In a pandemic such as the one we have now, the COVID-19 pandemic, we usually hear about front line professionals such as doctors, nurses, emergency personnel, and other workers such as supermarket employees, couriers, volunteers, and etc. But we don’t usually hear about translators and interpreters and their role in the fight against COVID-19 do we?
With this article, you’ll get to know how translators and interpreters are so crucial in preserving the one thing that must be preserved and continued at all times in any crisis; communication. But first, you should know how important translation services and interpretation services were in times before the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ll then be able to develop a rounded understanding of their crucial role in a crisis, especially one on a global scale like this.
The Role of Translation Before COVID-19
The global economy that we live in today simply could not have been possible without translation nor could businesses have the size and reach they are now. Contemporary globalization is a result of many factors such as liberal trade policies, international peace, technology, increased cultural exchange, and so on. However, would they have been possible without translation?
Could ancient globalization or even the progress of human civilization be possible without acknowledging the need to overcome language barriers? Communication leads to trust which then leads to progress and peace. Of course, human history hasn’t always been like that but you get the gist.
Indeed, the methods to render translation have changed with modern-day technologies such as machine translation, translation management software, glossaries, and etc. But the importance of translation in our society has always remained the same. To cut it short, global businesses and also organizations and entities of all sizes including governments all require translation services.
As to what they need to get translated, essentially every piece of paperwork and digital media that will be read by multilingual audiences. From manuals, websites, apps, emails, software, books, to critical documents such as academic research, financial documents, legal documents, nearly every, if not all text (print and digital) can and has been translated.
The shift to translation as a commercial service was a rather recent development. Back then, translation was rendered by academics and polyglots which comprised only a handful of individuals. But as the pace of the global economy quickened, so did the demand for more and more translators. Statista reports that within just the last decade, the market size of the global language service industry has doubled reaching $46.9 billion in 2019! But with the COVID-19 pandemic massively disrupting the global economy and major industries, what’s in store for translators now?
The Role of Translation Under COVID-19
It could without saying that the global business community has changed in less than two months since the start of the outbreak in China. But even when the outbreak was largely still contained in China, the world was already feeling the rippling effects of reduced Chinese tourists and Chinese economic activity. But, the global economy is now on its knees as the pandemic has now hit home forcing governments to impose quarantine measures, social distancing, and the closure of all non-essential businesses and activities.
It goes without saying that many businesses and organizations who have been hit especially hard, with some at the risk of bankruptcy, would not go about their usual order for translation services. But, the need for translation still goes on since a global health crisis requires a globally coordinated response.
For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) routinely issues press conferences, briefings, statements and advisories regarding the global state of the pandemic. A global organization such as the WHO needs to ensure that all of their communications are translated to most major languages to ensure everyone around the world can access their information.
Other than the WHO, governments and organizations in countries with multilingual citizens and residents also need to translate their communications. They need to ensure that everyone has access to the proper information and the latest public advisories in their own native regional language. But other than public communications, a globally-coordinated response also must require global professionals such as scientists to work together. Translation, specifically medical translation, is what allows them to coordinate together, n.
What is Medical Translation?
Medical translation is a highly specialized form of translation within the medical industry. Not every translator can provide medical translations since they have to undergo more training and earn the proper certifications for them to be certified as such. They have to be extensively knowledgeable with medical terminology, medical practices, code of ethics, and other relevant medical subjects.
Medical translators are usually responsible for translating the medical documents of patients. But their other roles include translating medical research and documents associated with medical devices. Taking into account the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the scale in which the entire world has been infected, one can only imagine the amount of pressure medical translators now face.
During pre-pandemic times, there were already shortages of medical translators in the US, even for widely chosen language pairs (English to Spanish, Spanish to English). But the pandemic is already more strain in a very limited but specialized workforce.
Medical translators now are focusing their efforts on key areas; COVID-19 research and the medical device industry. COVID-19 research is now the highlight of the efforts of medical translators. The perplexing nature of COVID-19 is confounding many scientists around the world which continue to complicate their search for a viable treatment and vaccine. Scientists are working hand in hand with their foreign colleagues at an unprecedented level of global coordination never before seen. Medical translators act as their bridge so that they can immediately stay updated with the latest findings and build upon each other’s work.
As for the medical device industry, they’re now struggling to keep up with the worldwide demand for medical personal protective equipment (PPE) from surgical masks, face shields, protective suits, to complex machinery, particularly ventilators. Since demand is coming from numerous infected countries in nearly all continents, medical translators have to work overtime to ensure that all documents such as manuals are accurately translated for the intended target market.
