Translation connects us: why language inclusion matters

On September 30th we celebrated International Translation Day. To mark the day, we’re highlighting the work of language professionals and volunteers worldwide who help us to connect with others and access information and opportunities across language barriers.

International Tranlsation Day #LanguageInclusion The image shows one three focus group participants in Nigeria, women who are smiling and engaged in conversation with the TWB worker on the left. TWB and CLEAR Global logos

We’re exploring how our TWB Community of over 100,000 people works at the cross-section of language, technology, and humanitarian aid to drive social good. We’ll explore the motivations behind our community members’ love of language, and why they chose to join us on our mission to build a more inclusive world. Their insights help us understand how translation can help some of the world’s most marginalized people overcome language barriers and participate in conversations that matter to them. Read on to hear our TWB Community member’s voices, as they showcase some of the innovative solutions that CLEAR Global and TWB are developing to improve two-way communication with communities that speak marginalized languages.

The power of collaboration – the TWB community

Through our work, CLEAR Global and TWB are making language inclusion a reality.

Our globally connected community helps people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. Together, we are also contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals by promoting access to information for all language speakers – on climate change, forced migration, gender equality and women’s rights, health, and more. Because millions of people who speak marginalized languages are excluded from vital information, services, and global conversations that affect their lives. Language professionals who speak marginalized languages need equal access to digital resources and opportunities to enable them to support their communities – in their language. 

We work at the intersection of language, technology, and humanitarian aid to create inclusive solutions that work for more people. We use research and scalable language technology solutions to improve two-way communication with communities that speak marginalized languages. We also train and empower linguists and non-professional bilinguals to participate in humanitarian and development translation projects on the TWB Platform. We advocate for language inclusion, driving initiatives to make marginalized languages part of global conversations. 

  • We have translated over 100 million words into more than 200 languages for over 700 humanitarian and development organizations worldwide.
  • We have developed groundbreaking language technology solutions such as machine translation engines, speech recognition systems, chatbots, glossaries, and terminology databases for marginalized languages such as Rohingya, Hausa, Swahili, Somali, Tigrinya, and more.
  • We have trained over 10,000 linguists and non-professional bilinguals through our TWB Learning Center courses on translation skills, machine translation post-editing (MT PE), target terminology development and glossaries, desktop publishing (DTP), etc.

What motivates the TWB Community? 

Responses from our community members.

“I developed a deep passion for languages and cultures from a young age, sparking my interest in becoming a translator. The joy of bridging communication gaps and fostering understanding between people from diverse backgrounds is what ultimately motivated me to pursue this profession. I find immense fulfillment in the power of words to connect and convey meaning across borders using Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, French, and English. I became involved with CLEAR Global and the TWB Community through my strong dedication to language access and humanitarian efforts. My commitment to facilitating communication in crisis situations led me to collaborate with the organization, aligning with their missions and leveraging my language expertise to make a meaningful impact.” – Uwayo Noel

“What motivated me was the increasing globalization of our world. As our societies become more interconnected, the demand for skilled translators and language experts has grown exponentially. I saw this as an opportunity not only for personal and professional growth but also as a means to contribute to effective cross-cultural communication on a global scale. The passion for helping people and facilitating communication between different language communities served also as a driving force. Being able to break down language barriers for individuals who might otherwise struggle to access information or services is not just a job, it’s a meaningful way to make a positive impact on the lives of others.– OKafor Nkechi Abundance

“The gap in language services in Sudan motivated me to be a translator and volunteer with TWB. I wanted to practice and improve my language and translation skills while providing a service that matters.– Najah F. Ahmed

“I am from Ethiopia and many Ethiopian descendants are living abroad, and I heard that they are suffering from language limitations. So, I want to help them access crucial information that is not available in Amharic. In addition to the above, even in my country, many individuals still have problems understanding the labels on imported items that are written in English. When I came to know about TWB from social media, I immediately searched the website. When I looked at the core goal of the organization I really found it interesting and decided to participate and be part of a platform which is basically designed to help people around the world.”  – Senait Gebru

