Translation: bridging communication gaps during a global crisis

Eighty years ago, one of the WWII campaigns warned: ‘Careless talk costs lives’ - yet we’re seeing an alternative truth in this familiar saying today. Through much of 2020 and 2021, we’ve all been facing a very different challenge, but it’s never been more evident that safe and effective communication is still the most crucial part of managing a crisis.

Covid has affected our business, just as it has countless other businesses. We lost vast amounts of work in the early months of the pandemic, only to find ourselves rushed off our feet as lockdown began to ease. It’s unpredictable and uncertain.

Much of our new work is, of course, related to the pandemic. As translators we know it’s only too easy to misinform when hasty messages cross language barriers. But with the world still trying to get to grips with Coronavirus, it’s never been more important to get the message right – in any language.

After all, this is not the only global epidemic the world has ever seen – but it does have one important difference: it’s emerged in an era of digital transformation. Spanish Flu infected more than a quarter of the world’s population in 1918 but it taught the governments of the time one vital lesson: that sharing information globally could help reduce infections and save lives. Today, we have more opportunities than ever to share research, information and guidance effectively on a worldwide scale.

Yet recently, campaigners attacked the government for a “blind spot” in their translated communications, which compromised patient safety. The BBC reported that the government’s response claimed it provided public health information in 25 different languages, reaching what it called a “wide audience”. But charities disagree, saying there are 88 other languages spoken in the UK and that, even when information is translated, it’s often outdated and fresh advice isn’t always provided. This places a spotlight on the concept of “localisation” and its importance in effective communication.

A magic ingredient

It’s true that Google provides instant translation to anyone, but it lacks the detail and context to properly localise your message.

Localisation, put simply, is about adapting your content to a specific location or target market. It’s about understanding the culture of language in that area, how dates are displayed, which units of measurement are common, and even adjusting idioms or modifying graphics or domain names to suit your target market.

The purpose of localisation is to ensure the reader feels the content has been made especially for them. This is important in making your message both understandable and accessible, but it also serves a deeper purpose – making the information appear more trustworthy and credible.

The workhorse of the global economy

The truth is – as the campaigners were at pains to show the government – when it comes to public health, ensuring the whole audience understands your message really does matter.

In times of international turmoil like this, specialist translation services suddenly come into their own, demonstrating how a single yet personalised voice spreading knowledge around the world is critical for containing or solving a crisis.

We are so proud to be part of an industry that helps connect the global economy – sharing ideas, information and research whilst reflecting the multiculturalism of our country, and the wider world. This is work that will be needed more than ever as we adapt to our post-Covid world.

So if you’ve got a message to communicate across a language barrier, it’s worth investing in more than just a Google translation. Localisation is an art form developed through years of insight, and it’s well worth seeking expert advice. It may not be the difference between life and death in many cases, but localised content will help make your audience sit up and listen.

The coming months are still an uncertain time, but we say: keep calm and carry on – for whilst careless talk costs lives, careful talk really can save the day.

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