The Role of Interpretation Before COVID-19
Like translators, interpreters service plenty of industries and organizations that require live language interpretation on-site or remotely via over-the-phone or remote video interpretation services. Interpretation services are not only common and necessary in the travel and tourism industry but in all global industries and businesses that communicate with multilingual stakeholders. All in all, if there’s a multinational event such as a press conference with multilingual audiences and participants, then an interpreter is necessary.
But what makes interpretation different and unique to translation? The truth is that not all translators can be interpreters. That’s not to say interpreters are superior to translators since they both serve different forms of language service needs. In fact, not all interpreters can and even want to be translators.
Translators mostly work at home alone and some interpreters aren’t too keen on having a career with that lifestyle. Likewise, not all translators enjoy the environmental pressure of providing on-site language translation. Suffice to say that being an interpreter requires a different set of nerves and the ability to cope with intense on-site pressure.
Interpreter training is also different to translator training. While translators have the liberty to rely on language resources such as glossaries and even machine translation (MT) to augment their productivity, interpreters don’t have the liberty. They can only rely on their skills and experience to perform effortless and spotless interpretation on-site. The pressure increases tremendously if they’re involved in high-stakes negotiations.
The Role of Interpretation Under COVID-19
With most travel restricted along with the cancellation of international crowd-centric and even small group events, it’s not a surprise that many interpreters, compared to translators, are out of the job—at least for now. But that doesn’t mean they’re completely out of the job. Interpretation can still be rendered remotely i.e. over-the-phone and remote video interpretation. In 2019, the size of the phone and video interpreting market in the US reached $1.2 billion so there is a sizable market for remote interpretation services.
Although, there are no recent data as to how much that market has been affected due to the pandemic. Still, interpreters will always be needed in a pandemic, particularly medical interpreters. You’re already familiar with medical translation so there’s not much difference with medical interpretation except for how it’s done and which clients are medical interpreters servicing. Medical interpreters are actually needed more than ever in this current pandemic.
Tens of thousands of multinationals and tourists as of this moment are still stranded in countries around the world. Although governments are chartering flights to bring most of the home, there are others who choose to stay after considering the risk of returning to their affected homes. For instance, the US is now the most infected country with over half a million cases and climbing! Many American citizens are now choosing to stay abroad temporarily. But if they happen to have medical complications abroad, then medical interpreters are there to service them.
Even multilingual residents who are more comfortable in using their foreign language will need medical interpreters. For instance, there are millions of Spanish speakers in the US with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). In that case, they will naturally need Spanish medical interpreters. Like medical translation, any mistranslation can complicate diagnostic and treatment efforts so medical interpreters have to ensure everything is interpreted accurately.
How Do You Find a Translator or Interpreter if You Need One?
Two of the most common places to look for translators and interpreters are either in freelance network platforms or translation companies. Many translators and interpreters are listed in freelance platforms such as Upwork and ProZ with the latter being an entirely dedicated platform for language specialists. You can easily find quality and reputable translators and interpreters in freelance platforms in which case many clients hire them all the time.
However, the trouble with freelance platforms, in general, is that if your translator or interpreter suddenly encounters a setback such as a medical or personal emergency, then your project will be in limbo. You’ll have to find another translator /interpreter to fill in and that takes more time. In that case, a translation company can give you more security since their translation project managers will take care of everything in case an emergency happens, saving you the time and hassle.
Also, if you have numerous documents that need to be translated with care and precision, then a translation company is the way to go. They naturally keep track of the quality of every project as a matter of company policy. That’s not saying hiring any translator from a freelance network is a poor choice.
If you’re not sure of the quality of the translator you’re looking to hire, then why not look at their past work and even get in touch with their previous clients to make sure that they fit the bill. Hiring one from a translation company will be pricier since overhead costs are added to your bill. But whether you choose to hire from either a freelance platform or a translation company entirely depends on your project needs and budget at hand.
But with medical translators and interpreters, the highly specialized work means you’re better off with a translation company with a proven track record and a trusted network. It’s just a matter of looking at the translation company’s website as to whether or not they provide medical translation and interpretation services. If you’re looking for medical translators that specialize in coronavirus research, then it would be better to ask a company support assistant if they have such specialists within their network.
I hope all of what you’ve just read here will make you have a deeper appreciation of translators and interpreters. That their services are highly crucial in both times of prosperity and crises. Perhaps you may even be inspired to become a translator or interpreter yourself if you think you got that knack for it! If you have a love for languages and think a translation or interpretation career is the one for you, then go for it! Once the economy and our society recovers, an exciting and even noble career await you once you step into the world of languages.