Image of Senait Gebru TWB Community member on International Translation Day

Solutions to include everyone

“Through the TWB platform, I’ve contributed to projects like child safeguarding and Kinyarwanda data validation, leveraging my language skills in English, French, Kinyarwanda, and Kiswahili. These initiatives were crucial to me because they align with my passion for language access and humanitarian causes. I believe that valuing languages and ensuring accurate communication is essential for conveying vital messages and making a positive impact on vulnerable communities.” – Uwayo Noel

“I have been able to participate in two projects so far. The first one was ‘WFP audio scripts project’. It was about creating awareness to say no to sexual violence. Personally, I really loved the idea and I believe that everybody should participate in ending sexual violence. The second one was a translation for an earthquake safety project. This project is important for me cause I believe that it might help to protect someone’s life. The translation of this specific information might help some Ethiopian diasporas to understand local disasters and take the required preventive measures to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Sometimes miscommunication can lead to serious consequences. In this specific case I think my translation might help in reducing risks to human life and property which might occur because of language barrier.”  – Senait Gebru

The TWB Community is helping make our solutions even more inclusive with sign language inclusion: 

Overcoming challenges in translation: 

“As a translator and language expert, I have encountered various challenges, including linguistic nuances, tight deadlines, and maintaining cultural sensitivity in translations. Additionally, issues with accessibility and inclusion have arisen when working with languages or dialects that are less commonly spoken or when dealing with specialized terminology. Overcoming these challenges often involves extensive research, collaboration with native speakers, and continuous learning to ensure accurate and inclusive communication.” – Uwayo Noel

Image shows TWB Community member Uwayo Noel with a purple speech bubble reading "kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, French and English language volunteer"  on International Translation Day

“One of the most common challenges is the complexity of language itself. Languages are not static; they evolve over time, and they can be incredibly nuanced. Accurately capturing the nuances, idioms, and cultural context of a text can be a significant challenge. It requires not just fluency but a deep understanding of both the source and target languages. Another challenge is tight deadlines and high-pressure situations. Clients often need translations quickly, and balancing speed with quality can be a real test. This can sometimes result in long working hours and tight turnarounds, which can be demanding.” – OKafor Nkechi Abundance

“I am self-taught. I did not study to become a translator. I developed my English language proficiency without formal education. I learned interpretation, translation, editing, and proofreading through practice.”  – Najah F. Ahmed

“So far, meeting deadlines has been the biggest challenge for me. Because when downloading the original document and sending the translated one as well, I often have internet connection problems. There were even times when the internet was fully shut down by the government. The other problem I faced most of the time emanates from my mother tongue itself. My mother tongue which is Amharic has multiple dialects and this takes a lot of my time to ensure the translation I am doing is accurate.”  – Senait Gebru

Language solutions by the community for the community:

“My work and involvement with CLEAR Global and the TWB Community contribute to making a significant difference in the world by ensuring accurate and accessible communication in humanitarian settings. By bridging language barriers, we facilitate aid delivery, support vulnerable populations, and promote understanding in diverse communities. This not only enhances the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts but also fosters global cooperation and inclusivity, ultimately making the world a more connected and compassionate place.” – Uwayo Noel

“This work helps to facilitate access to information with a language that is understood by the people who need it. And to assist people in making their stories heard, not only in their region but around the world, which wouldn’t happen without translation and interpretation.” – Najah F. Ahmed

“When I decided to participate in TWB’s projects I was planning to fill the gap that was created by language barriers. I strongly believe that my work so far has helped someone to communicate with other people from different cultural backgrounds. Moreover, my contribution will also help to build better personal relationships among individuals. As I am trying to give all my best in delivering accurate and reliable translation, transcription… my involvement in this organization is definitely an asset.” – Senait Gebru

Being part of the TWB Community:

“My involvement with CLEAR Global and the TWB Community has been immensely rewarding. I’ve had the privilege of contributing to humanitarian efforts and witnessing the direct impact of accurate translation in crisis situations. The satisfaction of bridging language gaps and facilitating better understanding between diverse communities is a significant benefit. Furthermore, the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded professionals and continuously expand my language skills has been personally enriching and professionally fulfilling.” – Uwayo Noel

“Translation work and involvement with global organizations like CLEAR Global and TWB often expose individuals to a wide array of cultures, languages, and perspectives. This can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world’s diversity.” – OKafor Nkechi Abundance

“Being part of the TWB Community means continuous learning and development of skills by translating a multitude of topics for different organizations.”  – Najah F. Ahmed

The image shows a speech bubble with a quote from TWB Community member Naja F. Ahmed, “The gap in language services in Sudan motivated me to be a translator and volunteer with TWB. I wanted to practice and improve my language and translation skills while providing a service that matters."

