An evolving crisis needs an evolving glossary

The expanded TWB Bangladesh Glossary app is now available for field workers and interpreters working on the Rohingya humanitarian response.

As a humanitarian crisis evolves, so do the information needs of affected communities. And so does knowledge of the associated language complexities. Humanitarian responders gradually understand the linguistic ambiguities and cultural nuances that affect our work. Glossaries help to consolidate our knowledge and make us more effective.

The initial information needs relating to critical things like how to build shelter and how to access services have been met. But humanitarian responders are now addressing more complex ongoing issues affecting the community. That means language requirements are changing and becoming increasingly complex too.

A glossary to help 

Translators without Borders (TWB) released its Bangladesh Glossary app in June 2018 for people working on the Rohingya humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It helps field workers, interpreters, and Rohingya refugees communicate between five languages: Rohingya, Bangla, Burmese, Chittagonian, and English.

You can view and use the TWB Bangladesh Glossary app here. It’s available offline for easy field access.

The initial TWB Bangladesh Glossary app included terms focused on WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). But other humanitarian sectors clamored for a tool that could help them communicate more effectively too. TWB understands the importance of communicating in a language that affected people understand. So we responded to the clamor and added hundreds of new terms to the Bangladesh Glossary app.

Adding to the conversation

We’ve added 200 terms to improve conversations on key gender issues. For example, we learned that the term for puberty in Rohingya differs according to gender. Ghor-goille is literally translated as ‘entering the house’, and is used only for girls, as this is the beginning of their gender segregation. Certain words highlight how the community perceives women’s roles in society. Azad mela-fuain, commonly used by aid workers to refer to women’s independence, is often misunderstood by the Rohingya community as ‘a woman without morals’ (or a free or loose woman).  

“Conversations about sensitive gender issues can rely heavily on euphemisms,” says TWB Sociolinguistic Researcher, AK Rahim. “While there may be a correct term, there are euphemisms that the community prefers and feels more comfortable using. That’s why this tool is so important. It doesn’t only identify the correct word; it also helps humanitarians to respect the cultural importance of particular terms.”

This update also includes another 100 WASH terms and more health terms focusing on disability and inclusion. The addition of emergency terms will assist in discussions about disaster preparedness and response.

The expanded glossary is also easier to navigate, with sector-relevant categories now available on the left side of the app. We’ve also transliterated Chittagonian and Rohingya terms so that you can view and show them in both Latin English and Bengali scripts.

Of course, the tool can only make an impact when used, and we’re proud to say we have now trained close to 400 field workers to use it. In the next few months, we’ll be adding another 500 terms, focusing on the health, education, and nutrition sectors.  

The TWB Bangladesh Glossary app is a practical and evolving tool. We invite feedback from humanitarians and the community, so please get in touch with your suggestions and alert us to any faults. We want to know if you’re using the glossary, how you’re using it and when it’s not working.

As always, we are grateful to the partners who have contributed to this project, particularly Unicef, Oxfam, and Care International. The TWB Bangladesh Glossary app was developed with the support of IOM, the UN migration agency. It is co-funded by the UK Department for International Development, UNICEF, and Oxfam.

Basic download instructions for Android or iPhone are  here in English and Bangla.

 
Written by Irene Scott, TWB's Program Director, Bangladesh. 
 

Hefazot transforms to nirapotta; janela becomes kirkiri

One year into the Rohingya refugee response, a language evolves with its people.

Language is fluid. It is subject to environment, culture, and the whims of communities. It’s been one year since more than 700,000 Rohingya fled over the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh. And it is here in these cramped refugee camps that a language is shifting and evolving right in front of us.

The early days

In the early days of the response, the language challenges for the refugee community were immense. First responders struggled to communicate where and how to access lifesaving services, and to document individual accounts of trauma. The community struggled to explain its essential needs (According to one report, more than 60% of refugees said they could not communicate with aid workers), and dozens of untrained interpreters emerged overnight to fill the need for linguistic middlemen. Many of these amateur interpreters spoke the local Chittagonian; while somewhat similar, there are very distinct differences in the languages that create confusion, misinformation and miscommunication. Rohingya speakers estimate that there is around a 70% similarity between Chittagonian and Rohingya (Rohingya Zuban report). That might sound pretty good – but keep in mind that there is more than 80 percent similarity between Spanish and Italian, and no one would ever hire an Italian interpreter for a Spanish refugee!

“Only a few of our men knew Bangla or English. The locals were helping, but even they couldn’t fully understand us. We couldn’t explain to them why we were fleeing, what was being done to us across the river.”  

Woman in her mid-30s, living in Nayapara, an informal camp in the region.

For example, early in the response, the phrase ‘violence against women’ was frequently misinterpreted as ‘violent women’. Certain kinship terms, like husband (beda / zamai / shwami) and daughter (zer-fua / maya-fua / mela-fua), led to some families being separated when shelters were assigned. Then there was gaa lamani — in Rohingya it means diarrhea, but in Chittagonian, it literally translates as ‘body falling down.’ This certainly led to some confusing sessions with health workers.

