Translators and interpreters contribute to COVID-19 fight

By Zhang Jiaqi and Gao Zhan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 12, 2020
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The translation and interpreting (T&I) community has supported the battle against the COVID-19 with their expertise in translation, interpreting and language technologies, according to an industrial webinar held on Monday. 

The webinar was co-organized by the Asia-Pacific Translation and Interpreting Forum (APTIF) and the Translators Association of China (TAC). T&I professionals from Iraq, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, South Korea and China, as well as international industrial organizations, reviewed the contributions the T&I community has made in the combat against COVID-19, while iterating their responsibilities in the global fight.

A webinar for the translation and interpreting (T&I) industry is held on May 11, 2020, joined by professionals from around the T&I community. [Photo provided to]

Kevin Quirk, president of the International Federation of Translators (FIT), gave the keynote speech. "Our job as translators and interpreters is to bridge the language gap and promote mutual understanding," he said. "We are in the business of communication, and it is essential that we also communicate the importance of the work we do, in case others forget it."

Participants of the webinar reviewed the community's contributions in the coronavirus fight, and released an initiative to pool the strength of the Asia-Pacific T&I community toward the continuing efforts against the pandemic.

Contributing to the global fight

Valuable experiences and outcomes on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 have been extensively communicated worldwide, after being translated into different languages, according to Gao Anming, chair of the APTIF Joint Committee and vice president and editor-in-chief of China International Publishing Group.

Gao Anming, chair of the APTIF Joint Committee & vice president and editor-in-chief of China International Publishing Group, speaks at the webinar on May 11, 2020. [Photo provided to]

During the outbreak, TAC compiled "Keywords to Understand China: The Fight Against COVID-19" and "A Handbook of 2019-nCov Pneumonia Control and Prevention," providing guidance on global efforts against the pandemic.

Moreover, many interpreters worked on the frontlines alongside healthcare and security professionals, in order to facilitate doctor-patient communication and assist in prevention and control efforts at airports and other transportation hubs.

A webinar for the translation and interpreting (T&I) industry is held on May 11, 2020. [Photo provided to]

According to Qassim Al-Asadi, president of Iraqi Translators Association, translators and interpreters in Iraq are working closely with the authorities and medical professionals to provide accurate information, translate medical instructions, and help to communicate findings and information to foreign citizens there who do not speak Arabic.

The work of the T&I community has gone even beyond spoken and written words. According to Quirk, the persistence of translator and interpreter associations in Europe have been essential in ensuring that sign language interpreters are present during press briefings on the spread of COVID-19, in order to communicate information to people with hearing disabilities.

In addition, Quirk said that the European T&I community has contributed toward the health data representation of minority groups, such as Somali refugees in Norway who don't speak the local language. They helped inform authorities of the importance of good translation of information in all language communities.

Impact on the T&I community

Kevin Quirk, president of International Federation of Translators, speaks at the webinar on May 11, 2020. [Photo provided to]

Despite their essential role, the community is calling for attention on the impact the pandemic has had on the T&I industry, due to a decrease of businesses as conferences and meetings are cancelled throughout the world.

A "European Language Industry Survey" was recently conducted among 1,036 independent language professionals from 29 European countries and 18 other countries. According to the results, 58.1% of respondents reported their business had "fallen off a cliff," and 38.7% of respondents said business was "slow" for them. In other words, a staggering 96.8% of respondents had been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

The initiative released at Monday's webinar was in part a response to these circumstances. "It is our common choice to devote ourselves to fighting COVID-19, and it is our shared responsibility to increase exchanges and mutual learning among different civilizations," the initiative says. It calls on all translators and interpreters to accomplish their mission, bridge the language gap, promote mutual understanding, and help promote people-to-people connectivity.

"As a profession, I think that we're a bit more prepared for this sudden transformation than most." FIT Vice President Alison Rodriguez said. "The Asia-Pacific has the resources to deal with challenges because it has effective, energetic people who are dedicated and skilled, especially with the field of technology."

In early March, FIT pooled its resources to issue a joint statement together with the International Association of Conference Interpreters and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters to highlight the economic effects on the profession and call on authorities worldwide to consider the economic implications of the coronavirus on independent interpreters and translators.

The FIT vice president said at the webinar, "By helping to build relationships and fostering cooperation among countries, the translation industry itself can address joint problems, and share knowledge and best practices, while helping the global community to solve common global challenges that extend beyond national borders."

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