“The first and foremost benefit I can tell is I am able to improve my language proficiency both in the source and the target language. I can say that it helps me to improve my understanding of both languages. The other benefit I got from participating in TWB projects as a marginalized language speaker is that I was also able to receive a monetary reward* and I am really grateful for that.”  – Senait Gebru

*Our Community Recognition Program is our way of thanking our amazing community members with professional recommendations and more. It includes monetary rewards for some marginalized languages to cover some expenses. Speakers of marginalized languages often face high connectivity costs when offering their online support. We hope that this will allow speakers of marginalized languages to volunteer more with us. Learn more about our Community Recognition Program here.

In honor of International Translation Day on September 30, we want to thank all the language professionals who work with us and support our cause. They are central to making access to information possible for some of the world’s most marginalized people. With a special thanks to our TWB Community, a global network of over 100,000 language volunteers who offer their skills and time to help humanitarian and development organizations worldwide.

If you are interested in joining our community, here’s how you can get involved: 

If you want to find out how to support our mission or follow our work: 

Creative fundraising for a more inclusive future: the story of Ludejo BV

How Ludejo BV go the extra mile, and how your company can support with fundraising too

CLEAR Global is a nonprofit, with the TWB Community of over 100,000 language volunteers at its core – fundraising is key. Along with our research and partnership programs and AI-based language technology solutions, we’re helping people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. A considerable part of what we do at CLEAR Global is thanks to our sponsors and collaborators. Without them, our impact wouldn’t be the same. Both financial sponsors and in-kind sponsors help us to quickly respond to humanitarian crises. Right now,  the support we receive is helping provide urgent language services in response to the Türkiye-Syria earthquake, the Ukraine war, the conflict in Nigeria, and more. Our valuable sponsors help us harness the power of our community to do more good.

“I believe – and my team is completely behind this – in giving. Even, or perhaps especially, in difficult times. When you give, something keeps flowing. Giving provides confidence in a hopeful future for everyone. Ludejo is the company I established on a foundation of love. We are grateful to be in a position to support CLEAR Global financially. We will continue to support CLEAR Global with our time and our talents.”

Malon Hamoen – Ludejo’s Founder & CEO
Malon and colleagues fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
Photo credit: Technolex Translation Studios, Ukraine. 

All our sponsors ignite our hope for a brighter future, where speakers of all languages can access opportunities and make their voices heard. Our invaluable supporters provide us with the collaborations, expertise, and funding that are required to move our mission forward and help more people access information digitally in a language and format they understand. 

We love to celebrate companies that go the extra mile in their willingness to support our mission- not only fundraising but also looking for ways to engage the wider community to help us grow visibility and support across the world. One of them is Ludejo BV.

Since their very own foundation, Ludejo BV decided to fundraise to support our TWB community. 

It all started back in 2016, at the GALA conference in New York. Our CEO, Aimee Ansari, gave a speech about the need to ensure that language is not a barrier when it comes to the humanitarian sector. As Aimee explained the work that Translators without Borders, now CLEAR Global, does, one audience member was hooked. 

It was then that Andrew Hickson, now Media Production Manager of Ludejo BV, first heard about our work and just had to meet Aimee. As he learned more about the vision, to ensure that people get vital information, and be heard, whatever language they speak, he felt there was more to be done.  “When I got back from New York, I was very excited to talk to Malon about helping TWB.” However, we weren’t in a position to help financially. And Dutch isn’t really a language that requires a huge amount of time or investment for TWB. 

The beginning of a Fun(draiser) collaboration. 