Signs directing the community to health centers, food distribution sites and other essential services were written mostly in English (although less than 5 percent of the population is literate in English). The main avenue to complain or give feedback was the complaints box – a concept that not only requires a level of literacy, but is also culturally alien to the community.

Help desk sign

A new way forward

A year on, many organizations are creating innovative ways to communicate. For example, many are working with the community to develop image-based signage.The challenges in developing images that represent such seemingly simple concepts as ‘caution’ or ‘hospital’ give an insight into the complexities of communicating symbols amongst different languages and cultures.

“A white hand means clean hand. If you want to stay ‘stop’ or ‘caution’, use red. A red hand will stand out. It will tell us to stop.”

Middle-aged man, testing shelter signage

More than a million Rohingya refugees now live in camps spread across the southernmost tip of Bangladesh. Here, older refugee communities that arrived over the last 30 years live side by side with new arrivals and the host community. Throw into the language ecosystem the institutionalized jargon spoken by English speaking aid workers and you have a fascinating interplay of language and culture.

Language is influenced by its surroundings. For example, the Rohingya dialect spoken by the older arrivals now differs from the Rohingya spoken by the newer arrivals. Decades of living amongst a Bangladeshi host community has seen their mother tongue adopt a number of Bangla words. For example, a newly arrived refugee might use the word hefazot, to refer to ‘security’ or ‘safety’ while the more established refugee community now borrows from Bangla nirapotta. Older refugees might use the word janela (actually borrowed from the former Portuguese colonizers) meaning window, while newer refugees use kirkiri.

“When I go to the clinic, the doctor can’t understand when I explain what’s wrong using Rohingya language. The health interpreter sometimes teaches me the word for my condition in Bangla. This is helping me communicate better with the doctor.”

Woman, 54

When speaking to a newly arrived Rohingya refugee, you will notice the influence of Burmese, Arabic, and Farsi in their terminology. Serama (from siyama in Burmese, meaning ‘female teacher’), serang (‘to make a list’) and atwarta (‘documents’) show the Burmese and Rakhine influence on the language. While mosiboth (‘danger’) and izzot (‘honor’) come from Arabic, aramiyoth (‘health’), moroth (‘male’), and rong (‘color’) are Farsi words either borrowed directly or via Urdu.

“Sometimes it’s even difficult for us to understand the new Rohingyas, especially if they come from fuk-kool” (literally, ‘the east side’ of the mountain range). “Their accent is distinct, and they use words that many other Rohingyas don’t use. Maybe they use more Rakhine words.” 

Salim, Rohingya interpreter from Teknaf.

In the last year it has become clear that humanitarian responders are giving more than aid to the community. New English words are creeping into Rohingya dialogue every day.  For example, the Rohingya word for ‘toilet’, tatti is now commonly replaced by the word lettin (fromlatrine’) and modotgoroya, the word for ‘aid worker’, has become bolontiyar (fromvolunteer’) in everyday Rohingya vocabulary. While the registered Rohingya community uses the Bangla word shoronati, the newer arrivals have replaced the Burmese dokasi with the English word ‘refugee’ (pronounced rifuzi). Interestingly, even English words that they picked up while in Myanmar are now being replaced with “newer” English words, like the word for intravenous saline (deep from ‘drip’ in Myanmar; selain from ‘saline’ in Bangladesh).

“Most of us now say ‘hosfital’ for medical centers, but the older women still prefer to ‘dattahana.’”

Young woman, focus group discussion

The camp is full of different languages; Burmese rhymes compete with Arabic hymns and Hindi pop songs. The community is eager to learn new languages. Burmese is regularly cited as the most desirable language to learn, closely followed by English and Bangla (in that order). And while the teaching of Bangla is officially banned by the government, some Rohingya men – particularly the youth – study informally at night among themselves and with the older, registered Rohingya refugees.

This is what makes our work here so fascinating. It’s riveting watching language twist and turn to fit into its new environment like you would squeeze into a pair of new jeans. That’s why resources like our glossary, resources, and the training we provide to field workers in this response is so crucial. This ensures important information is delivered in the right language and that as their language needs shift and evolve, we are able to move with them. Over the next year we’re sure to see more change, as more children have access to learning centers that teach English and Burmese, and interactions between the community and aid workers from around the world increase. Listen carefully; language matters.

This blog post is based on dozens of conversations and focus groups held by TWB with the community over the last year.

Written by Irene Scott, TWB Program Director, Bangladesh, and AK Rahim, TWB Sociolinguistic Researcher.

Translating mental health — finding language solutions in northeast Nigeria

If the sign at the mental health clinic read, “Services for mad people,” would you walk in for help?

Yet that is the reality for many people in northeast Nigeria because of the difficulty in translating concepts like ‘mental health’ into Nigerian languages. Translators without Borders (TWB) is working with humanitarian experts in mental health to better understand the nuances among languages so that words can encourage use of services rather than hinder access.

Northeast Nigeria is linguistically diverse, with more than 30 mother tongues spoken by 1.9 million people displaced by conflict. Often traumatized by the conflict, many internally displaced people (IDPs) could benefit from mental health services. Yet the translation of ‘mental health’ into the main two languages used in the response – Hausa and Kanuri – carries a heavy stigma, possibly keeping people away from clinics.


