TWB’s first Arabic translation contest 

We recently held our very first translation contest for Translators without Borders’ thriving community of Arabic translators. Ninety-two talented translators submitted a total of 124 translations on a mixture of humanitarian and literary topics. Each translation was evaluated by fellow community members for accuracy, terminology, and style in order to provide constructive feedback and create greater engagement among the Arabic community.

The winners: humanitarian translation

Shaimaa Elhosan is an English to Arabic translator specializing in humanitarian translation because of her desire to help others. She studied UN translation at the American University in Cairo, which helped her follow her passion.

“I want to help other people, especially children, victims of conflicts, and abused women, people affected by natural disasters. Thus, I volunteered with Translators without Borders (TWB).”

A career highlight as a freelance translator was working on a book titled The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman. At that point, Shaimaa realized what a leading role nonprofits play in improving difficult situations.

Shaimaa Elhosan, Arabic translator for Translators without Borders
Shaimaa Elhosan, Arabic translator for TWB

The first story she encountered with TWB was poignant: it told of the daily suffering of victims of war. And it highlighted the misleading images of a comfortable life in camps which too often circulate on social media.

She went on to translate the toolkit for the Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster, a TWB partner. The toolkit aimed to improve the quality of life and dignity for displaced people living in communal settings. 

Since 2017, Shaimaa has used her skills to translate 8,951 words for TWB and has acquired more valuable experience in humanitarian translation in the process. She continues to study in a constant effort to improve and expand her knowledge.

“I study because I care so much about whether or not the translation communicates the meaning clearly to readers. The TWB team appreciates my know-how and they ask me to participate in more projects. They try hard to support us in translation by providing references and glossaries as much as possible.”

Shaimaa explained that the challenge of communication was made more exciting by this competition. “How could I render the meaning to the readership clearly with such a tricky text? The experience spurred me on to participate in more projects. I’d like to continue to support displaced people, children, and abused women with my work.”

Literary translation

Nabil Salibi won the literary translation category, having received the highest score from his fellow community members. 

Graduation photo from Nabil's Masters in Interpreting and Translating, 2018
Graduation photo from Nabil’s Masters in Interpreting and Translating, 2018

This professional translator is as dedicated to his volunteer projects as he is to his paid work. By volunteering, he hopes to bridge the communication gap between humanitarian organizations and those who seek their support. For Nabil, this means dedicating four to five hours at a time to translate or proof-read texts from his home in Australia.

Since joining TWB in 2016, Nabil has translated 13,592 words. He has focused on projects related to refugees and the conditions in refugee camps, as well as news articles. Nabil also helped translate IFRC’s Global Response Tools Review. That review analyzed the tools we use to respond to disasters, and the risks and challenges related to humanitarian response.

He takes each of these projects seriously:

“Volunteering allows me to appreciate the difficulties imposed by language barriers and the impact on the wellbeing of people who live in communities where they don’t understand the local language.” 

Numerous other translators earned honorable mentions for their efforts. Learn more about their work, and the translation process on the Kató Community Forum.

A shared reward: the language equality initiative

Our highly skilled translators, including Nabil and Shaimaa, will have the opportunity to contribute to Gamayun, the language equality initiative. The goal is to shift control of communication, to allow everyone to share their voice and access information in a language and format they can understand. Using advanced language technology, we’re working with marginalized communities and language specialists to increase language equality and improve two-way communication. Over half of the world’s population simply doesn’t have access to knowledge and information in their own language. Our translators and supporters address this language gap which can prevent people from lifting themselves out of poverty, getting health care, recovering from a crisis, or understanding their rights. Our translators’ efforts enable people to proactively share their needs, concerns, and ideas.

To learn more, click here

What’s next? 

We recently announced two new translation contests open to our French and Swahili translator communities.  If you are already a TWB translator please check the Kató Community Forum for more information. Otherwise, why not join TWB today so you can take part? Entries close on 5 August 2019.

In case you’re looking to take part in a contest, or improve your own translations, our first translation contest winners share some words of advice:  

  • “Make sure you understand the whole article. Context is key.” – Nabil  
  • “I love to translate on paper first.” – Nabil
  • “Never stop reading.” – Shaimaa

 

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders.

Interview responses by Shaimaa Elhosan and Nabil Salibi, Translators for 
Translators without Borders.

When words fail: audio recording for verification in multilingual surveys

A survey being conducted in Monguno, Nigeria. Mobile phones and tablets are ubiquitous in humanitarian data collection efforts. Yet most mobile tools do not support continuous audio recording while the survey is being administered. Photo by: Eric DeLuca, Translators without Borders
A survey being conducted in Monguno, Nigeria. Mobile phones and tablets are ubiquitous in humanitarian data collection efforts. Yet most mobile tools do not support continuous audio recording while the survey is being administered. Photo by: Eric DeLuca, Translators without Borders

“Sir, I want to ask you some questions if you agree?”

