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How Translators and Interpreters Help in Times of Crisis

By Doug at Accredited Language
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2011
Category: Interpreting, Translation



Relief efforts during international crises, such as the recent earthquake and tsunami devastation in Japan, involve professionals with a wide variety of experience — including translators and interpreters.

As non-profit and governmental organizations undertake the seemingly impossible task of helping those affected by the disaster, translators and interpreters do whatever they can to help. In the midst of such difficult endeavors, linguists can help make an incredibly difficult job just a little bit easier.

Professional translators and interpreters assist a great deal in the aftermath of such disasters by offering on and off-site interpretation, translation of medical and legal documents, and other necessary language services.

The Need for Professional Translators and Interpreters

Humanitarian organizations have limited resources available to them, especially when they are working in the center of a crisis. Professional linguists may not be immediately available.

As a result, non-profits sometimes settle for non-professional translators, which could result in inaccurate translations and the dissemination of incorrect information. Inaccuracies in interpretation and translation can be dangerous, as they could result in improper medical care being administered, relief services being sent to the wrong location, or other complications in an already chaotic situation.

When disaster strikes a highly-developed country with a multinational makeup like Japan,  the need for skilled language professionals is even greater. More than 2 million foreigners – from countries like the United States, Brazil, China, Korea and Venezuela – live and work in Japan. In the middle of a crisis, communication is paramount and all these different languages — and many more — must be properly interpreted and translated.

How Translation and Interpretation Can Help in a Crisis

Professional translators and interpreters play a number of roles in providing aid during a crisis. Whether they’re right in the middle of a disaster or working remotely from another country, language professionals offer much-needed assistance.

Translators and interpreters who are physically present during a crisis can provide the immediate necessary services, such as medical interpreting and enabling communication between rescue teams and other technically skilled professionals who come from different nations.

But even if they are located abroad and unable to travel, translators and interpreters still make a difference. They can translate legal and medical documents via email or interpret via telephone and video.

In times of emergency, language professionals can help even if they don’t speak the first language of the affected area. Through a method called “relay interpreting,” a pair of translators or interpreters who share a common language work together to communicate between parties. For example, a Korean/English interpreter could interpret the speech of a Korean worker in Japan into English, whereupon an English/Japanese interpreter would render the English speech into Japanese.

From Interpretation to Transportation

Professional translators and interpreters don’t offer just their linguistic talents during a crisis. Language professionals have been shown to be willing to help in any way they can.

Many of the translators and interpreters volunteering their linguistic services make note of the many other ways in which they can contribute to the relief effort. They readily offer to travel throughout Japan where they may be needed, to use their personal vehicles to transport people or supplies, and even to open their own home to those who need a place to stay.

The selfless actions of these professional linguists show that, helpful as their translating and interpreting skills are, the most important act is directly helping ones in need. They step beyond the bounds of their expertise to do all they can to aid the people affected by the disaster.

Being able to immediately provide support, whether it’s their professional expertise or their own car, makes professional interpreters and translators vital to relief efforts in times of crisis.



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