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International Relief Workers in Haiti Ramp Up Linguistic Capacity
Posted by Nataly Kelly on January 19, 2010  in the following blogs: Interpreting, Translation and Localization, Business Globalization, Best Practices
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Disaster relief workers from across the globe continue to arrive in Haiti in response to the devastating earthquake that hit the Caribbean nation last week. In addition to feet on the ground, the international community is also lending financial support -- Europe has pledged more than US$500 million in relief funds and President Obama has offered US$100 million in aid. While there is no doubt that money and manpower are sorely needed, multilingual communication is also a must.

Rescue workers have long acknowledged the need to communicate across languages in emergency settings. Thanks to technology and collaboration, access to linguistic resources has come a long way since the publication of the Multilingual Dictionary of Disaster Medicine and International Relief back in 1993. For example:
  • Translated patient education materials. Many public organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now make multilingual disaster-related health information available for free in digital form, such as the brochure translated into Haitian Creole, "Preventing Violence After a Natural Disaster."

  • Disaster-oriented medical document templates. In addition to a monetary donation, T-System is providing free medical documentation and triage forms in Haitian Creole for emergency personnel.

  • Mobile-friendly phrasebooks. Transparent Language has announced that it is offering a free Haitian Creole iPhone application. While the app is primarily designed for language learning purposes, rescue workers can immediately use the incorporated set of medical emergency phrases developed by Voxtec.

  • Handheld machine interpretation devices. ECTACO has developed a portable speech-to-speech medical interpreting device for Haitian Creole that works with speech recognition and a pre-configured set of emergency medical phrases.

  • On-demand telephone interpreting. Many telephone interpreting companies have been providing support for disaster response workers and families of loved ones in Haiti. For the next 30 days, Pacific Interpreters is offering free telephone interpreting services to aid organizations involved in relief efforts. Language Line has sent out numerous communications to encourage individuals to donate to the Red Cross, and LifeLinks is offering a flat per-minute rate (below cost) for Haitian Creole interpretation.

  • News report translation. Given the need for rapid access to information via quick-turn translation, the Miami Herald is translating stories from Haitian news agencies and making them instantly available on its website.

  • Emergency volunteer interpreters. The Red Cross has a longstanding partnership with the American Translators Association to encourage interpreters to become volunteers, specifically so that they are trained and ready to help when a situation like the one in Haiti occurs.
In spite of all these developments, linguistic support is sorely needed. Even though U.S. federal agencies have spent US$4.5 billion on translation and interpreting services over the past 20 years, it's hardly sufficient. There's not enough spending to deal with everyday language issues, much less disasters. A news item on the Department of Defense website reveals that the U.S. Navy is seeking 100 Haitian Creole and French medical interpreters for its treatment ship. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that a soldier of Haitian origin in Afghanistan wants to return home so that he can work as an interpreter to help folks on the ground.

The language services industry is rallying to support the efforts of relief workers from all over the globe as they try to deliver help to Haiti, but we cannot emphasize the point enough -- the ability to say, "If you can hear me, knock three times" in a victim's native language can mean the difference between life and death. In other words, linguistic preparedness is no trivial matter.

 

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Keywords: Interpreting, On-site interpreting, Remote interpreting technologies, Telephone interpreting, Translation, Translation technologies

  
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