With that one sentence, our enumerator summarized the 120-word script provided to secure the informed consent of our survey participants – a script designed, in particular, to emphasize that participation would not result in any direct assistance. Humanitarian organizations, research institutes and think tanks around the world are conducting thousands of surveys every year. How many suffer from similar ethical challenges? And how many substandard survey results fall under the radar due to lack of effective quality assurance?

We were conducting a survey on the relationship between internal displacement, cross-border movement, and durable solutions in Borno, a linguistically diverse state in northeast Nigeria. Before data collection began, Translators without Borders (TWB) translated the survey into Hausa and Kanuri to limit the risk of mistranslations due to poor understanding of terminology. Even with this effort, however, not all the enumerators could read Hausa or Kanuri. Although enumerators spent a full day in training going through the translations as a group, there is still a risk that language barriers may have undermined the quality of the research. Humanitarian terminology is often complex, nuanced, and difficult to translate precisely into other languages. A previous study by Translators without Borders in northeastern Nigeria, for example, found that only 57% of enumerators understood the word ‘insurgency’.

We only know the exact phrasing of this interview because we decided to record some of our surveys using an audio recorder. In total, 96 survey interviews were recorded. Fifteen percent of these files were later transcribed into Hausa or Kanuri and translated into English by TWB. Those English transcripts were compared to the enumerator-coded responses, allowing us to analyze the accuracy of our results. While the process was helpful, the findings raise some important concerns.

A digital voice recorder in Maiduguri, Nigeria serves as a simple and low-tech tool for capturing entire surveys. Photo by: Eric DeLuca / Translators without Borders
A digital voice recorder in Maiduguri, Nigeria serves as a simple and low-tech tool for capturing entire surveys. Photo by: Eric DeLuca / Translators without Borders

Consent was not always fully informed

Efforts to obtain informed consent were limited, despite the script provided. According to the consultant, enumerators felt rushed due to the large numbers of people waiting to participate in the survey – but people were interested in participating precisely due to the misbelief that participation could result in assistance, which underlines the need for informed consent. 

Alongside these ethical challenges, the failure to inform participants about the objectives of the research increases the risk of bias in the findings, prompting people to tailor responses to increase their chances of receiving assistance. Problems related to capacity, language, or questionnaire design can also negatively impact survey results, undermining the validity of the findings. 

The enumerator-coded answers did not always match the transcripts

During data quality assurance, we also identified important discrepancies between the interview transcripts and the survey data. In some cases, enumerators had guessed the most likely response rather than properly asking the question, jumping to conclusions based on their understanding of the context rather than respondents’ lived experiences. If the response was unclear, random response options were selected without seeking clarification. Some questions were skipped entirely, but responses still entered into the surveys. The following example, comparing an extract of an interview transcript with the recorded survey data, illustrates these discrepancies. 

Interview transcript Survey data
Interviewer: Do you want to go back to Khaddamari?

Respondent: Yes, I want to.

Interviewer: When do you want to go back?

Respondent: At any time when the peace reigns. You know we are displaced here.

Interviewer: If the place become peaceful, will you go back?

Respondent: If it becomes peaceful, I will go back. 

Do you want to return to Khaddamari in the future? Yes

When do you think you are likely to return? Within the next month

What is the main reason that motivates you to return? Improved safety

What is the second most important reason? Missing home

What is the main issue which currently prevents return to Khaddamari? Food insecurity

What is the second most important issue preventing return? Financial cost of return

At no point in the interview did the respondent mention that he or she was likely to return in the next month. Food insecurity or financial costs were also not cited as factors preventing return. Without audio recordings, we would never have become aware of these issues. Transcribing even just a sample of our audio recordings drew attention to significant problems with the data. Instead of blindly relying on poor quality data, we were able to triangulate information from other sources, and use the interview transcripts as qualitative data. We also included a strongly worded limitations section in the report, acknowledging the data quality issues.

We suspect such data quality issues are common. Surveys, quite simply, are perhaps not the most appropriate tool for data collection in the contexts within which we operate. Certainly, there is a need to be more aware of, and more transparent about, survey limitations.

Despite these limitations, there is no doubt that surveys will continue to be widely used in the humanitarian community and beyond. Surveys are ingrained in the structure and processes of the humanitarian industry. Despite the challenges we faced in Nigeria, we will continue to use surveys ourselves. We know now, however, that audio recordings are invaluable for quality assurance purposes. 

A manual audio recording strategy is difficult to replicate at scale

In an ideal world, all survey interviews would be recorded, transcribed, and translated. This would not only enhance quality assurance processes, but also complement survey data with rich qualitative narratives and quotes. Translating and transcribing recordings, however, requires a huge amount of technical and human resources. 

From a technical standpoint, recording audio files of surveys is not straightforward. Common cell phone data collection tools, such as Kobo, do not offer full-length audio recordings as standard features within surveys. There are also storage issues, as audio files take up significant space on cell phones and stretch the limits of offline survey tools or browser caching. Audio recorders are easy to find and fairly reliable, but they require setting up a parallel workflow and a careful process of coding to ensure that each audio file is appropriately connected to the corresponding survey.

