Meet Andreia: a translator shaping a more equal future

On 8 March, we join the world in celebrating International Women’s Day 2021. We’re interviewing Andreia Frazão, a translator whose tremendous efforts contribute to improving the lives of women, men, and children across the world. This year, the theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We’re celebrating the efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through language.

Women are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, as health workers, scientists, doctors, and caregivers. They’re also translators, linguists, and humanitarians ensuring communications about the virus are clear, accurate, and effective; something that is too often overlooked.  Studies by TWB in Nigeria and Bangladesh found that women are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to information they can understand, as a result of unequal opportunities, less education, and lower literacy levels.

Linguists shape more equal futures by providing vital information, in a language and format people understand. This can equip women with the information they need to make important decisions about their lives. By putting women’s needs at the center of communications efforts, humanitarians can be more effective, helping women achieve equal rights and opportunities. Translators without Borders (TWB) translators like Andreia are making that happen.

translator equal
Andreia Frazão

About Andreia:

  • Based in Coimbra, Portugal
  • Passionate about women’s rights
  • Joined TWB in March 2020 to help respond to COVID-19
  • Donated 385,000 words in English to Portuguese
  • Supported 40 nonprofit organizations with her work

What is your biggest motivation for volunteering with TWB?

Andreia:

When the pandemic broke out here in Portugal, I wanted to help. Of course, when you are faced with a public health crisis, your instinct tells you only a doctor or a scientist can have an important social role. But the more I knew about COVID-19, the more I realized it was not just a worldwide health crisis – it was a worldwide information crisis. And TWB presented me with an opportunity to take action.

Another key motivation is the amazing TWB community. The community forum is where the TWB volunteers and the TWB team come together to make announcements and ask questions about projects, procedures, and the Kató translation platform, but it is so much more than that. It is a place full of enthusiasm and mutual help. It was where my attachment to TWB sprang from.

I was fascinated by everyone’s commitment to TWB’s work – regardless of age, gender, country, religion, and work situation. Even members of the TWB staff volunteer with TWB. And I noticed volunteers continued to work on their tasks, even through difficult circumstances. It feels wonderful to be part of this worldwide community, which takes on the mission of breaking down the world’s language barriers, especially during these difficult times.

Tell us about a project you have worked on this year.

Andreia:

Education has been disrupted by the pandemic, for people all over the world. I translated INEE’s COVID-19 Advocacy Brief – Learning Must Go On to support safe, inclusive learning for the most marginalized people, including those already living in crisis and conflict contexts. Young girls in particular are further affected by forced marriages, and risk of early pregnancy, and domestic and sexual violence. I wanted to be involved in addressing these issues. So I completed a project with Missing Children Europe in which I transcribed focus group discussions aiming to understand why young girls had run away from home. I remember one of the girls in particular. She had run away from a terrible home environment and as a consequence missed out on her education. These children can be helped, first by being listened to, and it’s important that communication happens in the language they are most comfortable with.

When it comes to translating information around the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to be accurate, and make sure life-saving messages are effectively conveyed. Translating and interpreting is not just about converting words from one language into another. It is about communication. In sensitive situations such as during a crisis where anxiety, uncertainty and fear are prevalent, translators also bring interpersonal skills to the table. Being more sensitive to emotional cues, knowing if someone is uncomfortable or having a hard time understanding something, and imbuing trust are key.

What’s life like as a TWB translator?

Andreia:

It gave me a sense of purpose right from the start, which has helped me stay positive throughout the COVID-19 crisis. During a lockdown, it is easy to be affected by anxiety or insomnia. Being a TWB volunteer gave me structure, and project deadlines helped me create a meaningful routine.

It also made me more confident, thanks to the positive input I received from other volunteers. I remember once, a fellow TWB translator left me a feedback note saying my work was one of the best translations they had seen in the translation platform. It made my day. I also feel that the project managers trust my work, as they often contact me to work on full, sometimes urgent projects. That is very encouraging. Thanks to TWB I found motivation to hone dormant language skills and put them to good use.

Finally, in TWB, I met several people with whom I share a common set of values and a common outlook on life, and who have become my friends.

Which women do you look up to and why?

Andreia:

Brave Malala Yousafzai is the perfect symbol for all the women I look up to. I deeply admire her for her unwavering fight for girls’ right to education, but that is far from the only reason. I also admire her for her genuine honesty and kindness, her irresistible charisma, and her jovial outlook on life. She turned hate into love and ignorance into hope.

Some of Andreia’s favorite women-focused groups include:

Andreia Frazão

How can humanitarian translation help women be more included?

Andreia:

Humanitarians play a key role in raising awareness and fighting gender-based violence and stigma. Humanitarian work is also vital to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (PSEAH). Translators amplify these efforts by translating guidance, research, advocacy messages and informative materials intended for the public. They also make sure vital information is in the right language for affected people.

A great introduction to the topic is the TED Talk by TWB’s wonderful CEO, Aimee Ansari, “How to change the world through language whilst sitting on your sofa.” She opens with a heartbreaking story. In a desperate attempt to save her starving child, a mother carried her for hours, the only nutritional information available to her written in a language she could neither speak nor read.

Girls and women are often among the most vulnerable in any group, and this story is a key example of that. It also shows why TWB’s work is so important – by providing organizations and people with the information they so need and want in their own language, we can help save lives.

Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Use the hashtags #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 and #LanguageMattersNow

Sign up as a translator here

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications and Engagement Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Andreia Frazão, Translator for TWB. 

Lessons still to be learned from recent Ebola outbreaks in DRC

Ebola continues to threaten communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In order to be prepared for future outbreaks, responders need to learn from previous responses and adapt their community engagement approaches to local circumstances. They need to do this with an understanding of specific language and communication needs in affected communities. For any future response to be most effective, this needs to happen early. 

