Interpreting and Translation in times of COVID19

Interpreting and Translation in times of COVID19

As we have noticed that a cure for COVID has not been introduced to us yet, the only way left to reduce the risk of COVID is changing the way we live. To put it straight, Covid-19 is a lifestyle illness. Hence, thousands of posters, advertisements, and other social distancing instructions have been put across the globe. But it is worth pointing out that most of this information is in English.

Although millions speak English, COVID19 is a world problem, not limited to a few countries. The lack of information generates an apparent issue of an “infodemic,” as the WHO states. For example, a doctor can give his patient an injection even if the patient does not know how it works, but a doctor cannot give his patients instructions in a language he doesn’t understand.

This is why we need interpreters and translators to help the entire world understand what to do in the times of a pandemic like COVID19. So, we can change our lifestyles altogether. To understand this better, you need to know how interpreters and translators work in an interpreting industry.

What is interpreting?

Interpreting and translation are not only crucial in pandemics like this one. It has been used throughout the ages to convey messages to different people across the globe. Interpreting and translation have now developed into an industry. Academic institutions, courts, medical facilities, international institutions, all employ interpreters. Interpreting is a method of translating from one language to another, but by preserving the original meaning of the content. There are three types of interpreting, simultaneous, sight translation, and consecutive. All three types of interpreting and translation require excellent expertise in language translation so that one can quickly recognize and convey messages between two different languages. This is what we need in times of COVID19 to remove the risk of an increased infodemic. 

Its role in this pandemic

To give you a better insight into the role of interpreting and translation in times of COVID19, let’s start with a real example of how important it is to have information in all languages. 

The language gap isn’t limited to COVID19; it also is found in many other illnesses. Wuqu’ Kawoq is a non-profit organization in Guatemala that provides medical support to people who speak indigenous Mayan languages such as Kaqchikel and Kʼiche. A patient of Wuqu’ Kawoq spoke Kaqchikel who was told she has diabetes, she was able to repeat the word for diabetes which the Spanish speaking doctors had told her, but she was not able to manage her lifestyle according to diabetes, because the word she was told had no meaning for her as she could not translate it until Wuqu’ Kawoq created a name for diabetes for that woman in Kaqchikel using interpreters and translators.

Photo by Clovis Castaneda 

The word she was told translated to “sweet blood,” which made it easier for her to understand her illness and act according to it by eating less sweet food. In a similar way, COVID19 is an illness that requires us to change our lifestyles. The same organization Wuqu’ Kawoq, is now developing podcasts in Mayan languages to spread information about COVID19 amongst people who do not speak English.

This shows us the importance of interpreting and translation in times of COVID19. Although many translations are being produced on the information of COVID19, they’re not enough. There’s still a significant fraction of the world’s population which is unaware of this information, simply because of unnecessary language barriers. For example, the government of South Africa is being criticized for doing information briefings only in English, instead of doing them in its official languages. 

How Covid19 affects the interpreting and translation industry

It is no wonder that this pandemic has also created problems for people who work in the interpreting industry. The people who should be working the most are also affected by this crisis.

As COVID19 is a highly contagious disease, on-spot interpreting and translation have gone through a sharp decline in activity. Even government agencies like the Canadian Translation Bureau have said that they see a drop in demand. The bureau reports that there has been a 50% decline in interpreting services. Moreover, conference interpreting has been completely stopped, and LSPs (Language Service Providers) who rely on interpreting and translation solely have reported a considerable drop of 70% in their businesses. 

On the other hand, remote interpreting through technological devices has been increasing, as this is much safer than on spot translation. Call centers now have boosted demand. Companies offering OPI (over-the-phone interpreting) and VRI (over-the-phone interpreting) are also receiving an increased demand. 

This transformation of the interpreting and translation industry to a more technological way of translating languages is safe and efficient without doubt, but it is of no use to people who are disconnected from the internet, people who don’t have access to smartphones and other gadgets. The contagiousness of COVID19 has generated a more significant problem for interpreters and translators.

Finding solutions

Times like this call for innovative strategies to tackle these problems. However, there isn’t a specific solution to this problem of “infodemic”; many companies and organizations are working hard to convey information about COVID19 throughout the globe. 

A remote interpreter from Finland called Youpret has made the buying process of its services as easy as possible, and it’s just like sending a standard text message. Almost everyone owns a phone, if not a smartphone, which can send and receive text messages. Furthermore, many LSPs have reduced the cost to their services, to help people buy them easily. There also many more non-profit organizations like Wuqu’ Kawoq that are working to provide translation services for free. This infodemic and pandemic might be challenging for interpreters and translators, but there sure are solutions to it.

Final thoughts

The interpreting and translation industry continues to be extremely necessary in these difficult times. The future of the industry, however, is uncertain. We can only know about it once this pandemic is over, however in times of COVID19, interpreters and translators should take this as a challenge and keep innovating to help the world change its lifestyle.

If you need help navigating the global market during these uncertain times contact us! To learn more about our response to the COVID19 Pandemic press here.