From a time standpoint, this process is slow and involved. As a general rule, it takes roughly six hours to transcribe one hour of audio content. In Hausa and Kanuri – two low resource languages that lack experienced translators – one hour of transcription often took closer to eight hours to complete. The Hausa or Kanuri transcripts then had to be translated into English, a process that took an additional 8 hours. Therefore, each 30-minute recorded survey required about one day of additional work in order to fully process. To put that into perspective, one person would have to work full time every day for close to a year to transcribe and translate a survey involving 350 people.

Language technology can offer some support

In languages such as English or French, solutions already exist to drastically speed up this process. Speech to text technologies – the same technologies used to send SMS messages by voice – have improved dramatically in recent years with the adoption of machine learning approaches. This makes it possible to transcribe and translate audio recordings in a matter of seconds, not days. The error rates of these automated tools are low, and in some cases are even close to rivaling human output. For humanitarians working in contexts with well resourced languages like Spanish, French, or even some dialects of Arabic, these language technologies are already able to offer significant support that makes an audio survey workflow more feasible.

For low-resource languages such as Hausa, Kanuri, Swahili, or Rohingya, these technologies do not exist or are too unreliable. That is because these languages lack the commercial viability to be priority languages for technology companies, and there is often insufficient data to train the machine translation technologies. In an attempt to close the digital language divide, Translators without Borders has recently rolled out an ambitious effort called Gamayun: the language equality initiative. This initiative is working to develop datasets and language technology in low-resource languages relevant to humanitarian and development contexts. The goal is to develop fit-for-purpose solutions that can help break down language barriers and make language solutions such as this more accessible and feasible. Still, this is a long term vision and many of the tools will take months or even years to develop fully.

In the meantime, there are four things you can do now to incorporate audio workflows into your data collection efforts

  1. Record your surveys using tape recorders. It is a valuable process, even if you are limited in how you are able to use the recordings right now. In our experience, enumerators are less likely to intentionally skip entire questions or sections if they know they are being recorded. Work is underway to integrate audio workflows directly into Kobo and other surveying tools, but for now, a tape recorder is an accessible and affordable tool.

  2. Transcribe and translate a small sample of your recordings. Even a handful of transcripts can prove to be useful verification and training tools. We recommend you complete the translations in the pilot stage of your survey, to give you time to adjust trainings or survey design if necessary. This can help to at least provide spot checks of enumerators that you are concerned about, or simply verify one key question, such as the question about informed consent.
  3. Run your recordings through automated transcription and translation tools. This will only be possible if you are working in major languages such as Spanish or French. Technology is rapidly developing, and every month more languages become available and the quality of these technologies improve. Commercially available services are available through Microsoft, Google, and Amazon amongst others, but these services often have a cost, especially at scale.
  4. Partner with TWB to improve technology for low-resource languages. TWB is actively looking for partners to pilot audio recording and transcription processes, to help gather voice and text data to build language technologies for low resource languages. TWB is also seeking partners interested in actively integrating these automated or semi-automated solutions into existing workflows. Get in touch if you are interested in partnering: [email protected]
Written by:

Chloe Sydney, Research Associate at IDMC

Eric DeLuca, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager at Translators without Borders

Farewell thoughts from TWB Ambassador Sue Fortescue

In the beginning

Sue Fortescue TWB Ambassador
Credit: ITI/http://markharvey.photoshelter.com/

Like many interesting events in life, my first encounter with Translators without Borders (TWB) was pure serendipity. I was completing the Master of Arts in Audiovisual Translation Studies at the University of Leeds. An excellent component of the course is the series of presentations given by speakers from language service providers, the EU, the UN, and NGOs. In January 2015 Andrew Bredenkamp, Chair of TWB, gave a presentation – and I was hooked!

I had come to translation quite late in life, having worked as a teacher of English as a foreign language in Italy, Nepal, and the UK, then as an IT Manager in Belgium and the US. When I retired I missed the international atmosphere in which I had lived and worked. A friend’s daughter had followed the Leeds Master of Arts course (serendipity again), which is why I enrolled. But I didn’t want to work full time, so volunteering for TWB was the perfect solution.

What was my role?

I started in January 2015, as TWB’s Volunteer Manager, recruiting volunteers and interns to help with our website, accounting, graphics design, and more.  Since then I have hosted stands for TWB at the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) conferences in Newcastle, Cardiff, and Sheffield. I wrote numerous articles for ITI and CIOL magazines, and gave presentations at various events throughout the UK. I also helped to set up the TWB customer relationship management tool and the criteria for admitting nongovernmental organizations. I even set up (with help!) the TWB Cookbook. And I enjoyed every minute!

TWB was the cover story in the ITI Bulletin September-October 2018, edited by Radhika Holmström

What were the high spots?