Responding to the 2020 Ebola outbreak in Equateur

During health crises, it is especially important to get communication right. This means carefully considering the preferred languages, channels, and formats of information in communication with communities. Ebola is endemic in the region and it is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Unfortunately, both communicators and responders in DRC have a lot of experience with Ebola outbreaks. After the 2018-2020 Ebola response in North Kivu, responders acknowledged the importance of considering communication and language in preparedness planning for future responses. Unfortunately, the 2020 response to the Ebola outbreak in Equateur highlighted that there are still lessons to be learned about centering language and communication in crisis responses.

Lessons to be learned - Ebola, DRC
Mbandaka, DRC.

Context in Equateur

Equateur was the location of the 9th Ebola outbreak in DRC in 2018. After the 2018-2020 10th Ebola outbreak in North Kivu, Equateur was once again affected by Ebola in the 11th outbreak in 2020. The threat of Ebola is not new to communities in Equateur. Unlike the location of the previous Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, Equateur is not the location of any active armed conflict. However, the province faces its own humanitarian challenges, including critical malnutrition, flooding, and difficulty of access to remote areas. Like most of DRC, Equateur is incredibly linguistically diverse. An important dynamic to consider in Equateur when communicating with communities is access to information, services, and rights for indigenous communities

Quality information on languages spoken by people experiencing health crises

To fully support communities and health workers, it is important to take language into account when planning activities. Our research and work with our NGO partners found that many of the recommendations for responders in eastern DRC apply also to the response in Equateur. TWB’s research and language team conducted a study in Bikoro and Mbandaka on language and communication barriers for the Ebola response. The team conducted focus group discussions and individual interviews with health communicators, members of the community, and humanitarians. Our research focused especially on access to information for different groups, including indigenous communities, women, youth, and older members of the community. To inform and reinforce our qualitative research, TWB works with partners to collect quantitative language data to map languages spoken locally. This up-to-date language data collected with communities and partners helps TWB to deliver evidence-based language support. For Equateur, TWB has mapped spoken languages in Equateur and neighboring provinces by health zone to support responders.

Lessons to be learned - Ebola, DRC
Mbandaka, DRC.

Local languages matter

In DRC, responders are learning to go beyond French in risk communication and community engagement, and are starting to consider national languages such as Lingala in regional responses. With more than 200 languages spoken in DRC however it is important to look at more local languages such as Mongo or Ngombe in Equateur. 

Similar to French and Swahili in North Kivu, our research found that most health communication resources in Equateur, including posters and tools for community workers, are provided in French or sometimes Lingala. Communities and health workers need to be equipped with information in other local languages. One research participant in the village of Iyembe Munene told us, “We receive the information in Lingala, but the best way for us to receive the information is in Ntomba (a local language), because if it passes in Ntomba there is understanding of the messages.” Even Lingala, one of the four national languages of DRC, has its variants. The Lingala spoken in Equateur is known as Lingala facile which borrows words from local languages as well as French. 

Indigenous communities in the Lake Tumba area (often referred to as Batwa) told us that they also prefer to receive information in local languages. They prefer to receive that information face-to-face from someone from their community who can navigate the specificities of the variant of local languages spoken in their communities. One research participant in Elanga said, “We prefer to communicate with the health workers in Twa, but they do not understand our dialect.” 

Terminology is key for comprehension and trust

Terminology is important in health communication. In eastern DRC a key lesson was that people didn’t appreciate dehumanizing terms, for example referring to those sick with Ebola as “cases”. Research participants in North Kivu identified the term cas suspect as having criminal connotations. The same issue came up in Equateur where research participants said that “suspect case” had criminal connotations and could also be associated with users of witchcraft. 

Furthermore, as in eastern DRC, in Equateur we found that some concepts are difficult to translate into local languages and some words continue to be communicated in other languages without translation or without consistent translation. One health communicator from Mapeke acknowledged, “There are difficulties, especially if the communicator speaks French, English words and even […] Kinshasa Lingala and Lingala Makanja which is [harder to understand].”

Problematic terminology can endanger communities and undermines communities’ trust in responders. The lack of trust in eastern DRC had serious consequences for communities and responders alike in the 10th Ebola outbreak. 

Lessons to be learned - Ebola, DRC
Mbandaka, DRC.

Language and communication needs must be considered for responders to be accountable to people who need information

After the end of the Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, reports of sexual exploitation came to light. Survivors reported not knowing how to report abuse or make complaints. Our research participants in Equateur reported a similar lack of information about reporting mechanisms. Alongside improving communication around reporting, it is important to ensure that feedback mechanisms and support offered to survivors are accessible to all, including speakers of marginalized languages. A research participant from Bokaka told us, “We prefer to give our opinions to people who listen to us and who respect us, and we prefer to do the interviews in person to express ourselves clearly.” We have found that offering information and services in people’s preferred languages, channels, and formats can facilitate trust and mutual respect between responders and communities.


Key recommendations for humanitarian responders in the DRC

  • Integrate language data questions into data collection
  • Translate community-facing materials into local languages; field test them to make sure they are understood and acceptable to local people
  • Equip health workers with appropriate tools and training in the relevant languages

During our research and activities in Equateur, health communicators and communities shared their experiences with us. It is important that all responders learn from the mistakes of past health interventions and prioritize communication and language needs to be better prepared to respond to future health crises.


Funded by UNICEF and UK Aid, TWB put in place a local team of researchers and language experts in Equateur to support partners in the 11th Ebola response in Equateur in 2020. 


TWB’s tools for Ebola responses in DRC can be found on our site. Materials and tools are available in English, French, and local languages. To find out more about TWB’s activities in DRC please contact [email protected]

Written by Laure Venier, TWB’s Program Coordinator, DRC.