Fundraising in 2017 –

Andrew, and Ludejo’s Founder & CEO, Malon, met Aimee once again at the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) conference in London. They got talking about ways in which they could help our nonprofit with the resources they had, and decided to commit to supporting our work by running fundraisers. They decided that the best way to bring language service providers (LSPs) together would be to organize a  fundraiser during the next GALA conference, which in 2017 was in Amsterdam, “a home conference of sorts.”

“I ran out of time and ideas for the fundraiser, so in a bit of a panic, I shaved off my beard. People seemed to like that.”

Andrew Hickson from Ludejo explained.
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global

This was just the beginning of a long, organic, and exciting collaboration. The fundraiser in Amsterdam was supposed to be a “one-off”, but with the coordination and support of GALA, the organization of these events became easy and natural. With GALA’s support and Ludejo’s vision of bringing together the LSP community to support our work, the TWB Fundraiser has become a GALA Tradition. Our work has been very much in alignment – both of our mission statements clearly outlined the need to improve multilingual information access.  Yet as a newly founded LSP, they didn’t have the resources to support us in the traditional way.

Ludejo’s fundraisers have emphasized bringing the LSP community together to support the cause and also to have fun!

For five years, Ludejo BV’s fundraisers have helped us spread the word about our work at multiple GALA events! The first one was in Amsterdam, in 2017. That was the time Andrew decided to shave his beard, and got other people to do the same, get henna tattoos, and dye their hair, all for a good cause!

Then, in 2018 –

The time came for another gathering in  Boston. 

The Boston fundraiser took place during the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. So the theme for that year’s fundraiser was easily decided. “A Bit of Craic for TWB” (or ABC for TWB for short” – and “Craic” is the Irish word for “fun!”). The team powered through intense Boston snowstorms to get to the unmissable fundraising event and managed to raise lots of money for a good cause!

  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global

In 2019 –

The GALA conference took place in Munich. According to Andrew, “Something about Germany makes me think of David Hasselhoff. So it just made sense to have an 80s-themed party.” The eighties-themed fundraiser was hugely popular and even followed up by a spin-off nineties-themed fundraiser at the EUATC’s (European Union Association of Translation Companies) conference in Tallinn in 2019. 

  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global

2020 and 2021 –

During the COVID lockdowns, we were able to arrange a “Best in Show” fundraiser for TWB with Geoffrey Bowden and the team at the EUATC. This T-Update conference took place online, but the fundraiser was still able to raise over $1000.  

Last year, GALA gathered again after a pause, in San Diego, California. Ludejo made a great effort in showcasing our Ukraine Appeal and the impact we could have by supporting the affected people of Ukraine in their own languages. They wanted to bring everyone together not only to support our work but also to remind people that we had colleagues and other members of the LSP community facing a crisis and that it was our responsibility to not be indifferent to the situation. 

  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global

The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) – another champion supporter of our work

GALA is another kind supporter of our work, who has been extremely generous in inviting us to participate in each of their conferences and has welcomed Ludejo BV’s fundraisers to promote our important work! 

GALA usually happens once a year, altering locations between the US and Europe. Ludejo’s fundraisers have become so intertwined with the regular GALA program that as of 2023, GALA has decided to now include our fundraiser as part of the agenda and registration process! 

In 2022 Ludejo turned five: and with their growth, they decided to become our diamond sponsor!

After 5 years in the industry, Ludejo has positioned itself as a leading voiceover and translation company, especially in the Dutch market. Malon and Andrew have wanted to support us as much as possible since their very beginnings, so in 2022, they decided to become a diamond sponsor.


We’re extremely grateful for everything Ludejo is doing to help us advance our mission of making the digital world more inclusive, giving people access to essential resources and tools in their language while growing our Four Billion Conversations movement. You can learn more about our aims to increase access to information globally on health, women’s rights, climate change, and forced displacement.

“Ludejo is one of our most valued sponsors. They consistently support our work, raise awareness, and advocate. And they do it in the most fun and creative ways. Their business model – prioritizing community support over profit – is truly inspiring and I hope will one day be the norm.”