Definitely top of the list was meeting, in person or digitally, the many supporters who do so much to make TWB such a successful organization. There are too many to name but I want to single out Noura Tawil, who has lived in Latakia, Syria throughout the war. She is bringing up her children and overcoming hurdles such as intermittent electricity. Throughout all of this, she not only continues to translate texts from English to Arabic for TWB but also supplied several recipes for the TWB Cookbook. Thank you, Noura!

Also high on the list is the satisfaction gained from knowing that I have done something practical, however small, to help people in distress. The first earthquakes in Nepal hit during the ITI Conference in Newcastle in 2015. Having worked in Nepal for three years in the 1970s, I could imagine the distress caused, and was grateful to participants at the conference for spreading the word that we needed translators to and from Newari and Nepali. 

It was also good to know that we helped the refugees fleeing war zones and arriving at the camps in Greece. We did practical things such as translating into Arabic and other languages the instructions on how to register and what to do next. 

It was also very satisfying to know that we helped out after the fire at Grenfell Tower in London, when the British Red Cross asked us to translate the leaflets they were distributing. Our wonderful volunteer translators completed the translations from English into Arabic, Farsi, Pushto, Somali, and Tigrinya, mostly within 24 hours. That made a huge difference to the survivors. 

I gained immense satisfaction from our work during the Ebola crisis, in Nigeria, and our work with the Rohingya escaping to Bangladesh from Myanmar. I’m also grateful to have been able to witness the huge technological advances we have made in our translation tools over the past few years.

It is also gratifying that my work for TWB has been recognized. In 2016 I was presented with the TWB Access to Knowledge Excellence Award. And in 2018 the ITI presented me with its Industry Ambassador Award.

ITI President Sarah Bawa-Mason presents me with the 2018 ITI Industry Ambassador Award. Photo credit: ITI

What next?

I always promised myself that I would step down when I was 70, and I will be 72 this year, so it is time to leave! I will continue to do translations for TWB but will no longer represent TWB through events or writing.

I had always thought that in my retirement I would sit in my rocking chair and read books – but retirement in the 21st century is just not like that! So I will continue with my work as a freelance translator and also my work for organizations such as our local branch of Samaritans

I plan to spend time, especially each summer, on another retirement project – sailing! I volunteered for the 2012 London Olympics as an interpreter (Italian-English and Frech-English) and was assigned to the Paralympic sailing at Portland. I liked what I saw and have since joined my local sailing club, have obtained a Competent Crew certificate and passed the VHF radio exam in order to coordinate communications during races!

I will follow TWB on social media with great interest – and I know that when a crisis strikes anywhere in the world TWB will be there to help. #LanguageMatters

Left to right: Sailing off the Isle of Wight; members of my sailing club holding a fundraising event (I am holding the cash box!); and my RYA ‘Competent Crew’ certificate
Written by Sue Fortescue, Ambassador for Translators without Borders 2015-2019

Getting community engagement right from the start: a reflection on the Cyclone Idai humanitarian response

If I had to summarize Translators without Borders’ learning from the Cyclone Idai response, it would be: language support can be a significant tool for effective, accountable humanitarian action. But only if there is a more comprehensive approach to community engagement from the outset. 

It is one thing to read a statistic about the linguistic diversity and low literacy levels of the population in Mozambique. It is another thing entirely to sit down with a group of Cyclone Idai survivors in Beira and hear it in person. To learn from one person after another that they are unable to communicate with aid workers in a language they understand. 

Community engagement MozambiqueThis is what TWB’s assessment team and I heard a few weeks ago when we conducted a rapid language assessment in four temporary accommodation sites. We found that many people do not understand the main languages and formats used by humanitarian organizations. They voiced frustration about how difficult it is to access information about available assistance. After one of southern Africa’s worst disasters in decades, we learned that much humanitarian communication is failing because it is in the wrong language.

Today, in the comfort of my home, I’m thinking about what this means. In a way, it shows that humanitarians still fall short of meeting their commitments to “leave no one behind” and “put people at the center.” This is probably not news to many. But it leaves me torn when thinking about the impact of TWB’s language support services in the Cyclone Idai response. Looking at our project, I can say we worked with others to strengthen communication with affected people in the relevant languages. But looking at the remaining gaps, I am less convinced that our work ensured effective engagement with all those affected from the onset of the response.

My point here is not to be skeptical about the first-phase emergency aid delivered in Mozambique. Many communities lost everything due to Cyclone Idai and rely on that aid to rebuild their lives. But I want to reflect on learning in the humanitarian sector. I think we generally try to question ourselves. However, it sometimes feels like we spend more energy evaluating how things went wrong after the fact than we do getting it right up front. 

IOM response to Cyclone Idai, Beira, Mozambique
Credit: Andrew Lind / IOM

In recent years, there has been no shortage of research on the importance of meaningful community engagement. Effective two-way communication is an essential element of engagement. Yet, activities aimed at ensuring people’s voices are heard and understood are still implemented as optional ‘add-ons.’ They are rushed, under-resourced or restricted to the later stages of a response. That needs to change.

What then, can be done?

