Translators and Interpreters to the Rescue

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Translators and Interpreters to the Rescue

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Bilingva translates Coronavirus materials

Language pros instrumental to healthcare delivery during coronavirus pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for translators and interpreters on a global scale. According to various estimates, some 7,000 languages are spoken around the globe today. When it comes to global events, the question becomes, how do you quickly reach all of humanity in their own languages?

From updates issued by the CDC and similar agencies, to graphic representations of a particular nation’s state of the pandemic, the urgency with which document translation services became indispensable was unprecedented. The accuracy of the translation of stay-at-home orders and the explanation of social distancing rules and mask wearing determine the future health of communities.

Unpreparedness Exposed in Crisis

According to Statista, as of April 2020, 59% of the world’s population had access to the internet. That means that 41% of the population – some 3.1 billion people – can’t google their symptoms and have to rely on their doctor and a public information campaign for information.

Many localities were simply unprepared: in Mendocino County, California, where 25% of the population are Latinos (with 40% of the Covid cases identified as Latino), information for the county was initially disseminated in English only. An advocacy group had to step in to provide translation of materials to the monolingual Spanish speakers. The State of Texas, which also disseminated information in English only, faced a similar problem, as a third of its residents speak a language other than English.

Spreading Info, Dispelling Myths

Translators are more important than ever: they are the ones who explain how Covid-19 works and how it is transmitted, what the symptoms are and how it affects the body, what steps each sick person should take, and much more. As more information becomes available, updates to what we already know – or thought we knew – is in the hands of translation companies working with multiple languages.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Alhanom Ghebreyesus warned at an expert meeting in mid-February that “we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” with fake news that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.” To tackle this, the WHO created Myth Buster info sheets that have been translated into at least 60 languages.

Bridging Communities to Decisions Makers and Medical Providers

From telemedicine to infosheets to radio programs, translators and interpreters have proven to be essential to spreading up-to-date, accurate information about the pandemic. Helping doctors communicate with patients and governments communicate with their constituents and nonprofits communicate with the often-vulnerable populations they help. Telemedicine has increasingly begun to rely on remote interpreting to connect the doctor and the patient via an interpreter, without an actual visit. 

Imperfections of Machine Translation

The Texas Tribune has reported that of Texas’s 10 biggest cities (by population size), only eight have the option of translating the website into another language, and most rely on an automatic translator such as Google Translate.

While Google Translate is available in 100+ languages, it has its limitations and can produce erroneous translations – the cost of which is too high when it comes to matters of public health and safety. Even when accurate, translation may not be culturally appropriate – as part of translating is also understanding the culture of the society or community where the language is spoken. That is why a translation agency is often the better choice – especially in a serious situation when medical or legal translation is needed.

The Case for New Zealand…and the Rest of the World

Many studies have shown that intercultural, multilingual communication in healthcare is of utmost importance; without proper translation and interpreting, consequences for communities can be devastating. New Zealand, which successfully locked its borders and kept its populace safe, reacted by issuing information in the government Covid site in 28 languages. However, the nation, which has a population of almost five million, is home to speakers 160 languages. 

There’s progress to be made, in New Zealand and elsewhere, but the pandemic has brought forth one certainty: the work of translator and interpreter services is essential to the health and well-being to residents of the entire planet.

Bilingva Team to the Rescue

Bilingva works closely with Government departments and agencies providing language services in over 150 languages on a daily basis. Bilingva is also the main translation service vendor for the City and County of San Francisco. Since the stay-in-place order came into effect due to the covid-19 pandemic, our team of professional linguists has become an invaluable help to the San Francisco Emergency Operations Center.

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