Meet Aghilas: sharing accurate information with the Arabic-speaking world

Translators improve lives by translating lifesaving information for people who speak marginalized languages. Those who volunteer as part of the Translators without Borders (TWB) community have a range of experiences and skills. They share our vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Meet Aghilas 

  • A TWB translator who has donated 70,287 words from English to Arabic, as of February 2021
  • Loves his beautiful hometown of Bizerte, Tunisia
  • A night-owl, who prefers to translate at night!

Where did it all begin? 

In his home city of Bizerte, Tunisia, Aghilas wanted to offer his professional services to international humanitarian organizations to support people in need. It all came from a desire to support communities that have been marginalized, in countries affected by war, and people facing gender-based violence. He thought volunteering as a translator would enable him to better establish his career, offering useful professional experience along the way. He found the opportunity he had been looking for in TWB. On discovering TWB, Aghilas found an organization with values that matched his own, and a shared mission to make crucial information accessible to people in a language they understand. 

Aghilas’ home city of Bizerte,  the northernmost city in Africa. For him, it’s the epitome of the Tunisian way of life, culture and history. 

Daily devotion 

Like many of us over the last year, Aghilas works online from home. Pandemic restrictions left his translation schedule largely unaffected. Even before the lockdown, Aghilas enjoyed a routine, devoting three hours each evening to volunteering as a translator and reviser. It’s a practice he has stuck to almost daily, which has allowed him to focus on bigger revision tasks for TWB. In doing that, he has translated over 70,000 words for 25 different nonprofit organizations. 

The main project of focus in recent months informed people about “Public health and social measures for COVID-19 response in low capacity and humanitarian settings.” The guidance is intended for humanitarians working with communities and local authorities to reduce the risk of spread and the impact of the disease. It was developed in collaboration with the American Red Cross (ARC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), UNICEF, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) members. Aghilas saw it as his responsibility to devote time to revising as many COVID-19-related documents as he could. He was determined to further the dissemination of accurate, credible information to the Arabic-speaking world and support people through the pandemic.

Asked how volunteering with TWB has impacted his life, Aghilas responded:

“It is truly a life experience. I am proud that I dedicated my skills for a good, noble cause, and made a difference in the worldwide community. Through my translations I supported those in need, provided them with basic and crucial information, and even helped save lives.”

He goes as far as to say it shaped a new approach to translation for him. 

“In fact, I believe that translation not only has the power of bridging communication gaps between cultures but it can forge a better world for affected populations as it responds to the challenges they face and prevents the occurrence of disasters.”

Three memorable moments with TWB 

Aghilas says that after just one year volunteering with TWB, he has some great memories to share. 

  1. Winning third prize in the Translation Marathon in September 2019.
  2. Receiving a recommendation letter on LinkedIn from my lovely mentor, Ambra, TWB’s Senior Community Officer. 
  3. Achieving my goal of donating 70,000 words!  
“This is the same place I volunteer daily for TWB” – Aghilas shows off his Arabic Translation Marathon prize, a personalized TWB t-shirt. In front of him is his TWB translation word count, standing at 70,287 at the time of the photo.

Aghilas reminisces, “It has been a fruitful and rewarding journey. I have enjoyed every day with TWB so far. It has been a great adventure that I will never forget. Indeed, words cannot describe how grateful I am for the whole TWB team.”

Three tips from Aghilas on volunteering as a translator

  1. Join TWB to gain confidence and experience as a translator, especially if you’re a beginner looking to take the first steps in your career.
  2. Check your notification settings to ensure you see new tasks in your language pair.
  3. Practice as much as possible: hard work always pays off. 

He explains, “You are part of an honorable humanitarian mission to share vital information and improve this world, making it a safer place to live. Believe me, every word matters.”

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB. Interview responses by Aghilas Ait Mihoub, Volunteer Translator for TWB. 

Sifat Noor: treading undiscovered paths

Translators improve lives by translating lifesaving information for people who speak marginalized languages. Those who volunteer as part of the Translators without Borders (TWB) community have a range of experiences and skills. They share our vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

On World Humanitarian Day 2020, TWB translator Sifat Noor was featured among four Bangla “humanitarian heroes.” He was hailed for his contribution “in translating critical, potentially life-saving information into Bangla, so more people have the information they need to lead safe, healthy, and informed lives.” 

In his short time with the TWB community, Sifat has worked for organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the American Red Cross, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Refugee Agency. His projects focus on education, cancer awareness, and healthcare. More recently he has translated COVID-19 information to inform Bangla speakers about the pandemic. Yet for Sifat, 2020 has been somewhat of a whirlwind. He only began volunteering in March 2020. Almost unbelievably, this was his first foray into the industry.

Sifat loves to share knowledge

“I learned about the greatest linguist in history, Kató Lomb. A polyglot, who graduated in physics and chemistry, learned about 25 languages, and could work with 16 of them! TWB honored this noble woman and I was impressed to see such thoughtfulness. I couldn’t think of a better name, ‘Kató Platform,’ for our workspace.”

Part of the community

Sifat already thrives on being part of the TWB community: 

“Although I’ve never seen or met anyone in person, I always have this notion that I have good friends in different countries. TWB has a wonderful team that gives the volunteers a sense of belonging.” 

Sifat Noor.

Each of our 30,000 linguists belongs to a network which benefits from opportunities to explore the industry, develop new skills, and build confidence in translation.