For a start, we need to collect and share language data as part of needs assessments. That data is a basis for workable and effective communication strategies. It tells organizations three key things: 

  • Which language skills we need to recruit for; 
  • Which languages and formats we need to provide information in; and
  • Which languages and communication preferences we need to tailor feedback mechanisms to. 

Language assessments of the kind carried out by TWB in Beira can provide additional insight into information comprehension and specific vulnerabilities. On that basis, language support like translation and interpreting can be built into community engagement response plans and budgets. 

It is not too late to start collecting, sharing, and using this data in the Cyclone Idai response. But we need to apply this change from the outset of the next emergency. It is the time to ensure we are accountable to the people that need it most, and that this process is in the languages and formats they want. We owe it to the people we aim to help – and to ourselves to maximize the learning we get from them. 

Any takers?

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders

On the ground in Mozambique: helping survivors of Cyclone Idai get the answers they need in their own languages

Days in Beira, Mozambique are long and humid. The city and its surroundings are still reeling from the destruction caused by Cyclone Idai. Five weeks on, I see people seeking a sense of normality and routine: women and men walking on their way to work, children playing soccer on the street, families having barbecues on the weekend. Their resilience is astounding and yet the uncertainty about how to move forward makes the situation harder to cope with for many.

Credit: Andrew Lind / IOM

At one of the temporary accommodation sites in Beira, TWB’s assessment team and I met some of the people whose houses and livelihoods have been washed away. They patiently answered our survey, but they themselves had too many unanswered questions. Many were confused about the aid available; some had still no idea about the fate of loved ones; others wanted to go back but wondered what conditions were like where they came from.

Without the ability to get answers, I fear people might feel utterly abandoned. Without trusted sources of accurate, timely, and consistent information, rumors and misinformation can exacerbate the crisis. This can lead people to make poor decisions, or make them vulnerable to violence, extortion, and abuse.

The challenge is that people need the right information in the right language, right now. Nobody said it was easy, but if we are serious about our humanitarian commitments to effectiveness and accountability, it needs to be done.

That is why TWB is working with other humanitarian organizations to ensure a two-way conversation with affected people, especially the many that do not speak Portuguese. In the hardest hit provinces, the main local languages spoken and understood include Ndau, Nyanja, Lomwe, and Sena. One of our focuses has been mobilizing translators with the right language skills so that we can support making information available in local languages.

This is crucial work that is inspiring and humbling at the same time. Many of the translators we are working with have been directly impacted by Cyclone Idai. Gustavo, one of our volunteer translators, reminded me about this when we first met.

Gustavo is a high school teacher of English who has been translating critical information into and from Sena. Sitting at a desk in his classroom that still reeked of damp, he explained that people here are no strangers to natural disasters. Yet, a lack of information ahead of Cyclone Idai meant that few were prepared for its devastating impact. “The next day [after the cyclone] we could not recognize where we were. It was like there had been a war or a bomb which had destroyed everything: houses were gone; roads were cut; trees were down; there was no electricity or phone and internet connections,” he said.

Gustavo opened his home to host some of his neighbors and relatives who lost all their belongings. And when he received an email from TWB asking for his availability to help, he said “yes” right away. “I took the invitation as an opportunity to assist those in need with written or oral information in their own language. This is one of the best things I can do to help my community get back on its feet.”

A crisis like a cyclone, by its nature, is a traumatic event. But talking with Gustavo I am reminded about the powerful thing that is meaningful communication. Communicating with people about the situation and answering their questions can be critical. Helping people to understand where they can get help and how they can help themselves improves their psychological resilience and their ability to recover. Doing so in local languages is key to ensuring people understand information and can act on it to rebuild their lives.

There is no quick fix that will address all of people’s questions. However, I know that working with local translators is needed to come at the issue using the right languages. Together with our team, I intend to keep doing so.

As of 30 April, our team of volunteer translators has translated over 70,000 words into relevant local languages. Thanks to their support, we are filling information gaps on issues such as hygiene, health, shelter, safety, and preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. If you would like further information about our language support services in Mozambique, you can contact us at [email protected].

This project is funded by the H2H Fund, a funding mechanism for H2H Network members supported by UK aid from the UK government.

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders

An Interview with Liudmila, a Russian translator connecting the world through language

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Translation is not the only skill that helps TWB translators connect people through language. A deep understanding of culture, people, and precision can also help nonprofit organizations communicate with people affected by crisis or poverty.

“I am a translator to the marrow of my bones, and a perpetual learner — every translation for me is a discovery.” Liudmila Tomanek, Translator for TWB.

Take, for example, Russian translator Liudmila Tomanek. When she is not freelancing and running her translation company, this linguist with a penchant for perfection translates information for people in need, on a diverse range of topics. To date, she has donated over 225,000 words translated from English into her native Russian. Through her work with TWB, she uses and develops her communication skills and cultural understanding to help people understand vital information, no matter what language they speak.

