• Alysa Salzberg

Why COVID-19 is “history’s biggest translation challenge”

How do you know if you have coronavirus? First, you probably know about the common symptoms of the virus, through signs, pamphlets, ads, or online information. Next, you would probably reach out to a local doctor or helpline to determine what steps to take.


But what if none of those resources were available in your language?


This is the issue facing many people around the world.


COVID-19 is a pandemic, which means anyone can get it, regardless of the language(s) they speak. Additionally, as linguist Gretchen McCulloch points out, it’s also “a lifestyle illness”. That is, the only way we can prevent it for now is by practicing measures like handwashing and social distancing.


How can we convey the message of how and why we need to do these things to people around the globe, or answer their COVID-related questions? While medical information is available in all of the world’s major languages, what about languages spoken by tribes and other groups in remote locations?


An in-depth article explores the ways translators and native speakers of lesser-known languages are racing to translate coronavirus-related information, as well as interpret for speakers who fear they may have the virus, or need information.


Read on to learn about what McCulloch calls “history’s biggest translation challenge”.



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