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Language no legal barrier

Gawith Burridge Lawyers’ multi-lingual staff, from left, Charlotte Albagnac [Portuguese, Spanish], Marta Wojcikowski [Polish], Debbie van Zyl [Afrikaans, German], Christin Schetter [German], Jennifer Bauer [Mandarin, Japanese], Shahla Siddiqui [Farsi] – and they all also speak English. PHOTO/JUDY WAGG

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Could this be Wairarapa’s most multi-lingual law firm?

Just six staff members at Gawith Burridge Lawyers speak a total of nine different languages between them – Farsi, Mandarin, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Polish, Afrikaans and English.

For most, English is not their first language.

Brazilian-born legal executive Charlotte Albagnac grew up speaking both her country’s native Portuguese and Spanish.

“My mother’s Brazilian and my father Chilean,” she said.

Moving to New Zealand four years ago without any English was hard at first, she said.

“With time, I’ve learnt more. I’m able to express myself better.”

Fellow legal executive Shahla Siddiqui agreed.

Growing up in the United States speaking only Farsi, was “hard” she said.

Practice manager Marta Wojcikowski moved to New Zealand when she was seven years old.

Her Polish parents encouraged her to keep using her native language at home, something she is grateful for now.

“I found my mum always wanted me to speak Polish at home. She would really emphasise the point.

“For a while it was embarrassing because it was a point of difference.”

She said it was a case of “use it or lose it”, though.

Solicitor Christin Schetter grew up speaking German in her native Bavaria.

She agreed with Wojcikowksi, and said it was hard to keep up with other languages with New Zealand so distant.

“New Zealand is so isolated that one doesn’t get much of a chance to speak other languages.”

She’s found her German has come in handy around the office though.

“I once had some German-speaking clients and helped with some documents. It would be handy to have another German-speaking lawyer.”

She’s encouraged her children to use the language but admits it’s more of a mixture of the two.

South African-born partner Debbie van Zyl grew up in an Afrikaans household and has passed the language on to her children here.

“My children both know Afrikaans and they know they must speak it to me.”

For Wairarapa woman Jennifer Bauer, learning Mandarin and Japanese was something she had to work at.

The administrator started learning Japanese in primary school – the Masterton Intermediate School exchange helped her to grow her vocabulary even more.

“It was just something I was interested in,” she said.

Learning Mandarin was not so difficult as there were some similarities between the two.

“Some of the characters in Japanese originated in China – some words look similar. It’s grammatically quite tricky though.”

The multilingual staff are divided between offices in Masterton and Martinborough.


  1. What about Te Reo Maori? Could anyone in your office converse with me in Te Reo? I presume you have Maori clients? What do you do for Maori? You’re so lucky to have been able to keep and save your native languages. I like that you’ve taken a moment to acknowledge your languages and to feel grateful you still have them. I can only imagine speaking my native language freely.

  2. But no one can speak te reo
    Pretty sad to be speaking any other language but our countries native tongue

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