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Celebrating the ‘invisible’ teams that build bridges between communities

In an increasingly multi-cultural society, the role of the translator is becoming more important than ever.

The behind-the-scenes teams that work hard to ensure information is accessible to all will rarely be noticed, but their work is crucial to keeping all members of society engaged and informed.

30 September is International Translation Day. Originally created by the International Federation of Translators to mark the work of its members, the day marks the feast of St Jerome, the Bible translator considered the patron saint of translators.

It was officially adopted last year by the UN – one of the world’s largest employers of language professionals. Their backing shows just how important translation has become, not just in international politics, but across a whole raft of organisations.

Take the NHS for example. It produces vast amounts of complex information which needs to be understood by people from a wide range of communities, but the question of translating the information is not completely straightforward. Which documents should be translated? Into which languages? Should the translated documents be printed? Should everything be translated in advance or only on request? Some may argue that in an ideal world everything would be available in all languages but time and budget constraints – especially in the public sector – make this an unrealistic option.

I was fascinated by an interview I read with Katherine Durnan, the head of the UN English translation service, who hit the nail on the head when describing the valuable role of the translator: “We play a behind the scenes role. The idea of being a translator is that someone doesn’t actually know that the text they are looking at is a translation. We are supposed to be invisible.”

Her translation teams are working diligently behind the scenes to ensure that all diplomats are on the same page and able to come together and discuss complex issues. Rarely is their work noticed. Indeed, if it is then they haven’t done a good enough job.

It got me thinking about the similarities between translators and communications professionals like our team at The Effective English Company. Whilst we might be working within one language, our role quite often becomes one of ‘translator’. Documents need to be accessible to all and the type of language they are written in is crucial to ensuring people receive the intended message.

Simple, clear language is crucial, jargon needs to be eliminated and key points should be distilled. By cutting out any extraneous information we help to ensure that publications can be understood by everyone – not just those with a specialist knowledge of a subject. It can also ensure that when documents do need to be translated into another language the process is much simpler.

We help to ensure people read a document and take in the message without being distracted by bad grammar, complicated terminology or poorly structured arguments.

Like translators, good communicators can transform and simplify, without losing the essence of a message. We’re rarely seen or heard, but our work can break down barriers, help with inclusivity and vastly widen your audience.

If you’d like some help making your messages more accessible or tailoring documents to a specific audience, contact us today.

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