How can those working in the mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) sector communicate information about services, when the very name of the sector scares people away?


To address this question, TWB worked with affected people and sector specialists to identify terms that need to be communicated more effectively. The resulting terminology recommendations and the proposed language glossary, with terms translated into Hausa and Kanuri, promote the use of unambiguous and less stigmatizing language. Use of these terms may, by extension, increase the use of services by those who need them.  

TWB began by identifying 301 key mental health terms that are either difficult to translate, commonly misunderstood, or stigmatizing.

This list was then researched and discussed extensively. TWB facilitated a workshop with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) MHPSS specialists to identify particularly difficult words and discuss alternative translations, aiming to use plain language and to avoid words that stigmatize. A group of 53 internally displaced people then reviewed the translations. TWB tested comprehension among the group and explored alternative translations. Throughout the process, TWB discovered key areas where language posed a significant challenge in the delivery of mental health and psychosocial support services.

Points of confusion

One major finding was that many terms commonly used by English speakers when discussing mental health are heavily stigmatized or misunderstood in northeast Nigeria. “Mental health” in Hausa is literally “services for mad people” — a shocking example of stigma. An alternative way of discussing this sector may lie with the phrase “psychosocial support,” which TWB discovered did not carry the same stigma in Hausa.

Generic terms such as “abuse” and “stress” caused confusion as there is often not a comparable generic term in Hausa or Kanuri. In both languages, the translation of “abuse” was generally understood by respondents to refer only to ‘verbal abuse,’ similar to an insult. Similarly, “stress” meant only physical stress to respondents, such as the physical strain you feel after a day of hard labor. If an aid worker intends to communicate how to relieve “mental stress” or how to heal after experiencing “physical abuse,” it’s clear that miscommunication may occur. Therefore, it is best to always pair descriptive words like “physical,” “verbal,” or “emotional,” with “abuse” and “stress.”

A similar issue was found with the concept of a “safe space.” When used in an English-speaking mental health context, it refers to a physical space where one feels cared for and emotionally supported. However, those surveyed understood this concept as a place with armed guards. This is an example of how sector-specific jargon may not make sense to those who need services. In northeast Nigeria, the concept “accepted space” may translate better.

The TWB MHPSS Glossary


“This is a very laudable work that will hasten the delivery of services to the affected people of north east Nigeria.”  
– Dr. Muhammad A. Ghuluze. Director, Emergency Medical Response and Humanitarian Services


To provide a solution for these issues, TWB has updated its Glossary for Nigeria with the 301 MHPSS-related terms. This glossary app includes words, definitions, sample sentences, and audio recordings for the selected terms. It can be accessed on a computer, tablet, Android, or iOS device, and can be used both on- and offline, which is useful given the poor connectivity in northeast Nigeria.

The app is already being used in training sessions with positive results. Thomas Eliyahu Zanghellin, theMental Health and Psychosocial Support / Gender-based Violence Focal Point for the NGO INTERSOS in Maiduguri, Nigeria, has used the glossary in four training sessions already, generating “really fun group work with stimulating discussions.”

Language and terminology play a key role in the delivery of aid. Many sectors, including mental health and psychosocial support, use jargon and generic terms that do not readily translate in some cultures. Discussions about language allow the humanitarian world to challenge this terminology. The TWB Glossary for Nigeria provides a potential solution, allowing affected communities to access services and claim their rights in a language they understand.

Learn more about the TWB Glossary for Nigeria, and other TWB glossary projects here.

Language Technology Could Help 157 Million People Get Access To Information

I was exhausted.  It had been a great week in Bangladesh, but the overload of language, smells, refugee camp, seeing old friends, meeting new friends, government, donors, and all the while pretending like I wasn’t jetlagged, was taking its toll.  I just wanted to go to sleep.

My last meeting was in Dhaka with someone in the Prime Minister’s office.  I had little hope of staying awake through the meeting.

And yet, I was captivated.

Bangladesh Help Desk Signage
Bangladesh Help Desk Signage

The literacy rate in Bangladesh is considered low (72.8% according to UNESCO in 2016) but is just below the global average. Literacy among women is lower (69.9%); but, in general, the majority of the people have at least basic literacy skills.  There is 90 percent mobile phone penetration and 96 percent mobile internet access. The International Mother Language Institute, the body in Bangladesh that supports the promotion, spread, and preservation of Bangla languages, says that 41 languages are spoken in the country, only five of which have written scripts.  In the humanitarian response for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Translators without Borders (TWB) finds the situation particularly difficult. Rohingya has no agreed written script. Very few of the refugees can read and write, there are few people who speak Rohingya and anything else well. Add to this mix low radio coverage – not only do the Rohingya not have radios, even if they did there is not even radio coverage in parts of the camps, and about one million people living in poor and difficult conditions that speak many different dialects and you begin to understand why communicating effectively is difficult.

It’s vitally important that there is two-way communication between the people – refugees and local Bangladeshis – and the government and aid workers. Take the issue of the coming monsoon. The formal and makeshift refugee camps have sprouted up all over the Cox’s Bazar district, an area that includes a national park and lush forest. But now the trees have been torn down to make room for shelters and for firewood.  This makes the soil very unstable and dangerous, with monsoon rains promising huge mud pits and the possibility of landslides. It is also a hilly area; tents are built on the sides of hills that will become slippery and unstable with heavy rains and wind. Refugees, as well as local residents, need to know where to go, what to do if there’s an emergency, how to get help for those needing medical attention, and what to do if food gets swept away.  