Aimee Ansari, CEO – CLEAR Global / TWB
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global
  • fundraising for TWB and CLEAR Global

And they will keep bringing the fun to fundraisers

What Aimee says is true: they know how to run a fundraiser, and they couldn’t be more creative or committed! 

This time, in 2023

Ludejo will continue the tradition and run yet another fundraiser for us at the GALA event in Dublin. If you will be there, we invite you to save the date, March 14th, 2023! 

This time, they will be hosting a speakeasy-themed event, aiming to raise USD 5,000! Combined with a Great Gatsby dress code to make it fun, Ludejo will be inviting language and localization professionals to support TWB and CLEAR Global by sharing a simple and profound idea: we make the most of our impact when we can get our message across in the easiest way possible for people to understand. 

We truly hope that you can join them!

You’ll have a great time while learning with and from experts in the language and localization industry. And you’ll get to meet wonderful people like Malon and his team! 

Fundraisers like this one make a difference to us. They help us reach more people and multiply the impact we create at CLEAR Global, with the support of our TWB Community of over 100,000 language volunteers across the world. 

If you’re inspired by Ludejo’s commitment to giving back, talk to us and explore the opportunity to become a sponsor.

And if you’re already a sponsor, why not take inspiration from Malon and Andrew, and create your own feel-good fundraiser for us?

The Core Humanitarian Standard Commitments are now available in plain English

The Core Humanitarian Standard Commitments are now available in plain English

Written by Kate Murphy, Plain-language editor for Translators without Borders, and Ellie Kemp, Head of Crisis Response for Translators without Borders.

Translators without Borders (TWB) helps its humanitarian partners apply plain language principles to written content. We worked together with the CHS Alliance to develop a plain-language version of the Core Humanitarian Standard’s Nine Commitments.

As humanitarians, we use tools like the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) to hold ourselves accountable to the people we assist. We know that the best responses are those shaped by those directly affected. The CHS provides a great opportunity to institutionalise Accountability to Affected Populations in a way that effectively translates at field level for our work.

But ironically, many of the people we assist themselves aren’t yet aware of our commitments to them. Many don’t have the literacy skills to read, understand, or react to them. Others simply won’t have the time, motivation, or emotional energy to read through the full Nine Commitments of the CHS.

Teacher writing sentences in Rohingya Zuban (Hanifi Script). Kutupalong Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Eric DeLuca / Translators without Borders

The question for CHS Alliance was how to make information on quality and accountability accessible to the affected population. Could plain language help everyone to hold aid organisations to account, in line with CHS Commitment 4? TWB jumped at the chance to help with this. For us, it was another opportunity to highlight the importance of communicating with people in an appropriate and usable language and format.

Everyone appreciates plain language

Plain language makes text easier to understand, easier to put into practice, and easier to recall later. For English materials, such as the new CHS onepager, this means using plain-English. Non-native English speakers appreciate it, especially those with limited education and limited English language skills. But highly literate speakers also benefit, especially those operating in high-pressure environments. And of course, it makes translation easier too.

That’s the thing about plain language: everyone who appreciates clear, concise information benefits from it.

Plain language reduces that reading effort for everyone.

To make the CHS Commitments easier to read, we helped the CHS Alliance apply three established plain-language principles:

  1. Use personal pronouns, including “you” and “we.” That engages readers and adds certainty about who is responsible for different actions.
  2. Rewrite sentences so they contain fewer than 20 words. Shorter sentences are easier to comprehend.
  3. Replace uncommon or technical terms with alternatives that are familiar to all readers.

Photo credit TWB.

We used word-frequency data to identify words in the CHS Commitments that occur less commonly in English print and audiovisual media. The more frequently a term occurs in different media, the more likely it is to be familiar to readers. So, we replaced less frequent words with more common alternatives. For instance, we replaced ‘assistance’ with ‘support’.

Some words like “resilient,” “entitlements,” “competent,” and “efficiency,” are included in the original CHS Commitments, and experienced humanitarians are likely to comprehend them easily. However, word-frequency data suggests that they may reduce reading speed and therefore reader engagement for people who are less familiar with them. Because we wanted to reduce general reading effort, we replaced them.