Working in the real world

As a multilingual translator and interpreter working from English, French, Spanish, and Italian into Russian, Liudmila understandably has a range of experience and cultural knowledge. She draws on this in projects with TWB, and is comfortable working in diverse subject areas. Particular interests lie in journalism, economics, and medical translation.

During her time with TWB, Liudmila has used her deep cultural understanding to translate information on topics ranging from human rights to poverty and infectious diseases. In doing so, she has supported nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross, Internews, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Donating words

The very fact that TWB exists and flourishes, she believes, demonstrates that quality skills can be incredibly valuable when it comes to helping a good cause.Book, spectacles, glasses

With her translated words, she reaches out to those who would otherwise lack the access to information they need in a language and format they understand. Liudmila compares her volunteering with TWB to doctors working for Doctors without Borders: professionals using their skills to treat people where the need is greatest. She explains, “professional translators who volunteer for TWB provide information where it is needed and in the language it is needed.” Projects with TWB have opened Liudmila’s eyes to the wide-ranging need for professional translation: from the families of children born with a cleft lip and palate, to natural disaster management.

It helps me to see the world through a different set of spectacles. It removes a curtain from some aspects of life that people prefer not to think or talk about. – Liudmila

Liudmila lists her projects with Operation Smile International among her favorites. “They really do amazing things. They go around the world and give children born with a cleft lip or palate a chance to smile and live a full life. I cry every time I translate their newsletter,” she says.

Befriending technology

And sometimes translating leads to new skills. As a self-confessed old-fashioned type, she was once wary of computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. However, with Kató, TWB’s online translation platform, Liudmila was converted. Though a professional eye still is still needed to ensure context and quality, this translator now works faster and more consistently with Kató  – and gladly so.

When helping the world communicate, we’re thankful that Liudmila uses skills both old and new.

 

Want to use your language skills for good? Apply today.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected]

 

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Liudmila Tomanek, Translator for Translators without Borders. 

How I found meaning in my career

Volunteering with TWB is a rewarding and enriching experience.

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Iris Translator

Iris Soliman sets out to prove that when the cause matters to you, giving back comes naturally. Since early 2018, this translator’s enthusiasm for TWB’s work has shone through in her personal and professional life. Her support for the cause extends far beyond the translation work itself, as Iris has thrown herself into TWB’s Kató Community forum and social media platforms. Driving TWB’s vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers is a dedicated community of translators. They all volunteer because of a shared set of values: they believe in the need to make information available in languages that people understand. Iris embodies the energy and passion shared by many TWB translators.

Advancing a career in translation

The 35-year-old Belgian translator of Egyptian descent works in English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, and French. Iris began her professional translation career five years ago. And in just one year with TWB, she has participated in over 100 projects and translated over 200,000 words. Those words have helped individuals supported by a plethora of organizations including the NEAR network, Concern Worldwide, and Humanity and Inclusion.

Humanity and Inclusion is where Iris began her volunteering career in the Brussels office and in the field, 10 years prior to discovering TWB. More recently, she has been able to achieve a personal goal of translating a text from Arabic to French and participating in numerous meaningful projects.

Iris is touched by the knowledge that her work with TWB makes a real and discernible impact on lives. A fondly remembered translation was for a smartphone app called Miniila, by Missing Children Europe. The app provides migrant children with information about their rights and the services available to them on their arrival in Europe. In a separate project, she learned that important vaccine stocks in Syria had to be destroyed because they were in a location occupied by Daesh. For Iris, these translations are personal reminders of her lucky situation, while others sometimes struggle to meet basic needs.

Iris Translator

“Now I hope I’ll help all kinds of people – elderly, grownups or children – particularly those fleeing conflict, starvation or natural disasters.”


As an engaged member of the TWB community, Iris is thankful for the knowledge-sharing, the friendly environment and the opportunity to help others while gaining humanitarian experience.

Fitting TWB volunteering into a busy life.

Though she is busy, Iris finds time to dedicate to her volunteer work. For her it is about so much more than doing a job: she is part of a thriving community. While still volunteering for TWB regularly, Iris is completing various online courses and preparing for the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi Chinese proficiency examination. 

Iris hopes that her energetic approach to the translator community will encourage other translators to join. For anyone who is curious, she offers words of advice: “You can always ask the project managers questions (they are more than simply available). And don’t worry if you need to double check, make corrections, or have your work revised. I was like you less than a year ago!” This is all part of her endless desire to make a difference and grow professionally.

“Iris has contributed a substantial number of words on TWB’s translation platform, Kató. But what really distinguishes her is the great enthusiasm she is showing in the Kató Community” Paulina Abzieher, Translation Project Manager for TWB.

If you, too, share our values, apply to join TWB’s translator community today.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected]

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Iris Soliman, Translator for Translators without Borders. Cover photo by Karim Ani.

Responding to a tsunami with mother language translation

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

On 22 December 2018, a tsunami struck the Banten Province in Western Java, Indonesia. It devastated buildings and homes along the coasts of Java and Sumatra. It caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. The international response offered monetary aid and supplies for the Indonesian community. Meanwhile, TWB’s translators volunteered to ensure that those in need got vital information in a language they understood.

