‘Every language is a world. Without translation, we would inhabit parishes bordering on silence’, George Steiner, writer, literary critic and philosopher.
International Translation Day, celebrated every year on 30th September, is a fantastic opportunity to think about the indispensable role translation plays in our lives (and to give ourselves and our fellow language industry professionals a well-earned pat on the back!).
Without translation and interpreting, life would look very different. There are many situations where lives would be at risk, business would not take place and where our cultural discovery would be decidedly limited. Let’s look at a few examples.
The chances are that if you’re fluent in one of the 15 or so languages that dominate global communication – mainly taking place on the internet – you didn’t have to work too hard to understand the coronavirus pandemic; what you should do to stay safe, what the rules were in your area or how to get medical help.
But around 7,000 languages exist in the world today and only a fraction of these are represented online and in public messaging. The translation community was quick to mobilize in the early days of 2020 and linguists volunteered their time and knowledge to help get the right health messages across. Notable open-access resources have been produced by Translators Without Borders (TWB) and the Endangered languages Project, serving both online and offline minority language communities.
Although the pandemic has dominated the recent conversation around emergency communication, the need to provide fast, accurate and multilingual information to those in peril exists in many other situations.
Translators and interpreters provide vital strands of communication for refugees and those touched by war and natural disaster. They help with crisis communication and the vital messages that warn people at risk from the dangers of earthquakes, fire or hurricanes. In hospitals, interpreters offer a lifeline to patients not fluent in the official language and often provide much more than simply language support.
Research and experience have shown that not making multilingual communication available in a crisis situation or health emergency can severely endanger lives.
Without the help of highly skilled language professionals negotiating a treaty or embarking on a peace process when the two sides involved don’t share a mutual language, would be tricky. The first known example of the use of translation to help communicate an end to conflict was at The Treaty of Kadesh, drawn up in an effort to stop the war between the Egyptians and the Hittites over 3,000 years ago.
Interpreters play a vital part in these types of negotiations. They have made possible many great treaties and we are all familiar with their modern-day work at the United Nations. At the historic Nuremberg trials in 1945, where simultaneous interpreting was used for the first time and was carried out in German, Russian, English and French, interpreters helped speed up the process and deliver justice.
Watched anything good on Netflix recently? The answer to that for many of us is yes, and often, the television programs we turn on will have been made in languages other than our mother tongue; our viewing made possible by subtitles or dubbing.
Netflix has over 200 million paid subscribers worldwide and provides content in over 30 languages. It has invested heavily in subtitling and dubbing and has set the standard for other platforms with its focus on localization quality. Over 70 million watched its recent French language series Lupin, a remarkable figure for non-English language viewing.
Translation also helps bring us video games, phone apps, scientific research, online videos, international news, live sports events, museum visits, and of course literature.
Have you read a book in translation recently? If, as a reader in English, you’ve ever dipped in to Tolstoy, Murakami, Homer, Ferrante, Kundera, García Márquez, Larsson, Zola, Hesse, Ibsen, – need we go on? – you’ve experienced the magic of translation. But then maybe you didn’t even realize it was a translation. Proper recognition for the incredible work of literary translators is historically scarce and there is an ongoing campaign to ‘name the translator’ on the front cover of translated works.
Yes, we know we’re over-simplifying here but no, we wouldn’t be doing much good business with our neighbors if we didn’t have access to the talents of translators and language professionals. In an increasingly global society making sure your product or service resonates with the consumers in your target market is crucial. To quote the Globalization and Localization Association ‘Without the global language industry, enterprises would never grow beyond their own borders’.
Translation can mean much more than simple language transfer when it comes to selling in an international arena. Localizing content for different markets is also essential. There have been some spectacular failures from companies that didn’t bother investing properly in a linguistic deep dive before going full tilt into an expensive marketing campaign.
So, spare a thought for all the interpreters, translators and language experts today, on this, the International Day of Translation. Somewhere along the line, they may have helped make your life a little better.
And let’s leave you with a link to some of the worst translation fails of all time. Plenty of reasons to make sure you always hire a highly trained, professional linguist. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/48795/9-little-translation-mistakes-caused-big-problems