The need for translation in Africa is acute. Especially for healthcare information. A shortage of doctors and nurses (many go to work in our rich countries) means that healthcare, particularly in the rural areas, is delivered by community health workers. They tend not to speak English well, yet their manuals and training are exclusively in English.

As an English-speaking Canadian living in France, I know firsthand that deep understanding doesn’t come easily in a foreign language. Even after 24 years here, I simply don’t ‘get it’ in the same way in French. Just last night my 13-year-old tried to tell me a joke and I had to say, “Tell me in English so I’ll understand.”

If you want to speak to my head, speak to me in your language; if you want to speak to my heart, speak to me in mine.

Getting critical healthcare  information to people in a language they understand is going to save lives. Their health is especially fragile because of poor nutrition and sanitation as well as neglected tropical diseases. When you’re hearing this 8-year-old girl who is HIV positive cough, you know her caregivers need every scrap of health information they can get to keep her alive.

Yet the community healthcare workers I met in Kenya were struggling with the English-language manuals.  When healthcare is this important, it’s hard to believe it’s actually being transmitted in someone’s second or even third language.

There is such good healthcare information available, adapted (albeit in English) to the local context. AMREFs publications are stellar. They just need to be able to reach the people who need them most.

So, what can we do?

Translators without Borders is launching a campaign to help build local translation capacity. Our first step is a coordinated program of identifying and training translators in Africa. With the translator training courses already available from ProZ.com we have a scaleable way to build strong, local translation capacity.

Join us.

6 thoughts on “Africa Needs Translation

    • Thank you for picking up on this. I couldn’t agree more. The ‘diaspora’ can – and I hope will – be an important contributor to unlocking languages. I spoke about this at the LRC (I believe it was in 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdM3xRjxCcQ). What’s exciting is the idea that medical professionals, scientists, IT experts, educators and so on from the developing world who now make up the diaspora could give back so richly to their own communities by translating documents in their areas of expertise. It gets us away from the idea that only translators can translate: in this vision, subject matter experts work with translators to bridge the knowledge divide for the billions who don’t understand English.

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