The challenges abound. The digital world seems a world away.    

And yet, enter Dr. Jami.  In a buzzy, busy office with a high level of excitement and a relatively good gender balance, I was suddenly in the middle of a high tech environment.  Dr. Jami launched directly into what he wanted us to know and do.

Dr. Jami runs the Access to Information (A2I, inevitably) project in the Prime Minister’s office. The aim is to help the people of Bangladesh quickly and easily get information on public services. One of A2I’s projects is the digitization of government institutions; they have developed over 1,000 key government websites.  Dr. Jami is not a language guy (he’s a solutions architect), but he proceeds to tell me quickly that Bangla was only standardized in Unicode five years ago, so there is very little data available from which to build good translation engines.  While there’s 90 percent mobile phone penetration, in 2018 GSMA estimated that only 28-30 percent of those were smartphones. Yet, 96 percent of internet access is via phones. Whaaa? How does that work? It’s also startling how little desktops and laptops are used to access the internet.  

I asked a taxi driver, who was using a smartphone, if he used his phone for the internet.  He replied, “No, but I use it for Facebook.”

There are no data charges for Facebook in Bangladesh – unless you want to see videos or pictures.  Internet use is Facebook and Facebook is only text. Those who are illiterate, or only barely literate, won’t have smartphones.

To Dr. Jami, who needs more people to have smartphones to help ensure they can get access to information, the cost is not the barrier:  There are very inexpensive smartphones in Bangladesh. He believes it is fear of technology, which he believes is associated with illiteracy. To reach his goal of migrating 70 percent of the current mobile phone users to smartphones, he must address fear.

Language is an issue.  With a population of over 157 million people, and one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, you’d think that the language technology for Bangla would be outstanding.  It’s not. That’s surprising. And without that technology, equipping 1,000 websites with dynamic information in Bangla is nearly impossible, not to mention making them interactive and/or adding audio.

The work that A2I is doing is globally relevant, of course.  Other countries are already seeking their support to bring better access to information to their people.  He mentions that they are already working in South Sudan – which has the 2nd lowest literacy rate in the world.  Again, the language barrier is huge. And, again, there is little digital language data.  

Dr. Jami has heard of TWB’s Gamayun project – can we help?  Can we be a neutral broker to bring together the limited language data out there and leverage our knowledge of language and the language industry to help Bangladeshis get access to information about basic services?  

Dr. Jami and the TWB team will continue this conversation – there are still many questions to be asked and answered.  But I was impressed by the enthusiasm and the accomplishments of his team. And I am really excited to see where Dr. Jami and other countries take this exciting initiative.

Written by Translators without Borders' Executive Director Aimee Ansari. This article was also published on HuffPost UK.


Read a related post on The #LanguageMatters blog, ‘Language: Our Collective Blind Spot in the Participation Revolution’.  In TWB’s last blog post, Executive Director Aimee Ansari explains why we need to create and disseminate a global dataset on language and communication for crisis-affected countries. 

A translation worth a million words  

translator
Suzanne Assénat

In 2017, this team of four translators donated over 1.2 million words to the work of Translators without Borders (TWB).

In recognition of their invaluable contribution in mentoring new French translators, the French translation team (Barbara Pissane, Suzanne Assénat, Gladis Audi and Ode Laforge) won the 2018 Translators without Borders Access to Knowledge Award for Empowerment. Their work has allowed TWB to significantly increase language capacity and guarantee translation quality in one of the organization’s most requested language pairs (French to English). You would be hard-pressed to find a group of more deserving and yet modest individuals with such impressive achievements to their names. Having put into words countless life-changing messages, and contributed to the stories of thousands of people in crisis and need, it is inevitable that these women have some tales of their own to tell.

They are Empowerment Award-winning translators, but they are also so much more.

The team is made up of four witty volunteers, translators-interpreters, writers and mothers, each with their own quirks and attributes. Gladis describes herself as a hunger-relief activist and amateur rosarian who likes to explore nuances and innovate solutions; Ode is a teacher and communicator at heart; Barbara has a fondness for early music and tall ships events; Suzanne appreciates her family time and has a keen interest in the music of words and music itself.

translator Gladis
Gladis Audi

 With so many roles, it is a wonder these women smashed the one-million-word mark, but their motivations have been clear from the start.

All four translators acknowledge that their work with TWB allows them to contribute to social change and global awareness. For Gladis, “Spreading knowledge by breaking language barriers is very significant in itself.” Their motivations stem from a desire to feel “closer to people in distress, people living in countries shattered by wars, poverty, climate disasters or disease outbreaks,” says Ode. This work is her way to “express solidarity with them.”

The team tells the most moving anecdotes.

