UK citizens David Abel and his wife Sally, on the ill-fated cruise ship Diamond Princess, were jovial for the first week or so of their ordeal, vlogging to the world via Facebook and YouTube. But as the days stranded in the waters off Yokohama turned into weeks, and the two were diagnosed positive for novel coronavirus, their moods turned dark and their fears mounted. The source of their greatest fear was the unknown, complicated by the fact that the Japanese medical personnel spoke not a lick of English. Only many hours after their dreaded diagnosis was an English-speaking doctor available to explain.
The Importance of Medical Translation Services in the Novel Coronavirus Crisis
Why is medical translation important? The fears and uncertainty the Abels experienced aboard the star-crossed cruiser can now be multiplied by hundreds of millions, soon to be billions, of human beings. The fast-spreading virus that is shutting down borders and canceling flights, leaving travelers, expats, and immigrants in the dark about what to do in a foreign country. Never has the need for medical translation been greater. Those services can be provided by skilled linguists and smart mobile translation apps and gadgets. With the fears and dangers, then, come job opportunities.
The world is in uncharted waters when it comes to dealing with the burgeoning pandemic. Public health officials, medical researchers, paramedics, nurses and doctors are working around the clock to identify and treat the ill, reduce the spread of the new virus, and to develop and test potential vaccines and treatments. These global efforts require continual translation for knowledge sharing. Machine translation tools like Google Translate and Microsoft Translator can help in this effort, but there is no substitute for skilled medical interpreters and medical translators.
How Medical Translation and Interpretation Services can Save Lives Locally
By now, many are becoming aware of what is coronavirus. The name refers to a family of virii that includes the common cold. The novel coronavirus is new and unknown with unusual and worrying characteristics that increase the need for reliable knowledge. Coronavirus symptoms in humans include runny noses, sneezing, coughing, tiredness and muscle aches – but these symptoms are shared by the common cold and the flu. Even more concerning is the evidence that the disease can spread without symptoms, making identification and isolation far more difficult.
The uncertainty and ambiguity of this crisis place a huge burden on public health officials and those charged with communication knowledge to the public, including those who don’t speak the dominant language. Chinese and Korean visitors to a foreign country, for example, may need to be informed in their own language of restrictions on them as citizens of an area affected by the outbreak. The same applies to coronavirus treatment. Non-local speakers must have access to treatment information and what to do in the event that symptoms worsen and they require hospitalization.
While the World Health Organization has hesitated, controversially, to label the current situation as a global pandemic, this war over words also requires careful medical translation. What is a pandemic? The pandemic definition is the worldwide spread of a new disease. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new flu virus spreads around the world, and most people do not have immunity. What is the difference between pandemic and epidemic? The epidemic vs pandemic definition also involves some controversy, but, generally speaking, an epidemic is confined to one geographical area while a pandemic involves two or more disparate areas.
How Medical Translation and Interpretation can Aid Public Health Globally
We are dealing with a global problem affecting hundreds of millions and even billions of human beings on the planet. There are about 6500 languages spoken in the world. Already most of the 1.3 billion speakers of Mandarin Chinese, the most-spoken first language, have been affected directly by the novel coronavirus. The world has seen the emergence of Chinese translation services to make sense of what was happening in Wuhan and Hubei province, epicenters of the epidemic. But eventually, as the virus spreads across the globe, there will be a need to translate and interpret essential information into thousands of languages to protect lives and public health worldwide.
What is the difference between a medical interpreter and a medical translator? A translator deals with documents, while an interpreter deals with speech. Medical translation will be of urgent importance when disseminating important medical research throughout the world. Medical interpretation will be needed in conferences, briefings, and individual interactions among patients, their families and medical personnel as well as officials who may be attempting to provide guidance or orders to foreign speaking individuals. If there is no common language, friction will inevitably ensue. Interpreters can provide an essential facilitation role for public health.
Medical Translation and Interpretation as a Profession
What do you need to be a medical translator? If you’re a student with medical knowledge and language skills, the current crisis is an opportunity to develop a professional skill in high demand. If you are bilingual, consider putting your training and linguistic capabilities to work as a medical interpreter or a medical translator.
The need for medical interpreters is further strengthened in law. For example, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that if a patient feels the need for an interpreter to understand what a doctor or health care provider is explaining, the doctor/health care provider is required to provide one. Some US States, such as Oregon, require hospitals and clinics to have medical translators and interpreters available on call.
Do you need a degree to be a medical interpreter?
While a specific degree is rarely required for medical interpretation positions, and medical interpretation can be taught effectively to non-medical students. there are translation and interpretation accreditation and certification programs available from various sources (Google it). The programs may be worth taking for your education. They also may give you an advantage in competitions for jobs. An accredited or certified medical interpreter will enjoy an advantage with a translation agency when competing for a position against a candidate without accreditation or certification.
Even without a diploma or certificate, you can compete for work. Start with a freelance marketplace such as Freelancer.com, Upwork, or Fiverr. You can post your profile, and express your capabilities, emphasizing your knowledge of medical subjects and your experience or aptitude for medical translation or interpretation. In general, translation and interpretation jobs are priced either according to the hour for interpreters, or according to words when translating documents. See what other freelancers are charging for their services, and try to undercut them for starters, till you build the positive reviews and ratings that will let you charge more for your services.
Alternatively, you can pursue professional translation services and interpretation agencies. Many a translation company will specialize in medical interpretation services. What is the role of an interpreter in healthcare? The current crisis will increase the demand for medically knowledgeable interpreters who can work remotely and communicate by videoconference. You may find yourself mediating communications between doctors and patients. Or find yourself translating public health documents for other languages or providing simultaneous interpretation for public health officials in briefings. In addition to having a new profession in high demand, you’ll gain the satisfaction of knowing that your newfound expertise can save lives especially for patients from underserved minority communities.
How Students and Educators can use Translation Services in a Crisis
Even if they don’t pursue translation or interpretation as a profession, students and teachers will have a greater need to understand foreign languages to understand the latest developments in this health crisis. In addition to human translation services, there is now machine translation available instantly and without charge. Every mobile device can provide translation and interpretation services. Services like Google Translate and Microsoft Translator allow any text or speech into the target language of your choice.
The grim reality of the current crisis is that, whether we have translation skills and medical knowledge, we and those we care about will need them. Whether to inform or reassure a foreign language speaker in a moment of panic, or to gain information from a foreign journal or speaker, we should all become conversant into how to use online translation services. Multilingual knowledge may not prevent or cure the virus, but traversing linguistic boundaries with much-need information can provide comfort and care to those in distress. In these difficult days, and those to come, this kind of help can contribute to preventing lives from being lost in translation.