The 2020 Community Survey asked TWB translators where in the world they are. Explore the survey results here

New ways of work in 2020

Sifat has worked through the drastic and surprising global impacts of COVID-19. Individuals have lost jobs, classes have stopped, and we are all familiarizing ourselves with the “new normal.” The wake of the outbreak has often meant not being able to participate in activities in person, so Sifat has embraced the opportunity to volunteer remotely to reach people in need. The challenges of 2020 and his excellent grasp of English and Bangla pushed him towards an undiscovered interest in translation. Despite not having explored an interest in translation before, he’s always been an enthusiastic writer and language lover who wanted to do good for others, making this the perfect role for him. In our interview, Sifat expressed his ardent belief in seeking out new experiences: “Through volunteering I am exploring this field, learning new techniques, honing my language skills and helping people… all at the same time!”

“We all can contribute to humanity.”

“I wish [the translation platform] would work better on smartphones!” says Sifat, explaining how seriously he takes his volunteering duties. He carves out time and space in his daily life, before and after work. 

2020 presented us the biggest language challenge in history, and Sifat is proud to have played a part. We explored some of his most fascinating projects: 

“TWB has given me access to many projects that are vital for humanity. I found translating the International Security and Development Center’s survey questions fascinating, I loved the way they organized the opinion polls and it was apparent that the outcomes would propose some life-changing solutions. I also want to mention RCoA, World BEYOND War, and of course, the works of the COVID Infographics Team.” Infographics like these have been key this year, to share vital information in a digestible and understandable format. Ultimately, these projects help more people keep safe, healthy and informed in the pandemic.

Some parting words from Sifat – lessons learned from others in our community:

“It may look like some simple translation, but we all are working for people. Although our works are seldom visible, you never know whose lives you’re improving, or even saving.”

Sifat Noor

For that reason, we thank you all for your commitment as always, through 2021 and beyond.

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB. With interview responses by Sifat Noor, Volunteer Translator for TWB.

Language and data-driven humanitarian action: 5 takeaways from a recent global discussion

In one word, what comes to mind when you think about language and data collection?

Challenging, expensive, necessary.

These are some of the answers we heard from attendees at a roundtable discussion TWB facilitated during the 2020 GeOnG Forum

Earlier this month, we were joined by panelists from IMPACT Initiatives, Mercy Corps, and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). We spoke about the role of language for data-driven humanitarian action and – crucially – how addressing language barriers can enable affected people to make their voices heard. The panelists shared their experiences and gave examples of why language is relevant at different stages of the data collection process. Here are five main conclusions from the discussion that are relevant for staff of any humanitarian organization that collects data:

1. Consult data on the languages people speak in the targeted area.

Some countries have sufficient data from government censuses to make an informed decision about the relevant language(s) targeted people speak and understand. However, this data isn’t always freely accessible, or easily verifiable. TWB is working with IMPACT Initiatives and other partners to make language data readily available to organizations that listen to and communicate with crisis-affected people. You can also collect this data during your survey to help fill the data gap. 

Image from IDMC.

2. Address language bias throughout the data collection process.

Language is usually only taken into account in the preparation phase when survey tools are translated into local language(s). This is often done hastily, without checking the translation quality. Mercy Corps highlighted the need to think carefully about language at each stage, from planning to data analysis and dissemination. This includes translating common questions and answers into as many languages as possible and with appropriate quality assurance procedures as a preparedness measure.

3. Support enumerators as needed and don’t make assumptions about their language skills.

Enumerators often take on many roles: administer a survey, but also act as interpreters, cultural mediators, program specialists and organizational representatives. Language support can take some of the burden off enumerators. Testing their literacy levels and comprehension of key terms can help screen enumerators and identify those that need additional training. Tools like glossaries can help them provide consistent and accurate translations of key terms in local languages and be confident that the person they are interviewing understands them.  

TWB research assistants interview Rohingya women in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, Bangladesh. Photo by Irene Scott/TWB (2018)

4. Identify ways to deal with unstructured data.

Asking open-ended questions or including “other” as an answer option can allow us to understand a situation in the words of affected people themselves. But this data can be particularly difficult to translate and understand. Regular debriefs with enumerators during data collection can help check the quality of any free text data. Translating open-format answers into a language the data analysis team understands as soon as possible after the data is collected was another lesson highlighted during the session. 

5. Use technology solutions appropriate to the context.

This could involve using a simple voice recorder as a quality assurance mechanism for multilingual surveys, as IDMC has piloted in northeast Nigeria. In other contexts, this might mean using Google Translate or other machine translation engines to translate information at speed. But this technology works best for major languages and machine translation needs to be approached with caution about anonymity and privacy. TWB and IMPACT Initiatives are developing machine translation and speech recognition tools adapted to humanitarian contexts and marginalized languages. Watch this space!  

Interested to find out more? Check out this infographic with more than 20 language tips for effective humanitarian data collection. Watch the video-recording of the session here. And find information about the other sessions of the GeOnG Forum here.

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Communication Officer for TWB

TWB Community Survey Results 2020 are out!

In September 2020 we conducted a survey of our translator community. As a community, you told us that you are keen to work more with us. But you also told us that we need to improve our systems and become better at communicating with you. We’ve heard you, and we’re changing how we do some things.

As you read this blog please check out the interactive data visualizations here. Click the legend to display the survey data by geographic location or as a graph, and use the filter function to correlate age data by employment status or volunteer satisfaction. 

As we reviewed the survey results, we were overwhelmed by the passion, drive, and motivations of our diverse community of translators. Thank you for your dedication and skills. 

Here is some of what we learned: 

Our community is diverse

Half of the respondents are under the age of 34.  This suggests that we successfully recruit students and young professionals, but have room to grow with more experienced and retired linguists.  While respondents come from 150 countries, the majority reports living either in the US, the UK, or Nigeria.  Almost 30% of respondents report being part of a diaspora community which we are keen to involve more in our community efforts in the coming year. 

