29/10/2020Life Sciences Translations
COVID-19 protocols and business: how localization helps cope with a pandemic
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consequent recommendations published by the WHO, health authorities, and the public services of the countries affected, have generated a huge volume of written and visual content. From government advice documents to corporate e-learning courses – training employees on safe practices – to protocols for healthcare professionals, how is this information dealt with in different languages?
Courses for healthcare professionals, new protocols for jobs that cannot be carried out remotely, new codes of conduct for those staff who do have to work in their company’s offices, plus all the communications about new insights and discoveries, and information about how to prevent the spread of the virus: the pandemic is seeing a huge volume of words, and visual and multimedia content created, being shared back and forth and possibly (hopefully) being translated and localized in the process.
COVID-19, to use the title of a recent article, represents History’s Biggest Translation Challenge: as we have repeatedly said, ’English is the international language par excellence […], as perhaps 380 million people have English as a first language but more than a billion people use it as a second (or additional) language, largely to communicate with other second language users with whom they do not share a cultural and linguistic background’. (Clyne et al., 2008).
According to Gretchen McCulloch, the author of the article quoted above, ’if we want to avoid a pandemic spreading to all the humans in the world, this information also has to reach all the humans of the world – and that means translating Covid PSAs into as many languages as possible, in ways that are accurate and culturally appropriate’. McCulloch points out that ’it’s easy to overlook how important language is for health if you’re on the English-speaking Internet, where “is this headache actually something to worry about?” is only a quick Wikipedia article or WebMD search away. But for over half of the world’s population, people can’t expect to Google their symptoms, nor even necessarily get a pamphlet from their doctor explaining their diagnosis, because it’s not available in a language they can understand’.
It appears that this gap is not unique to COVID-19. Wuqu’Kawoq, a non-profit organization working in Guatemala, which provides health support in Mayan languages, had to devise a name for diabetes in the Mayan language of Kaqchikel in order to provide advice on the disease, in consultation with medical professionals. The term they came up with is kab’kïk’el, which literally means ’sweet blood’. This is just one of innumerable, similar translation projects underway around the world, involving the languages of India, Australia, Cameroon, and more.
Closer to home, the BBC announced during the summer that the UK lacked translations of Coronavirus guidance. Although public health information was translated/localized into 25 languages, this still represented a limited range given the multicultural makeup of the population. It was sometimes taking weeks to translate and localize multimedia materials when rules and recommendations changed. Apparently, more than 4 million people living in the UK do not consider English to be their first language, and around 860,000 of them speak little or no English at all.
So, providing COVID-19 related content, both written and audio-visual, in a variety of languages, in order for it to be accessible enough to keep everyone safe, is far from being as quick and easy as you might expect. The localization challenge facing businesses is made even harder if they have offices scattered all over the world. It is difficult for local offices to keep up with standardized corporate regulations and to adhere to recommendations from their local governments. It is even harder to do so responsively, because things change very quickly, and information has to be constantly and carefully updated. The same is true of research conducted in different countries. Sharing such research might make a difference, or enable a faster reaction, to the crisis if it can be understood by its intended audience.
Some organizations have made a huge contribution to sharing safe practices internationally. One notable example is Translators Without Borders and their COVID-19 multilingual glossary. Localization has a crucial role to play in keeping public health messages consistent, high-quality, and understandable in order to really help tackle the pandemic. Something which is certainly not achievable with a simple ’translate to/from English’ approach. New multimedia material on COVID-19 is released every day, because its immediacy can speed up the sharing of relevant information. However, it might also be something else to worry about if you are not a technical expert and don’t know what to do with videos and voiceovers that need localizing.
If your organization is struggling to become COVID-19-proof and needs guidance on the generation of related content and localizing relevant materials, you can find a strong partner in CPSL: talk to us!
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