When asked to recount a significant project with TWB, Suzanne proudly remembered a time in which she mentored translation students in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was impressed by the students’ efforts. They did their work with “little computing hardware, connectivity problems, [while living with the threat of] armed conflict,” but they “kept at it and delivered pretty good translations.”

 translator Ode
Ode Laforge

Ode has a favorite memory that is close to her heart. “How could I ever forget this little book I translated for children in Africa, in which the main character, a little girl living with HIV, was talking about her everyday life?” Ode asks, as she reflects on the human connection that volunteering can foster. “She managed to lead a relatively happy life, taking the drugs she needed, eating healthy food prepared by her loving grandma, avoiding everything that could negatively interfere with her health, fighting difficult moments to stay healthy, playing with other children, and expressing her wish to become a scientist when she grew up, to find a cure for this terrible disease. Despite the seriousness of the topic, this little story was heartwarming and optimistic, but I was deeply moved while translating it.”

Not only has their support left a mark on the lives of thousands, but volunteering for TWB has made a difference to them, too.

This volunteer experience provided the backdrop for a new friendship, which began on the translation platform, between Ode and another TWB volunteer translator, Nadia Gabriel. She describes how they built a friendship “exchanging views on how to best render a tricky sentence or a difficult passage.” Since then, they have met in person and have kept in touch ever since. Ode is so grateful that her work with TWB has given her the opportunity to get to know such lovely friends. 

Finally, these productive translators shared some words of advice.

Gladis advocates balance and encourages aspiring volunteer translators to “work extra hard, have lots of fun, believe in yourself and in the team. A little can go a long way.”

Barbara Pissane translator
Barbara Pissane

For Barbara, it is all about the work ethic of keeping going and finding your work gratifying, You will be proud of the help you give to people and you will grow more confident. Moreover, you will have the opportunity to work with people who are always extremely committed!”

Suzanne recognizes the difficulty of finding the balance when translating as a volunteer and doing it for a living. Her advice is never to feel guilty for not doing enough, and never stay away indefinitely. “Come again, however (in)frequently you can! There’s an analogy to make with blood donations: You don’t and can’t do that very often, but every little drop (well, pouch, whatever) helps make a difference.”

Would you like to share in these life-changing experiences as a TWB volunteer translator? Apply now to get translating.

Written by Danielle Moore, Digital Communications Intern for TWB, with interview responses by Gladis Audi, Ode Laforge, Barbara Pissane and Suzanne Assénat, TWB Volunteer Translators

The Silver Lining – Education brings hope during a refugee crisis

There is a lot of despair and pain radiating from the refugee camps in and around the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. Physical pain from disease and injury, coupled with a lack of food, are constant issues for the Rohingya refugees in the camps. The mental anguish is much greater. Loss of family to violence, loss of homes and crops, and an ongoing feeling of degradation and violation of rights – this anguish lives with every refugee, every day.

And yet, while walking through camps, meeting with responders and activists throughout Cox’s Bazar, there was also a thin yet constant thread of hope. Would it be possible, now that the refugees are relatively safe, in camps run by Bangladesh and the international community, to truly educate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children, giving them a future they could not have previously imagined?

Educating an illiterate population

The new influx of more than 600,000 refugees to Bangladesh includes a large number of school-age children. According to Save the Children over 60 percent of the new refugees are children. These numbers could increase as even more refugees are expected to cross the border by the end of the year. UNICEF estimates that more than 450,000 Rohingya children aged 4-18 years old are in need of education services. That includes those who have been in the camps for longer periods [source: Reliefweb].

Evidence indicates that a very large number of the children, as well as the adults, are illiterate. In fact, in a rapid survey conducted by the TWB team in October with Rohingya refugees, 73 percent of respondents self-reported to be illiterate. This illiteracy is limiting the children’s ability to be further educated and to demand their human rights.

Evidence also indicates that when education is made available, literacy rates increase. In fact, in the study TWB completed last month, it was clear that refugees who have been in Bangladesh longer show higher levels of literacy than those who had more recently-arrived.  While not easy to obtain, education is more readily available in the established camps than it was in Myanmar where twin restrictions against movement between villages and education above primary level severely limited access to education. When our team tested populations who have been in Cox’s Bazar since prior to August 2017, comprehension rates improved across the board.

Now, with hundreds of thousands of children together in the refugee camps in Bangladesh, is this an opportunity to offer them education and a future?

Unfortunately, though, the language of instruction will be unfamiliar to the Rohingya children. Currently, a number of organizations are looking to set up learning centers in the camps. The goal is to give the refugee children at least two hours of education a day, beginning in January. Yet the official curriculum that the government of Bangladesh has approved does not include mother tongue education, and the teachers who are being hired will teach in Bangla and Burmese, two languages that the children do not read or speak.

Why mother tongue education matters

A wealth of experience and evidence over the last 50 years has proven that children learn better when they are taught in their mother tongue language. We also know that countries do better when their children are educated well. Evidence from a project that Save the Children has implemented in Thailand focusing on mother tongue education for Rohingya children, shows that learning a second language, English or Thai, is difficult when children do not understand the language of instruction. This undermines children’s ability to participate and invest in their education, despite their motivation [source: Save the Children].