Our community is primarily motivated by helping others

25% of survey respondents indicate that their primary reason for volunteering with TWB is to help others and contribute to a good cause.  20% are motivated by working with a humanitarian organization.  33% of respondents indicate that gaining professional skills and learning new skills are key motivators for them. We are eager to understand in greater detail what skills community members want to acquire so we can offer relevant translation training opportunities in 2021.

Photo from Nigeria country office, July 2018.

Our community is highly satisfied with their experience

72% of volunteers reported that they are “likely” or “extremely likely” to recommend TWB to a colleague.  When asked what TWB could do to improve the experience, many requested more communication from TWB, specifically around what we do and the impact of our work. Some also mentioned better tutoring and onboarding of new community members into the system and processes, and instilling a better sense of community.  We have taken this feedback on board and we plan to increase our email communication and to add virtual meet-ups to share updates and hear from the community directly. 

Our community wants more content to translate

One theme that runs through almost all the comments is that community members want more content to translate.  “Find more tasks in my language pair” is the number one request community members have. 

2020 has been a challenging year for TWB; we saw spectacular growth not only in the community but also in the content that humanitarian organizations asked us to translate.  However, not all language pairs are in equal demand; at times there is a lack of content for language pairs where we have a very active community.  Since we want to make sure that all community members get a chance to translate, we will need to find a better balance between the volume of content we offer and the interest of the community.  This problem has no easy answer, but will demand some better planning and creativity at our end. 

Our community wants a better translation platform and tools

The feedback we received about the TWB translation environment clearly indicates that our platform is outdated and not very user-friendly. For the Kató Platform specifically, the feedback is that “The interface is difficult and confusing to navigate.” For Kató TM, our online CAT tool, the general feedback is that we need to provide more training. “Make things simpler,” “Make things more understandable,” and “Provide training” are frequently repeated comments.  We are reviewing our translation environment and will soon introduce changes that should alleviate some of the pain that especially new translators feel. These changes will be gradual but should address some of the feedback we received in the 2020 survey. 

We’re looking forward to being even better in 2021

The TWB community more than doubled in 2020. We attribute this growth mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which motivated many translators to combat the spread of the virus by translating COVID-related information. With your help we translated more than 5.5 million words of COVID-19 content. This is an outstanding community achievement that has positively impacted the lives of countless people.

But we know we can’t keep doing things the way we always have. 

We appreciate the time you took to respond to the survey and are grateful that you are helping us grow as an organization. Together we will give even more information to people in a language that they understand. We look forward to working with you in the new year.

Written by Manuela Noske, Community Manager for TWB.

Conversations avec des chatbots : aider les populations de la RDC à accéder à des informations multilingues sur la COVID-19

Read in English

C’est uniquement en donnant la priorité aux outils de communication bidirectionnels que nous pouvons créer une communication et un accès plus équitables aux informations dont les gens ont besoin pour rester en bonne santé et informés.

« En quoi le coronavirus est-il différent d’Ebola ? »

« Quels sont les symptômes de la COVID-19 ? »

« Combien de fois par jour dois-je me laver les mains ? »

« Comment puis-je me protéger de la COVID-19 ? »

Ce sont des questions que les gens se posent en République démocratique du Congo en lingala, en français et en swahili congolais. Et un robot répond à ces questions, dans leur propre langue. Au fil du temps, le robot apprendra d’autres langues pour permettre à d’autres personnes en RDC de communiquer avec lui.

Le nom du robot est « Uji », qui est l’abréviation de ukingo et jibu, qui signifient respectivement « prévention » et « réponse ». Uji est le premier chatbot multilingue de TWB et joue un rôle clé pour garantir l’accès des gens aux informations de santé qu’ils souhaitent obtenir, dans leur propre langue.

Uji est capable de traiter la communication collaborative et bidirectionnelle

Tout le monde a le droit d’accéder aux informations qu’il souhaite obtenir et dont il a besoin, quand il le veut et dans une langue qu’il comprend. Pourtant, il est fréquent que les informations ne soient disponibles que dans des langues commercialement viables au niveau mondial, ou dans les langues nationales d’un pays. En outre, ces informations ne sont souvent disponibles que de manière descendante car les humanitaires et les organismes de santé décident des informations que les gens peuvent et doivent recevoir.

TWB plaide depuis longtemps pour que les humanitaires et les professionnels du développement intègrent la technologie multilingue dans leurs programmes. Cela permet aux personnes touchées par des crises d’obtenir des réponses à leurs questions de manière proactive et indépendante. Avec les restrictions liées à la pandémie de COVID-19, les personnes touchées par les crises n’ont plus toujours accès aux humanitaires et de nouveaux outils de communication sont nécessaires.

Uji réunit la langue et la technologie pour nous rapprocher de cette vision d’un accès véritablement équitable à l’information.

Le développement de Uji

En RDC, l’accès à des informations crédibles et multilingues sur la COVID-19 est un vrai défi. « Pour de nombreuses personnes parlant le lingala et le swahili congolais en RDC, l’accès aux informations sur la COVID-19 se fait par toute une gamme d’émissions de radio, de sites web et d’affiches », explique Rodrigue Bashizi, responsable de l’engagement communautaire de TWB en RDC. « Mais le principal défi pour accéder à l’information sur la COVID-19 est le coût des forfaits de connexion Internet dans le pays. Parfois, les gens reçoivent des vidéos sur la COVID-19, mais ils ne peuvent pas les ouvrir en raison du manque de services Internet de qualité et du coût des forfaits. »

Il fallait proposer aux gens une meilleure solution pour qu’ils puissent obtenir des réponses à leurs questions sur la COVID-19. Accéder à Uji. Selon Rodrigue, « Uji est un outil très important pour les populations de la RDC car elles manquent d’informations fiables. Comme Uji fonctionne sur Telegram et WhatsApp, il ne consommera pas beaucoup de forfait Internet. Il est facile à utiliser. Lorsqu’il fonctionnera par SMS, il sera même disponible pour les populations des régions éloignées n’ayant pas accès à Internet ».

