

That's exactly the message that we're really trying to share. And I love what you said about how lingua franca can actually be the barrier when we're talking to legislators. And we're trying to get them to understand that it's not just an educational issue, that it's not just a, you know, question of identity, but it's also really when, when you come from the perspective of human rights and when you work with other people in different settings with different professional backgrounds in different parts of the world, the way you connect with them is through language. And I would think that in order to really facilitate the change in problem solving that needs to take place, can you talk a little bit about some of, some of that, you know, from the perspective of human rights and and maybe just thinking about, I mean, you have other people you work with at Amnesty who have different roles and all of that connects to these people around the world who are doing different things in different walks of professional life. So I think that that might be something interesting to talk about a little bit, if you feel like you can.

Lucio Bagnulo (10:26):

Yeah, absolutely. I would actually maybe try to make an example because I think it's very easy to understand, let's imagine you know access to health and, and let's think that you don't speak the language that, you know, everyone around you in the hospital speaks. And of course, you know, some hospital offer, you know, an interpreting service or interpretation service, et cetera, but still, it's not the same. That is to me a fundamental, you know, right as well because that person would always feel not the same as I would feel if I am a native speaker of for example of English or Italian in Italy, because I think it's, it's very important to understand that multilingualism and the importance of investing in multilingualism is at the core also of our economy.

Lucio Bagnulo (11:27):

So it shouldn't be, I think, be seen as a cost, which many times so often is seen as a cost, but actually as a possibility to actually foster our economy, because it would also create more skilled and open-minded welcoming society, which is created with a basis funded on human rights or rights of the people, you know, who work with us, who live with us, et cetera. So I think that would be a very clear example in the sense that, you know, if you cannot explain yourself when you go to a GP or to the hospital, and you need always all the time, someone who helps you out explain yourself, well, there is a problem per se, in my opinion. And I think we should be aware of that. And we should put ourselves in the shoes of those people and not just think of, you know, from a, how can I say, very fortunate, many times white people who are educated because we had the means to be educated in different languages or at least in my own language.

Lucio Bagnulo (12:40):

So I think we have to invest, or governments should, should know, should understand the importance of investing more in possibly free multilingual education, which also includes underrepresented languages, because after all speaking your own languages and human rights.

Amanda Seewald (12:57):

Thank you so much. I, I want just ask you, I mean, you've done so many things, and I, I'm thinking about, you know, the think global awards and some of the different things that it seems like you've been involved with. So your perspective on global issues, in addition to the idea of language access, which I think is a part of the issue of, you know, of like sustainable development and all of those pieces are. So I work a lot with sustainable, sustainable development goals in my educational work. And so when I think about some of the things that you've done here and how you're connecting language to these, I think it's so important. And I wondered if you want to say anything about that, about the, the connections that you've seen through think global and through some of the other work that you've done, even, you know, with regard to technology and real issues in the world. I just wanna know if you want to say anything else about that, because you're saying so many very important things, and I want to give you a chance to talk about your work and the things you've done. Yeah.

Lucio Bagnulo (13:49):

Yeah. Thank you. Well, I, what I always say is that, you know, we have to move away from our Northern Western mindset and think of applying languages to, in the way, or to meet the needs of our side of the world or our accordance of the world. Because many times, for example, what, I'm, what I face also, my daily job really is, you know, colleagues who don't, don't even think of, you know, that a certain use of language or a certain use of a technology associated to language would not work for example, in, in a remote village for a remote village of, of Africa or in Asia et cetera. So I think we have also, or no, always always to start from a completely different perspective and try to apply that knowledge or the knowledge we have to that reality, an example, we translated an output not so long ago into Krio, an African language and normal translation wouldn't work there because they don't have the means. You know, they don't have internet connection all the time. I mean, you have to think of villages or communities et cetera. And what we came up with is we knew that for example, WhatsApp or this type of message, you know, instant messaging et cetera, works very well. So we had a Krio speaker recording the translation, and then we disseminated that through WhatsApp and that adds a completely different, you know impact because we, we were able to still reach the community without using, you know, the usual northern and traditional translation, which you, you know, which you would have used in, I don't know, in Italy, France, or anyway, in the Northern countries. So I think, what I often realize is that in my daily work, I also have to educate, or I have the, you know, the duty to educate, but in a good way, in a positive way, really, even colleagues who have the same background as I have because, you know, we were privileged enough to be educated and to have the means to be educated.

Lucio Bagnulo (16:19):

But we have to, we have the duty to apply that knowledge to a different type of, you know, for a different type of objective and to explore that knowledge, to reach out to those communities almost need it, or need that message. And another thing that I realized is that with you know, with some experience, of course throughout the years, is that when it comes to human rights or the language of human rights, is a language. Which first of all, is very complicated and also is a language which was created again in the global north, so to say. Many times this vocabulary, or, is not really, does not even exist sometimes don't even exist in some languages, Asian, or African languages, or even, you know I don't know, Latin American, not Latin American in sense, but for example, Quechua et cetera, languages.

Lucio Bagnulo (17:24):

So I think we have to get closer to them with the language they can understand. And many times this is done through paraphrasing a concept, et cetera. So of course there needs to be, you know, high level advocacy, many times. And, you know, you have to be able to provide that level of service from a translation perspective, for example, but you also have to be able to provide another level of service, which then gets to the communities, because I think only if you join these two dots, you can have a change.

Amanda Seewald (17:57):

Thank you so much. Your take on this is just incredible. And I am so grateful for you for doing this!

Amanda Seewald (18:13):

That concludes today's featured story from our "Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series. For more information about the advocacy work of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, please visit To learn more about this interview series, hear stories from other professionals, and explore how language moves our world, visit Thank you to our interviewees for sharing their stories, thank you to our series sponsors Vista Higher Learning, and thank you all for listening.

This series is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Vista Higher Learning. To learn more, please visit

_____________________________ About JNCL-NCLIS: Established in 1972, the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) unites a national network of leading organizations and businesses comprised of over 300,000 language professionals to advocate for equitable language learning opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language. Contact:

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