But the issues with mother tongue education for the Rohingya children are deeper, because their mother tongue, Rohingya Zuban, is largely oral. The illiterate community speaks it fluently but does not generally have a means for written communication, through their mother tongue. Interesting work is already being done to establish a written form of Rohingya Zuban. A script was developed decades ago, and has been taught within the established camps and throughout areas of Bangladesh and Malaysia. The teaching is generally ‘under the radar’ of even informal education centers, and the materials used are handwritten, as unicoding of the language, is not complete. But even so, there is a major desire among the children and adults in the established camps to learn the written form; estimates put the number who have learned some of it at 10,000. Even more encouraging is the excitement generated among the students when they do have the opportunity to learn it – there is a true sense of the empowerment and identity that learning to read their own language gives them.

This initial mother tongue education work is unknown to most international agencies setting up learning centers, and its potential is unexplored. TWB is working with these agencies, as well as local organizations, international organizations specializing in mother tongue education and hopefully, the Bangladesh government, to include mother tongue tools in the curriculum. Teaching aids in Rohingya Zuban, mobile and online tools in unicoded Rohingya Zuban, and printed Rohingya Zuban early readers would all make a difference.


Now, back home and separated from the daily grind of the response by miles and time, I have reflected on that seed of hope that is education, and started to figure out how TWB can contribute to its growth. I believe TWB can make the greatest impact, by including mother tongue teaching and learning aids into the education programs being developed for Rohingya children.

The Rohingya refugee crisis offers the potential to educate hundreds of thousands of illiterate children, eager to learn, in their mother tongue. I hope we can make it happen.

Please follow this link to support TWB’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis

Rebecca PetrasBy Rebecca Petras, Deputy Director and Head of Innovation at Translators without Borders.

When crisis hits – communication is key

Deployed for the first time in 2015 to respond to the refugee crisis in Greece, the Translators without Borders Arabic Rapid Response Team (RRT) counts over 80 volunteers. From their homes around the world, equipped with an internet connection and a Skype account, the will to help others and language skills, these volunteers bring vital information to thousands of refugees and migrants in Greece, in a language they understand.

‘If people cannot understand each other, there will be a barrier that not only makes it difficult to communicate but also makes it difficult to trust each other’

Muhannad Al-Bayk, a graduate of and now teacher at the University of Aleppo, joined the Arabic RRT in early 2017. Since then, he has been lending his valuable translation skills to TWB partners such as RefuComm, Internews, and the British Red Cross, while juggling his studies and teaching responsibilities.

Having volunteered over 50 translation hours as part of TWB’s response to the refugee crisis in Greece, we were keen to catch up with Muhannad to find out why he decided to join TWB and what motivates him to be involved in this response. Muhannad starts by telling us, ‘I wanted to find a way to give to others who hadn’t been as lucky in life as I have. While researching how to help, I stumbled upon TWB which seemed like a perfect match for my skill set.’

Muhannad’s tasks as an Arabic RRT translator are varied. In addition to translating and editing files using TWB’s translation platform Kató, he also helps develop glossaries, format documents, and other technical tasks. His translation content has also been quite diverse – from translating articles for “News that Moves,” an online information source for refugees and migrants in Greece, to flyers to direct people affected by the Grenfell fires in London, to a helpline. Muhannad believes that these projects are truly helpful ‘because they are timely for the target audience. Being able to read about things as they happen helps people understand what is going on and makes them feel less lost and more involved in their situation.’

‘Working as a volunteer has been an invaluable experience. I’m constantly tackling new issues and learning new things. Meeting a lovely new group of professional people is a bonus. It also taught me to be more committed to timelines, since RRT work relies on fast turnaround times.’

Why language matters in a crisis

The dedicated volunteer wraps up our interview telling us, ‘It is hard to put one’s life in the hands of someone you do not even understand. Therefore, language is key during times of crisis. [Language] connects hearts and minds, it is the primary means of communication’.


Click here to read the stories of other TWB Rapid Response translators.

By Angela Eldering, TWB Volunteer 

 

The TWB translator community survey results are out!

Translators without Borders (TWB) recently carried out a survey of our translator community. The survey received 168 responses, and it gave some valuable insights into the experiences of volunteer translators and what motivates them as a community.

We have highlighted here five of the most interesting findings from the survey.

1. our translators are mostly motivated by helping others.

An overwhelming majority (97%) of translators said they volunteer because they like helping others and contributing to a good cause.

While career development, increased professional visibility, and interesting projects were also mentioned as some of the benefits of volunteering with TWB, our volunteer community is primarily driven by the desire to help people in need and work for humanitarian causes.

“Recognition is always nice. However, I really don’t need any more incentives. I’m motivated by something which has nothing to do with rewards.”

2. our translators are embracing technology.

Nearly 40% of respondents have had the opportunity to work on Kató, the new and improved  TWB translation platform that enables online collaboration and allows translators to use translation memory and glossary tools.

Most of our translators are familiar with Computer-Assisted Translation tools and use them in their work. This has produced some discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of translation technology.

According to our translators, the top advantages of doing work on an online platform are:

  • better quality and consistency
  • easier collaboration and sharing
  • the use of translation memory and glossaries
  • better translation workflow

survey of translator community
The advantages of Computer-Assisted Translation tools according to TWB volunteers

Some of the downsides include translators’ preference to use their own tools while working, specific technical requirements (such as using a particular browser for translation), and the need to have online connectivity to do work.