Lesser Sundra Islands, Indonesia.
Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia.

Rapid Response

This is the story of how one translator’s dedication, skill, and speed made a difference. Indras Wulandar has worked as a professional translator for many years. She translates from English into Indonesian (her mother tongue) and Javanese. In the last four years, she has translated over 25,000 words for TWB. She also facilitated the translation of many more as a quality reviewer.

During the tragedy, Indras’ contribution was outstanding in reviewing Indonesian translators’ tests. This allowed TWB to recruit the Indonesian translators required to respond to language support needs during the crisis.

Indras and the rest of TWB’s community of Indonesian linguists responded to our call. We needed to translate vital documents to support people affected by the tsunami in Western Java. Indras had already helped with crisis projects, like the response to the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi, a few months earlier. For those who speak Indonesian as their mother language, this was a significant project. It provided health and safety information in a language shared by people caught in the natural disaster.

“The experience showed that even the tiniest act of kindness and help can really matter.” Indras Wulandar, Translator.

Humanity Road

During the crisis, TWB worked with Humanity Road, a non-profit specializing in disaster response. There was a need for life-saving warnings and emergency advice in local languages. While the common language is Indonesian, the most widely spoken in the area are Javanese and Sundanese. In some humanitarian responses such as this, there is little information on the languages spoken by crisis-affected people.

Our translators provided that information in the necessary languages. TWB also created a map of languages spoken in the area affected by the tsunami. Maps like these give information on the languages spoken, literacy, and best means for communication. Humanitarians can use this information freely to plan and refine their communication with affected people. See more TWB maps here.

Indonesia Tsunami – Crisis Language Map
Indonesia Tsunami – a map of language needs following the December 2018 tsunami.

Reaching out to others

As a strong believer in life-long learning and self-improvement, Indras is a keen translation reviewer. Reviewers ensure we provide high-quality translations to non-profits over the world. In situations like this, it is vital that people get the information they need in a timely manner, and in a language they understand. Her quick review work made that happen. Indras understands the magnitude of her work as a reviewer. “Reviewing tests is particularly challenging for me, because it means, more or less, that I take part in shaping the quality of the work.”

“Never stop learning and improving yourself. Like the old saying goes, ‘the more you know, the more you don’t know.’”

For Indras, being able to live off of her passion, translation, makes her feel privileged. She loves her work, and she likes to volunteer her skills to give back to society. She describes knowing that she can be useful as “therapeutic.”

“It’s good to know that I can expand my own knowledge while helping to connect these non-profit communities with people who need their service.” – Indras Wulandar

Devastation after a tsunami, Indonesia.

“I signed up to TWB because it is a platform that I can trust. With its global and broad outreach, I hope to help those in need. Including minority groups and those who live in remote places.” Indras Wulandar.

Click here to join TWB’s community of translators.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected]

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Indras Wulandar, Translator for Translators without Borders.

Marginalized mother languages – two ways to improve the lives of the people who speak them

21 February. This is the date chosen by UNESCO for International Mother Language Day, which has been observed worldwide since 2000. This year deserves special attention as 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Both initiatives promote linguistic diversity and equal access to multilingual information and knowledge.

Languages can be a huge resource. At the same time, the mother language that people speak can be a barrier to accessing opportunities. People who speak marginalized mother languages often belong to remote or less prosperous communities and, as a result, they are more vulnerable when a crisis hits.

Yet, the humanitarian and development sector has been largely blind to the importance of language. International languages such as English, French, Arabic, and Spanish dominate, excluding the people who most need their voices heard. Marginalized language speakers are denied opportunities to communicate their needs and priorities, report abuse, or get the information they need to make decisions.

If aid organizations are to meet their high-level commitments to put people at the center of humanitarian action and leave no one behind, this needs to change. To understand better how to address language barriers facing marginalized communities, two actions can lead our sector in the right direction.

Aerial view of Monguno, Borno State, Nigeria. Photo by Eric DeLuca, Translators without Borders.

Putting languages on the map

The first is language mapping. No comprehensive and readily accessible dataset exists on which language people speak where.

TWB has started to fill that gap by creating maps from existing data and from our own research. Our interactive map shows the language and communication needs of internally displaced people in northeast Nigeria. The map uses data collected by the International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix team. This data shows, for instance, that access to information is a serious problem at over half of sites where Marghi is the dominant language. Aid organizations can use this map to develop the right communication strategy for reaching people in need.

Humanitarian and development organizations can add some simple standard questions to their household surveys and other assessments to gather valuable language data. Aid workers will then understand the communication needs and preferences of the 176 million people in need of humanitarian assistance globally.

But communication in a crisis situation – or in any situation – should not be one-way. That’s where the second action comes in.

Building machine translation capacity in marginalized languages

Language technology has dramatically shifted two-way communication between people who speak different languages. In order to truly help people in need, listen to and understand them, we need to apply technology to their languages as well.

