Relief efforts during international crises 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 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 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 French/English interpreter could interpret the speech of a French worker in Germany into English, whereupon an English/German interpreter would render the English speech into German.
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.
For example, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, many of the translators and interpreters offered to travel throughout the country to areas where they were needed. They used their personal vehicles to transport people and supplies, and even opened their own homes to those who needed 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 stepped beyond the bounds of their expertise to do all they could 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.