5 lessons we can all learn from humanitarian language services

World Humanitarian Day honours humanitarian aid workers all over the world, established on August 19th by the UN in 2009. Language is a crucial element in any communication, and for humanitarians it can mean the difference between life or death. It isn’t just about getting information through clearly either. Language sets expectations regarding the support offered, which impacts positively upon community engagement efforts.

Multilingual communication should be the default approach in humanitarian action. This allows for more accurate and easily understood information to be conveyed in a crisis situation. It would also build the capacity for machine translation in voice and text in those languages, and encourage humanitarian tech developers to integrate language technology into their tools.

Here are 5 lessons we can learn from approaches to humanitarian language services, that we can use to influence other areas of our practice:

  1. The value of a common approach and shared language resources
  2. The importance of accurate and easily understood words
  3. The need for relevant content in the right languages
  4. The power of technology to support humanitarian efforts
  5. The challenge of making effective multilingual communication the default approach.

The value of a common approach and shared language resources

Humanitarian language services can provide a valuable resource for organisations working in areas where there is little or no common language. By sharing resources and working together, organisations can ensure that accurate and timely information is available to those who need it. 

By collaborating and pooling knowledge together, you can ensure that accurate and timely information is available to those who need it most. This proves to be a valuable resource for many organisations working in areas where there is little or no common language resources available.

The importance of accurate and easily understood words

In a crisis situation, it is vital that information is conveyed accurately and efficiently. This can be a challenge when working in areas where local languages are not well understood. Using technical terminology that is not readily conveyed in local languages can cause confusion and misunderstanding. 

Glossaries can help humanitarians use consistent, accurate and easily understood words, and produce relevant communication materials in local languages. This, in turn, can help to improve communication and collaboration within the sector. And be a useful tool for humanitarians who want to ensure that their communications are clear and consistent. 

The need for relevant content in the right languages

One of the early challenges of offering help to those experiencing a humanitarian crisis, is to first identify which languages will need to be utilised to ensure an effective resolution. As well as the common languages spoken in an area, consideration also needs to be given to the specific needs of different groups. It is also important to ensure that information is provided in a format that can be easily understood by those who need it.

It is often the case that the most vulnerable people are also those least likely to speak the dominant language of the relief effort. As such, it is incumbent upon humanitarian organisations to provide relevant content in the right languages from the outset. This might include developing multilingual websites, providing translated versions of key documents, or hiring interpreters.

The power of technology to support humanitarian efforts

In time, the capacity for effective multilingual communication will allow speakers of marginalised languages to have conversations with responders and access the information they want directly, and in their own languages. This will require the use of technology to support humanitarian efforts. Technology can help to break down language barriers and allow organisations to communicate more effectively with those they are trying to help.

Advancements in machine translation are making it possible to provide information in real-time, in multiple languages. This is particularly valuable in fast-moving crisis situations where time is of the essence. Language technology can also be used to support the work of human interpreters, by providing access to accurate and up-to-date information.

Our approach is to combine the efficiency of machine learning and language technology, with the critical insight of our industry experts. This allows us to deliver accurate and accountable translations at record speed.  

The challenge of making effective multilingual communication the default approach

It is within the grasp of every humanitarian organisation to improve how they address the language factor. As a fundamental component of effective and accountable action, it is also within everyone’s remit. Some of the challenges in transitioning to a multilingual practice include: 

  • Fostering a culture of openness to language diversity.
  • Supporting staff to feel confident using languages other than English.
  • Encouraging the use of technology to facilitate multilingual communication.
  • Providing adequate resources (time, money, people) to allow for effective multilingual communication.

Making effective multilingual communication the default approach will require a concerted effort from all humanitarian organisations. It is only by working together that we can hope to provide the best possible support to those who need it most.

At Global Lingo, we approach our clients’ challenges with an informed practice that fosters a culture of inclusivity for the end users. We support our clients with advanced language technology so that we can offer a competitive, accurate, and fast service in over 170 languages. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact one of our account managers today.

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