Interview: Covid-19 highlights translators’ role in saving lives, academics say

Interview: Covid-19 highlights translators’ role in saving lives, academics say
Interview: Covid-19 highlights translators’ role in saving lives, academics say

For more than a year now, the world has been and is still suffering and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic; which crossed borders and reshaped the lives of peoples around the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

In light of this new pandemic and the emergence of new variants that pose an increased risk to the global public health, economic sector; among others, translation and interpretation services have become in high demand and a key to saving lives.

Huge role

In an interview with the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on the role of translation during the COVID-19 pandemic; a number of Saudi and international academics and translators agreed that this profession plays a huge role.

They noted that qualified and dependable translators and interpreters shouldered a huge responsibility in disseminating the accurate information, guidelines, reports, and precautionary measures about the pandemic and how to prevent its spread.

According to Prof. Catherine Way, Associate Professor of Translation at the University of Granada; Dr. Abrar Mujaddidi, Assistant Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at King Abdulaziz University; and Dr. Kristijan Nikolic, Lecturer and Researcher at University of Zagreb, translators have played, and are still playing, a major role in translating the proper scientific articles and information, which give people confidence about the vaccines in light of the reassuring data.

When the COVID-19 mass vaccination campaigns were first introduced, people did not believe in the efficiency of the vaccines because misinformation spreads easily.

The accurate translation of regulations and health guidelines to several languages also played a major role in making the Hajj season in the year 1442 AH a success. No COVID-19 infection cases were identified among 60,000 pilgrims representing 150 countries and speaking different languages.

Dr. Asma Alqunayir, Translation Studies Assistance Professor at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, said that with COVID-19, translation has become a matter of life or death. She added that news translation is fast-paced work; sometimes we see news published at 5 p.m., and then it is translated to several languages two minutes later.

Fast-paced profession

Dr. Alqunayir affirmed that journalistic translation is a fast-paced profession, and with COVID-19, news translation or journalistic translation increased significantly because people need to learn more about this disease and how to protect their lives.

Translators and interpreters like other people of different professions face different challenges in light of the pandemic's outbreak.

According to translation experts, the foremost of the challenges is the new pandemic terminology, such as the phrase "social distancing". A translator has to be very aware with it in order to find proper equivalent and translation in the other languages and then use it.

The second challenge is the need to speed up the translation process, while paying attention to the fact that new information is being discovered on a daily basis and the information about the virus is constantly changing and evolving due to new variants and discoveries.

Necessary appreciation

Prof. Nike Kocijancic Pokorn of Translation Studies at the University of Ljubljana, shed light on an important challenge; which is that the profession got no appreciation, as it should. She said that translators volunteer in crisis situations to save lives; as well as public finances if the translation is well.

Prof. Nike Pokorn recommended that people should do a lot to somehow define the skills and knowledge; needed for this profession and then to reward appropriately the work that is well.

Translation has served as a catalyst for communication between medical agencies and the public. Translators and interpreters can save lives and fight infodemics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this regard, Director-General of the WHO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated; "A year ago, I said that we were not only fighting a pandemic, we were fighting an infodemic."

In other words, a translator's role is not just transferring information; from one language to another, but it extends to saving lives.

Dr. Mohammed Albarakati, Associate Professor of Translation and Comparative Linguistics at King Abdulaziz University; and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Translation Association said: "Translation was a very important key player during this pandemic. We wanted to deal with news from all over the world; so news has been translated from and to all world languages."

He added: "So, translation was present in all of these activities. Also, research, experiments, guidelines, procedures, protocols; also translated from languages to other languages so that people can benefit from other people's experiences." 

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