Rodrigue est originaire de Bukavu en RDC et parle le swahili, le français, l’anglais, le lingala, le kinyarwanda et le luganda. Avant de rejoindre TWB, il a travaillé comme formateur auprès de réfugiés en Ouganda. Au sein de TWB, Rodrigue est un membre clé de l’équipe qui développe nos chatbots multilingues pour les communications bidirectionnelles. Rodrigue est passionné par la technologie et explique qu’il adore travailler sur les chatbots, car il apprend quelque chose de nouveau chaque jour.

Rodrigue et d’autres membres de l’équipe TWB ont développé cet outil en partenariat avec Kinshasa Digital, une agence de communication de la RDC qui travaillait déjà avec le ministère de la santé de la RDC pour développer un chatbot COVID-19. Grâce à la collaboration avec Kinshasa Digital et l’ajout d’une technologie multilingue au bot existant, nous serons en mesure d’atteindre plus de personnes, dans plus de langues.

Nous avons développé Uji en français, en swahili congolais et en lingala. Le bot répond à un large éventail de questions sur la COVID-19, allant des symptômes et de la démystification des rumeurs populaires aux conseils sur la manière d’aider les enfants à faire face au stress dû à la COVID-19. Nous travaillons à l’élargissement de son champ d’application afin de répondre également aux questions concernant Ebola. Le chatbot est disponible sur WhatsApp et Telegram. En utilisant les plate-formes de messagerie existantes, les gens peuvent accéder aux informations sur la COVID-19 où qu’ils soient, quand ils le souhaitent. Qu’ils soient à la maison, dans le bus ou au travail, ils peuvent trouver les informations dont ils ont besoin, directement à partir de leur téléphone.

Uji utilise la technologie de traitement du langage naturel pour permettre aux gens de poser des questions dans leurs propres mots.

Pour dialoguer avec Uji, les utilisateurs envoient leurs questions sur la COVID-19 au chatbot sur WhatsApp ou Telegram. Ils peuvent poser leurs questions en français, en swahili congolais ou en lingala. Le bot répond automatiquement dans la langue dans laquelle la question a été posée.

Mais avant de lancer complètement le bot sur ces plates-formes, nous avons dû le tester et le perfectionner.

Testé et approuvé par des linguistes

Uji est un travail de longue haleine, et il nécessite des tests humains dans de nombreuses langues pour s’assurer de son efficacité et de son utilité. Rodrigue a dirigé les activités de test avec des volontaires de la communauté des traducteurs de TWB, de la FICR et d’autres partenaires. Au début du processus, Uji a dû apprendre à comprendre les questions et à leur associer correctement des réponses. Avec le temps et grâce aux tests successifs, Uji s’est amélioré de façon spectaculaire. Et les réactions de notre communauté de testeurs sont positives :

« Le bot fait de grands progrès en swahili. »

« Il est de plus en plus difficile d’obtenir une réponse qui ne correspond pas à la question. Il semble que le robot s’améliore continuellement. »

Ce retour d’information individuel est important, mais on constate également que près de 70 % des utilisateurs ayant participé à notre enquête de satisfaction sur le bot trouvent les informations fournies par Uji utiles. Le chatbot permet également à TWB de recueillir des informations sur les questions les plus fréquemment posées et les langues les plus utilisées. Les organisations humanitaires et sanitaires peuvent utiliser ces données pour mieux adapter leurs stratégies de communication à ce que veulent réellement les communautés.

Nous continuerons à améliorer Uji dans les semaines et les mois à venir, et nous accueillerons volontiers les commentaires supplémentaires des utilisateurs.

L’avenir des chatbots TWB

Nous espérons qu’Uji est le début d’une restructuration globale de la façon dont les conversations multilingues se déroulent. Notre objectif est de démontrer l’utilité d’Uji en tant qu’exemple réussi de canal de communication bidirectionnel multilingue en RDC, puis d’étendre le modèle à d’autres pays et à d’autres utilisations.

Nous encourageons les professionnels de l’humanitaire et du développement à envisager l’intégration de chatbots et d’autres technologies linguistiques dans leurs programmes.

Pour en savoir plus sur l’intégration des technologies de chatbot et de langage dans vos programmes, contactez-nous par email à corona@translatorswithoutborders.org.

Rédigé par Krissy Welle, responsable de la communication de TWB

Eight plain language tips for writers and translators on International Plain Language Day

Two weeks after International Translators Day it’s time to acknowledge International Plain Language Day. TWB’s plain-language adviser, Kate Murphy sees a definite connection between the two. 

Kate Murphy, TWB's Plain Language Editor
Kate Murphy, TWB’s Plain Language Adviser

The theme of International Plain Language Day this year is “Access for all starts with plain language.” But I believe that access for all finishes with plain language too. Plain language is relevant from the writer’s first draft to the translator’s last review.

Plain language principles are relevant to anyone who works with words. That applies whether you write words, speak them, read them, or translate them. It applies especially if you translate words into marginalized languages, because your readers often have no other sources of information. 

As a writer or translator in the humanitarian sector, unless you’re advocating for and practicing plain-language writing and plain-language translations, you’re not promoting access for all. The alignment of International Translators Day and International Plain Language Day reminds us that writers and translators have a great opportunity to work together to improve access to information.  For sure, a clear source document helps a translator to produce a clear target document. But a translator who doesn’t actively apply plain language principles to their translation can unintentionally undermine the writer’s efforts to be clear. They’ll make it harder for readers to access the information they need. Similarly, a translator that understands plain language can convert a poorly written source document into a version that improves readers’ access to clear and unambiguous information. Close collaboration between authors and translators is an important step in producing clear documents. So for me, it’s entirely fitting that International Translators Day and International Plain Language Day align. 