Generally TWB translators are open to trying new tools and approaches in their work and have also been very generous with providing suggestions and feedback on these tools.

3. our translators are open to collaboration on projects.

Translation is often seen as a solitary endeavor, although modern technology may be changing that. In fact, many of our volunteers expressed interest in online collaboration, citing the following reasons as the top advantages of working together as translators:

survey of translator community
The top advantages of online collaboration

4. TWB volunteers care DEEPLY about translation quality.

Many of the responses from our translators focused on ensuring good translation quality, whether through proofreading, feedback, or consistency checks.

This shows that our translators care a lot about the quality of their work and are proactively looking to improve it. In fact, over half of our translators said that receiving translation feedback and corrections from colleagues is important to them.

We recognize that comments from colleagues are particularly valuable to translators. Not only can this be a good source of specific, positive feedback (“Please keep doing what you’re doing, it’s great!”), but it also provides opportunities for growth and improvement (“Here is what you can do even better”).

We are looking for ways to provide regular feedback to our translators and will be sure to incorporate the suggestions of our volunteers about quality and collaboration into our new initiatives.

5. We heard your feedback!

Many of our translators said they appreciate recognition for their work, be it a word of thanks from the partners, visibility of how their translations are benefiting others, or, occasionally, acknowledgment in the form of recommendations or endorsements.

Recognizing this, we encourage our non-profit partners to leave feedback for translators as much as possible, and we are also looking for other ways to recognize the efforts of our volunteer translators, such as through translator appreciation initiatives and by featuring translators in our Volunteer Profiles on the TWB website.

We will continue using the feedback from this survey as we develop our translator community initiatives. It is important to us that our translators feel engaged and appreciated, and that they see Translators without Borders as a source of meaningful, interesting work.

Please stay tuned for more updates about our volunteer translator community. If you are a translator, we would encourage you to join our TWB Translator Volunteers Facebook private group, and if you would like to give us specific feedback or ask a question, you can always write to translators@translatorswithoutborders.org.

Until next time!


Apply here to become a TWB volunteer

Marina KhoninaBy Marina Khonina, Translation Quality and Community Manager

 

MultiLingual – Getting Creative with CSR

“When all is said and done, and we look back at our lives, we can say ‘We did this.’”

Raising awareness is crucial for non-profit organizations seeking to inspire social conscious about important issues, and to encourage volunteering and sponsorship. Key to this inspiration is the impact of their digital presence, yet non-profits do not always have sufficient in-house technical expertise necessary to maximize the potential of digital marketing tools. Fortunately, Translators without Borders (TWB) has a powerful asset in this respect. Idaho-based MultiLingual Computing, Inc. not only hosts and supports the technical aspects of the TWB website, but it also manages TWB’s email accounts, a critical tool in the organization’s daily operations.

Donna Parrish
Donna Parrish

MultiLingual Computing is a leading information source for the localization, internationalization and translation industry, and an enthusiastic and like-minded supporter of TWB. Its print magazine, MultiLingual, reaches subscribers in 92 countries, and it also publishes a free, bi-weekly e-newsletter. Editor-in-chief and publisher Donna Parrish ensures that Translators without Borders is visible in both publications. Most recently, MultiLingual ran two complimentary full-page ads for TWB in the magazine, and an advert in the newsletter.

MultiLingual – TWB Gold Sponsor

MultiLingual’s contributions go even further. The company recently became a TWB Gold Sponsor, donating US$5,000 to strengthen the capacity and operations of the organization. Donna is also a member of the TWB board and brings 25 years of programming experience and an in-depth appreciation of the technical issues involved in dealing with different languages. Donna promotes TWB through her role as Principal of LocWorld, the leading conference for the global business of translation, localization, and global website management. Translators without Borders is invited to the conference each year, and a booth is provided – an invaluable donation that fosters TWB’s outreach and fundraising efforts.

Donna points out that fundraising for TWB and other good causes can also be a lot of fun:

For last year’s LocWorld conference in Dublin, KantanMT invited us to help organize a coastal treasure hunt and hike to raise funds for TWB. It was great fun made even more so with beautiful views, tasty snacks, and enjoyable camaraderie. Best of all, the event raised US$6,500 for TWB! Participants loved it and were rewarded for their efforts with a pub supper and traditional Irish music.

This year we’re holding the June 2017 conference in Barcelona, and of course, TWB will be there. Barcelona is always a draw for attendees from all over the world. We hope they learn many things, including how important the work of TWB is.”

Another creative fundraising idea from MultiLingual was during the holiday period last year. Magazine readers who donated US$100 or more to TWB were offered a free annual digital subscription!

Partners in Synergy

Multilingual Team

Social media is a valuable tool TWB uses to raise awareness of the importance of access to vital information in the right languages. Donna and her team at MultiLingual regularly engage with TWB on social media to help amplify those messages to reach a broader audience. Donna explains:

Translators without Borders is often seen as the non-profit arm of the localization industry, the moral compass. What it does for people in need with the support of its sponsors, elevates the industry and the translation profession. That is good for everyone in the industry.

