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The Importance of Interpretation Services in Fighting Coronavirus

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the world, a number of key services have risen to the fore in helping the global community to fight the deadly virus. Video conferencing apps have taken on incredible importance in keeping people connected, both personally and professionally. So, too, are interpretation services playing a vital role in the fight against COVID-19.

Interpretation services and the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus outbreak has shone a spotlight on translation and localization services, as countries race to learn from each other's experiences of fighting the virus. Associated fields such as transcription services are also booming, though the need for medical translation and interpretation eclipses them all.

There are two main kinds of interpretation services: simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation.

How does simultaneous interpretation work? Picture a conference where the speaker is using one language and the delegates are listening in another. That's simultaneous interpretation. It's an interpretation that is delivered at the same time as the speaker's words.

How does consecutive interpretation work? Imagine a meeting between two people who speak different languages, with an interpreter sitting in between them. After each person speaks, the interpreter delivers what they have said in the other language, making communication between the pair possible. That's consecutive interpretation.

Examples of interpretation in action when fighting coronavirus

Both simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation are essential to the medical community in fighting coronavirus.

What is an interpretation example? Well, in hospital situations where patients don't speak the same language as the medical team, consecutive interpretation is required in order that the patient and their doctors can communicate. This is key to establishing the history of the patient's condition, when symptoms started, any underlying health conditions and so forth. It's also important for explaining to the patient what is wrong with them “ for example, how the coronavirus works “ what treatment they will receive and why, and for ensuring that the patient consents to such treatment.

Simultaneous interpretation, meanwhile, is vital to the rapid sharing of information about coronavirus around the world. We are fighting a pandemic that leaders across the globe have described as an invisible enemy with which we are at war. To win, we need to present a unified front. That means swiftly updating global colleagues on what works, what doesn't and what the latest facts are in relation to the coronavirus outbreak.

One way to do this is through simultaneous translation. The speaker can deliver their message to colleagues who speak a range of languages at the same time with the right simultaneous interpretation solution in place. Consecutive interpretation, meanwhile, is useful for any questions (and answers) that follow such a session.

The role of Latin translation

It's not just a knowledge of modern languages that are required in order to fight the spread of COVID-19. The need to translate Latin to English has long been important within the medical community, just as it has in the fields of botany and law.

Interestingly, a Latin to English translation of A Little Book of Cures, written in 1634-35 by John Hall (Shakespeare's son-in-law) has just been published, revealing fascinating insights into 17th-century medical practices. Some 30-40% of Hall's text was borrowed from Latin medical books, according to Latin translator and former physician Dr. Greg Wells.

Today, Latin translation is still required for medical terms, meaning that a knowledge of it is important to those interpreting for the medical community. Fluency is not required, which is just as well, considering there are perhaps as few as 100 fluent Latin speakers in the world. Nonetheless, the ability to translate Latin medical terms into other languages does fall within the remit of many medical interpreters.

The importance of medical translation

Of course, it is not just medical interpretation that is ensuring a global approach to fighting coronavirus. Medical translation services are also playing a vital role in sharing information quickly and accurately. Many a translation company has seen demand for its medical translation specialists soar in the months since the outbreak originated.

One thing to note is that the surge in demand has been for human translation services. Machine translation may be useful in loosely translating a restaurant menu while on holiday (not that we're likely to need it for that purpose for a while!) but it won't suffice when it comes to providing accurate translations of important communications.

There's no room for mistakes when it comes to fighting such a deadly enemy. Medical communities around the world are connecting to share the knowledge that can save lives. Doing so is taking a concerted effort by medical professionals and all those who support them, including the translation and interpretation community. The faster we can disseminate the latest knowledge, the better the chances we have of working together to overcome one of the greatest peacetime crises that the world has ever faced.