Plain language is about much more than simple words

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies suggests that 49% of adults in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries have low literacy. The literacy levels in non-OECD countries are likely to be lower. Plain language will give those people greater access to information. But the hidden and often unappreciated value of plain language is that it reduces the reading effort for all readers, regardless of their literacy level. Plain language is for anyone who wants clear, concise information.

Whoever you are writing or translating for, plain language is always about more than simple words. A complex range of factors determines literacy levels and reading speed; vocabulary is only one of those factors. Fundamentally plain language is about the consistency and conciseness of your message. It’s also about the way you arrange the components to guide the reader through a logical flow of ideas that’s easy to navigate and understand. It’s about consciously using grammar and sentence structures that require the least effort from the reader.

In celebration of International Translators Day and International Plain Language Day, here are eight plain-language principles that writers and translators can use to give access for all.

Written by Kate Murphy, TWB's Plain Language Adviser.

Community translation supports the COVID-19 response

Translators play a key role in slowing the spread and supporting people through the pandemic. So much so that the theme of International Translation Day, 2020 is “Finding the words for a world in crisis.” COVID-19 has without question put the spotlight on the need for language support during a crisis.

For International Translation Day 2020, we’re celebrating our translator community. Like many organizations, Translators without Borders and the translators who work with us have had to pivot to keep up with rapidly changing expectations. The need to overcome language barriers in providing public health information has never been clearer. Our translators have been at the forefront of providing accurate, clear, and consistent information to people who need it, in a language they understand.

This year, our translators’ contributions are supporting more people than ever through an unprecedented crisis of information.

Our community of 30,000 translators has come together to translate critical public-facing content into languages and formats that more people can understand. Since January, we’ve translated 4.8 million words in 101 languages for the COVID-19 response

For this very special International Translations Day, we interviewed two translators who are dedicating time to COVID-19 projects.

First and foremost, our community is made up of individuals with immense motivation to do good with their translation skills. Like most of us, they are living through times of intense change and readjustment, while finding time to volunteer. So today, on International Translation Day 2020, learn more about these two translators: 

Barbara Pissane, based in Lyon, France

  • Green-tea drinker and dark-chocolate lover
  • Proud recipient of two French RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) diplomas 
  • Interested in international relations, ethics, refugees, human rights, and medical devices
Barbara Pissane standing in a city street.


“I love discovering new subjects and working with people from all around the world.”

Barbara Pissane

Maria Paula Gorgone, an Argentinian living in Norway 

  • Committed translator
  • Works from home and is adjusting to “the new normal”
  • Has met some amazing people through TWB who she is now “lucky to call friends”
Maria Paula Gorgone sits on top of a hill after a hike.

“I believe that information is a right and everyone should have access to it. The organizations that we get to support through TWB aid people who are in situations where lack of information or misunderstandings can have serious consequences. No one should be left aside because of a language barrier, and I just hope that by volunteering my skills I can do a small part to help break these barriers.”

Maria Paula Gorgone

Barbara and Maria Paula are long-time supporters of Translators without Borders, and now volunteers to review translation tests for French and Spanish. As well as translating tasks, they help us verify new translators, which directly improves the quality of TWB’s projects. Here are some of their major contributions as TWB translators:

Barbara Pissane: translator

Maria Paula Gorgone: translator

  • English to Spanish translator and reviser
  • Revised 57,000 words for COVID-19 projects
  • Translated nearly 500,000 words since starting at TWB

Right now, translation work for COVID-19 is especially relevant, and significant for many. Barbara and Maria Paula have worked on the following projects for various nonprofit partners in the past few months.

Barbara Pissane: COVID-19 contributor

Core Group Consortium: This COVID-19 Library offers health workers and trainers access to quality assured, openly licensed content that can be used on mobile devices and shared amongst communities.

Partners in Health: Translations included work on COVID-19 patient management for medical staff with a focus on health issues for poor and marginalized people. The information included how to initially assess a patient with the coronavirus, oxygen management, management of organ failure, COVID-19 triage and screening. Barbara also revised the “COVID-19 Guide: Clinical Management of COVID-19,” a document used across many countries as a guide for community and clinical management of the disease.

H2H Network: Barbara revised several COVID-19 H2H Network resources for a joint project with TWB, to provide robust evidence on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. 

WHO: Barbara translated an online course for “Emerging respiratory viruses, including nCoV: methods for detection, prevention, response and control,” available on OpenWHO online. You can access the course here.

Maria Paula Gorgone: COVID-19 contributor

ACAPS: Maria Paula revised a task for ACAPS, a nonprofit, independent information provider. The project focused on Mexico: migration and COVID-19, a report that provides an overview how the spread of COVID-19 has led to a deteriorating situation for migrants in Mexico. It primarily focuses on how the pandemic has provided an opportunity for US immigration policy to become even more stringent.

Partners in Health: Maria Paula revised an online resource titled “COVID-19 Disproportionately Impacts Immigrants in Massachusetts.” This story is about the work of the Massachusetts Community Tracing Collaborative (COVID-19 contact tracing initiative) and how contact tracers are working with immigrant communities. 

War Child: Maria Paula worked on a subtitling project, Child Safeguarding during the COVID-19 response. She also revised the Child Protection Case Management guide for development or humanitarian settings. It is a way of organizing and carrying out work to address children’s and families’ needs in an appropriate, systematic and timely manner.

MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors without Borders): This translated document, on “Emergency and Basic Critical Care for COVID-19 in Resource-Limited Settings” provides clinical guidance for COVID-19 patient care in MSF’s existing field projects in resource-limited settings.

WHO: Maria Paula joined fellow translators to work on an online course on emerging respiratory viruses. The training materials on respiratory diseases and critical care for the WHO stood out as an impactful project for her:

“I remember working on this task very early on the pandemic, at a time where everything was a bit confusing and there was a lot of misinformation going around. It was a great feeling knowing I was doing my small part to fight misinformation.”

Maria Paula Gorgone

Thank you to all of the translators who directly contribute words in this crisis, and the partners and supporters who facilitate this vital work. To join our unique community, click here.

Written by Ambra Sottile, Senior Community Officer, and Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB.

Conversations with chatbots: helping people in the DRC access multilingual COVID-19 information

It’s only by prioritizing two-way communication tools that we can create more equitable communication and access to the information people need to stay healthy and informed.

“How is coronavirus different from Ebola?”

“What are the symptoms of Corona?”

“How many times a day should I wash my hands?”

“How else can I protect myself from Corona?”

These are questions that people are asking in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Lingala, French, and Congolese Swahili. And their questions are being answered by a bot, in their own language. The bot in due course will learn more languages so others in DRC too can communicate with it.

The bot’s name is “Uji,” which is short for ukingo and jibu, which mean “prevention” and “response” respectively. Uji is TWB’s first multilingual chatbot and a key part of making sure people have the health information they want, in their own language.

Uji supports collaborative and two-way communication

Everyone has the right to access the information they need and want, when they want it, and in a language they understand. Yet frequently information is only available in global commercially-viable languages, or in the national languages of a country. Furthermore, this information is often only available in a top-down manner, with humanitarians and health agencies deciding what information people can and should receive.

TWB has long advocated for humanitarians and development professionals to integrate multilingual technology in their programs. That allows people living through crises to proactively and independently get answers to their questions. And with the COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions denying crisis-affected people access to humanitarians, new communication tools are needed.

Uji unites language and technology to bring us closer to this vision of truly equitable information access.

The development of Uji

Access to credible, multilingual COVID-19 information is a challenge in the DRC. “Many Lingala and Congolese Swahili speakers in the DRC are accessing COVID-19 information from different radio shows, websites, and posters,” explains Rodrigue Bashizi, TWB’s DRC Community Engagement Officer. “But the main challenge for accessing COVID-19 information is the cost of internet bundles in the country. Sometimes people receive videos talking about COVID-19, but they can’t open them due to a lack of good internet and the cost of bundles.”

People needed a better solution for their COVID-19 questions. Enter Uji. Rodrigue says, “Uji is a very important tool for people in DRC because they lack trusted information. Since Uji is on Telegram and WhatsApp, it will not consume a lot of internet bundles. It is easy to use. Once it is on SMS it will even be available for people in remote areas with no internet access.”

Rodrigue is from Bukavu in the DRC and speaks Swahili, French, English, Lingala, Kinyarwanda and Luganda. Before joining TWB, he worked as a trainer with refugees in Uganda. At TWB, he is a core member of the team developing our multilingual chatbots for two-way communications. Rodrigue is passionate about technology and says he loves working on chatbots, as he is learning something new every day.

Rodrigue and other TWB team members developed the tool in partnership with Kinshasa Digital, a DRC communication agency that was already working with the DRC Ministry of Health to develop a COVID-19 chatbot. By collaborating with Kinshasa Digital and bringing multilingual technology to the existing bot, we will be able to reach more people, in more languages.

We developed Uji in French, Congolese Swahili, and Lingala. The bot responds to a wide range of questions around COVID-19, from symptoms and debunking popular rumors, to tips on how to help children cope with stress due to COVID-19. We are working on expanding its scope to also respond to questions around Ebola. The chatbot is available on WhatsApp and Telegram. By using existing messaging platforms — people can access COVID-19 information wherever they are, whenever they want. Whether they are at home, on the bus, or at work, they can find the information they need, right from their phone.

Uji uses natural language processing technology to allow people to ask questions in their own words.


To engage with Uji, users message their COVID-19 questions to the chatbot on WhatsApp or Telegram. They can ask their questions in French, Congolese Swahili, or Lingala. The bot automatically responds in the language in which the question was asked.

But before launching the bot fully across these platforms, we needed to test and perfect it.

Linguist-tested and approved

Uji is a work in progress, and it requires human testing in multiple languages to make sure it’s effective and useful. Rodrigue led the testing efforts with volunteers from TWB’s community of translators, IFRC, and other partners. At the beginning of the process, Uji had to learn to understand questions and match responses accurately. But with time and testing, Uji has improved dramatically. And feedback from our community of testers is positive:

“The bot is making great progress in Swahili.”

“It’s getting harder to get an answer that doesn’t match the question. Seems the bot is improving continuously.”

Not only is this individual feedback important, but nearly 70% of users who participated in our satisfaction survey about the bot report that they find the information that Uji provides useful. The chatbot also allows TWB to gather insights about what questions are asked most frequently and what languages are used most often. Humanitarian and health organizations can use this data to tailor their communication strategies better to what communities actually want.

We will continue to improve Uji in the coming weeks and months, and welcome additional feedback from users.

The future of TWB chatbots

We hope that Uji is the start of a global restructuring of how multilingual conversations happen. Our aim is to demonstrate Uji’s value as a successful multilingual two-way communication channel in the DRC, and then expand the model into additional countries and for additional uses.

We encourage humanitarian and development professionals to consider incorporating chatbots and other language technology into their programming.

To learn more about incorporating chatbot and language technology into your programming, email [email protected].

Written by Krissy Welle, TWB’s Senior Communications Officer