Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where Is Translation Aid for Japan Relief?

The recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan bring to mind the translation community's response to the earthquake in Haiti more than a year ago. Numerous countries offered help and sent personnel to assist in search and rescue operations, relief efforts and medical treatment. Since Haiti's language, Haitian Creole, is not spoken widely outside the Haitian community, volunteer translators and programmers collaborated in putting together an English-Creole translation tool during one weekend to help aid workers communicate with the local population.

Googling "translators and aid to Japan" today yields some translation companies offering discounts and expedited service on Japanese language translations to organizations helping in the aftermath of the earthquake, as well as one company offering free 300-word translations to facilitate aid. One post on a Linkedin translation group list said Translators Without Borders was also helping the translation effort in Japan, but I could not find any information about such aid on the group's website.

Japanese is, of course, much more of a world language than Haitian Creole, so that many more professional translators, as well as translation tools are available for that language. In addition, many Japanese speak English fairly well, as do probably many of the foreign relief workers. This is one of the instances where a global lingua franca can be quite helpful -- if not life-saving. On the other hand, such foreign-language skills cannot be assumed of the entire population in the affected area, so that volunteer interpreters would still be quite helpful, I assume.

One way we non-Japanese speaking translators could help, I think, is by contributing to a fund that would reimburse Japanese-speaking volunteer interpreters for their lost income if they spend the next week or two assisting foreign aid workers in Japan instead of working on paid projects at home. If anyone knows of such an effort, please post information in the comments section (and otherwise disseminate widely, maybe through the American Translators Association or the International Federation of Translators.

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