Our partnership with TWB also benefits from the focus on reciprocity. While we support TWB in any way we can, TWB does its best to give visibility to MultiLingual whenever possible using its fast expanding social media presence and its website. This is the “give-back” to us, and we value it highly.

Our partnership with Translators without Borders dates back to 2010 when Lori Thicke asked me to join the board, which I did with pleasure. Why? Someone at MultiLingual put it succinctly: when all is said and done, and we look back at our lives, we can say ‘We did this.’”

Blog AuthorBy Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer writer 

 

Lugha Zima La Teknolojia – The Universal Language Of Technology

The Uber driver told me his 80-year-old grandmother would only accept M-Pesa as payment. She sells bananas up-country. The Uber guy and I are sitting in the infamous Nairobi traffic, chatting about business, robbery and technology. It’s safer for her, he explains, she tells all that she only accepts M-Pesa payments because it means she’s less likely to get robbed. I think his grandmother must be a strong character. M-Pesa is a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service. It was started in Kenya, and the idea quickly spread across borders – and now M-Pesa is used in Tanzania, South Africa, India, Albania and Romania. Funds are transferred between accounts via mobile phone – any cell phone. The system is intuitive and in Swahili, so even basically literate people can use it. You can pay for your vegetables from the street vendor with M-Pesa (she prefers it); you can pay for your Uber driver via M-Pesa. EVERYONE in Kenya pays or gets paid with M-Pesa. The language of technology speaks for itself.

The tech side of Kenya

I was in Nairobi to support the filming of a Translators without Borders (TWB) video and to meet the TWB team there; TWB’s only physical office is in Nairobi; we train translators in east Africa and beyond. I’ve been to Kenya dozens of times – mostly on holiday, but also for work – so I wasn’t expecting to learn much about Kenya itself. I knew that Kenya has a cool tech side, but didn’t think much about it.

I was blown away

The woman we hired for the video, Jane, lives in a slum; she has M-Pesa. She also is confident and comfortable around smart phones, iPads, etc. Jane is functionally illiterate; she can’t sign her name, but she was happy to read her lines from a script on an iPad, sign a receipt with a thumb print and accept money into her M-Pesa account. She is thinking about getting M-Kopa to affordably provide solar electricity to her home in the slum for her phone, lights and radio.

M-Kopa
M-Kopa

Jane knows how to use her phone. She can easily get information from it. Literacy is not a barrier. Basic menus in Swahili work for Jane.

Which brought me, later that day, to iHub (I missed Mark Zuckerberg’s visit by about an hour). I was there to meet Ushahidi and to discuss our growing partnership; but I also wanted to meet the mobile systems providers’ association to discuss developing mobile courses to train translators in very local languages outside of Kenya (TWB already has translators in 11 Kenyan languages). If TWB can develop a larger cadre of local language translators, then more information can be translated into languages that people actually speak and can understand. And, combined with some other projects, including Facebook’s Free Basics, more information can get to more people in a way that they can access themselves.

That’s the crux. Can Jane get the information she wants and needs in her own language? Or can she only get what information “aid agencies” and governments give her – what “we” decide is important to translate? The answer, sadly, is that vital information is mostly in English and what is translated may not be what Jane wants or needs. For TWB, our challenge is to turn that system on its head so that Jane can get whatever information she wants in her language, when she wants it.

The future of information exchange

After a week in Kenya – seeing it not just as a country with a huge refugee population, beautiful beaches and wonderful game parks – I am convinced. Nairobi is a vibrant regional hub where non-traditional business practices are developing rapidly to suit a population of 46 million people, 75% of whom live in rural areas, with 12 main languages and dozens of smaller languages. Kenya really can be the future of information exchange.

As I’m writing this in Istanbul airport, the electricity goes out. I can feel the tension rise. The electricity doesn’t go out in airports. And the last time it went out in Istanbul there was a bomb. The security presence around me is palpable. It reminds me that there is also a lot of tension in Kenya because of recent attacks; there are security checks everywhere. You go through security to get into shopping centers and sometimes within them; security forces are on the streets; you walk through metal detectors to go into hotels and cars are searched for bombs before going into parking lots. The country borders on two unstable and insecure countries; bombings and other acts of violence are, sadly, not uncommon and make people nervous. Graft and corruption are ubiquitous. Kenya and Kenyans have a lot to overcome; but, if any country can do it, Kenya can.

The language of technology

Mobile savvy Kenyans aren’t nervous about technology; new technologies pop-up every day and Kenyans (mostly) accept them – from Uber to M-Kopa to Ushahidi. Ordinary Kenyans, even low income Kenyans, have a sense of what the world outside of Kenya can offer; they know that information is there and that it can help pull the country out of some of difficulties people are mired in now.

I think Kenyans can lead the way in making the world available to Kenyans and, hopefully, the rest of East Africa – and they can make Kenyan ideas and thoughts accessible to the millions of others who can benefit from some of the models that they are developing. It’s super-inspiring; I am excited about working with Kenyan language professors, NGOs, and tech companies to help transform how development happens – so that people themselves have the information they want and can make informed decisions about their futures.

Blog AuthorBy Aimee Ansari, Translators without Borders Executive Director