TWB is leading the Gamayun Language Equality Initiative to make it happen. We have built a closed-environment, domain-specific Levantine Arabic machine engine for the UN World Food Programme. This initiative will improve accountability to Syrian refugees facing food insecurity. Initial testing indicates that Gamayun will provide an efficient method for accessing local information sources. It will enable aid organizations to better understand the needs of their target populations, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

TWB Fulfulde Team Lead conducting comprehension research. Waterboard camp in Monguno, Borno State, Nigeria. Photo by Eric DeLuca, Translators without Borders.

We need to continue building the parallel language datasets from humanitarian and development content that make machine translation a viable option. That will expand the evidence that machine translation can enable better communication, including by empowering affected people to hold aid organizations to account in their own language.

Taking action

These two actions can help the humanitarian and development sector improve lives by promoting two-way communication with speakers of marginalized languages.  These actions will need to be expanded to be truly effective, but International Mother Language Day in the Year of Indigenous Languages is a great time to start.

To read:

    • The IFRC 2018 World Disasters Report, which includes clear and compelling recommendations about the importance of language to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people are not “left behind”
  • TWB’s white paper on the Gamayun Language Equality Initiative

To do:

    • Consult our dashboard and think about how you can start collecting this data to inform your programs
    • Follow our journey as we continue to move forward with Gamayun (and learn along the way!)
  • Email us if you have an idea to share or want to do more in this area: [email protected]
Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders. 

Beyond translation: Maysa’s far-reaching contribution

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

This month’s featured translator works in two of the most widespread languages in the world: English is an official language across 59 countries, while Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in 26 countries. Arabic and its many varieties are the mother tongue of 310 million people in the Arab world, parts of Latin America, and Western Europe.

Maysa Orabi

For Maysa, joining TWB made sense: “I rushed to submit my application. I realized that I could finally give a helping hand using what I do best and love the most: translation.”

Maysa Orabi is an invaluable member of the TWB community thanks to her enviable translation skills. By translating into two of TWB’s most common language pairs, English to Arabic and Arabic to English she directly impacts the lives of many. Not only has Maysa translated more than 100,000 words for TWB, but she has also reviewed almost 200 translation tests as a trusted quality reviewer. This enables TWB to recruit new translators, build our language community, and maintain high translation quality.

Telling Human Stories

It was only after joining TWB that Maysa came to realize the magnitude of what she was giving. Maysa is interested in human nature, and our desire for communication and understanding of our world. Yet often, that understanding is only possible thanks to our access to knowledge in a language we understand – and not everyone has that advantage.

Maysa has a deep desire to understand the world, and the hardships faced by many. But she is especially invested in the stories of people living through difficult times. She wants to help them tell their stories:

“They want to have a voice and they need to know they are being heard.”

Translators have chosen to help amplify the voices of others, so Maysa says that translators must be diligent and put their heart and soul into what they translate. With this in mind, she guides the translators she works with whenever she revises their work. Over the last three years, she has reviewed the quality of an additional 50,000 words of translation tests on top of her own translation tasks.

Ferry to Athens,
“Because your words are as important as a warm blanket for a poor child on a cold night.” Maysa Orabi. Photo by Karim Ani.

“As a Jordanian and an Arab, not to mention a human, I was shaken by the events the Arab world witnessed in recent years. I wanted to be present and helpful in any way possible. When vulnerable, displaced, and deprived people cry for help, their suffering is doubled if they cannot communicate with those who want to help them. I want to know there is something I can do.” Maysa Orabi.

And so, Maysa decided to put her efforts, knowledge, and experience into translating for TWB, to prove that language matters.

Still learning

Maysa explains that TWB has given her the chance to gain and develop her skills fast. Her projects remain in the back of her mind while she is working on other translations, and they occupy much of her spare time. The extra experience in translation and lessons in efficiency have honed her professional abilities.

The projects she handles for TWB have also developed her awareness of the world. In particular, she has worked on medical content for Wikipedia and articles for Internews. Those Internews articles touched on the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece and other European countries. They showed her the difficulties faced by people trying to settle in a safe place: tumultuous legal procedures and regulations, uncertain futures, separation from family, an inability to work, and limited access to a proper residence. Her work involved translating questions and concerns, in which she learned of the troubled, inescapable realities of so many people. Maysa describes how those communications revealed the urgency of the situation for many, and the hard time the world is having to contain the ravages of wars.

“A traveler I am, and a navigator, and every day I discover a new region within my soul.” Khalil Gibran

The translating and reviewing work that Maysa does is enormous: it deals with big languages, big issues, and makes a big difference. But its effect is immediate, even life-changing, on a personal level. Individuals and families have been given access to vital information that they might not have had, thanks to Maysa and our community of TWB translators.

“TWB has increased my love for translation and my sense of the significance of what I do; that I translate for a cause.” Maysa Orabi.

Click here to join TWB’s community of translators.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected].

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB, with interview responses by Maysa Orabi, Kató translator for TWB.