Spread the word

CHS Alliance members and partner organisations can access the plain language English version of the CHS commitments. Over the coming months, the CHS Alliance expects to provide translated versions in an increasing number of languages and will keep you updated on progress.

In the meantime, CHS Alliance members who are part of the new AAP Community of Practice have suggested various ways we could use the plain-English version to communicate our commitments more effectively to affected people:

  • Provide an audio version of the plain-English commitments for less literate audiences.
  • Develop graphics to accompany the text and make it available as a poster or leaflet.
  • Develop a child-friendly version.
  • Provide staff with guidance on how to use the plain-English version as part of accountability to affected populations.
  • Agree a common way to track understanding of the plain-language versions, possibly as part of regular perception and satisfaction monitoring activities.

We’re excited to see how the new plain-language CHS will help make accountability a reality for all those we serve.

What do you think?

To find out more about how plain language could benefit your organization please get in touch with Kate Murphy, Plain-language editor at [email protected].

When words fail: audio recording for verification in multilingual surveys

A TWB trainer conducts comprehension research. Monguno, Borno State, Nigeria. Photo by: Eric DeLuca, Translators

“Sir, I want to ask you some questions if you agree?”

With that one sentence, our enumerator summarized the 120-word script provided to secure the informed consent of our survey participants – a script designed, in particular, to emphasize that participation would not result in any direct assistance. Humanitarian organizations, research institutes and think tanks around the world are conducting thousands of surveys every year. How many suffer from similar ethical challenges? And how many substandard survey results fall under the radar due to lack of effective quality assurance?

We were conducting a survey on the relationship between internal displacement, cross-border movement, and durable solutions in Borno, a linguistically diverse state in northeast Nigeria. Before data collection began, Translators without Borders (TWB) translated the survey into Hausa and Kanuri to limit the risk of mistranslations due to poor understanding of terminology. Even with this effort, however, not all the enumerators could read Hausa or Kanuri. Although enumerators spent a full day in training going through the translations as a group, there is still a risk that language barriers may have undermined the quality of the research. Humanitarian terminology is often complex, nuanced, and difficult to translate precisely into other languages. A previous study by Translators without Borders in northeastern Nigeria, for example, found that only 57% of enumerators understood the word ‘insurgency’.

We only know the exact phrasing of this interview because we decided to record some of our surveys using an audio recorder. In total, 96 survey interviews were recorded. Fifteen percent of these files were later transcribed into Hausa or Kanuri and translated into English by TWB. Those English transcripts were compared to the enumerator-coded responses, allowing us to analyze the accuracy of our results. While the process was helpful, the findings raise some important concerns.

A digital voice recorder in Maiduguri, Nigeria serves as a simple and low-tech tool for capturing entire surveys. Photo by: Eric DeLuca / Translators without Borders
A digital voice recorder in Maiduguri, Nigeria serves as a simple and low-tech tool for capturing entire surveys. Photo by: Eric DeLuca / Translators without Borders

Consent was not always fully informed

Efforts to obtain informed consent were limited, despite the script provided. According to the consultant, enumerators felt rushed due to the large numbers of people waiting to participate in the survey – but people were interested in participating precisely due to the misbelief that participation could result in assistance, which underlines the need for informed consent. 

Alongside these ethical challenges, the failure to inform participants about the objectives of the research increases the risk of bias in the findings, prompting people to tailor responses to increase their chances of receiving assistance. Problems related to capacity, language, or questionnaire design can also negatively impact survey results, undermining the validity of the findings. 

The enumerator-coded answers did not always match the transcripts

During data quality assurance, we also identified important discrepancies between the interview transcripts and the survey data. In some cases, enumerators had guessed the most likely response rather than properly asking the question, jumping to conclusions based on their understanding of the context rather than respondents’ lived experiences. If the response was unclear, random response options were selected without seeking clarification. Some questions were skipped entirely, but responses still entered into the surveys. The following example, comparing an extract of an interview transcript with the recorded survey data, illustrates these discrepancies. 

Interview transcript Survey data
Interviewer: Do you want to go back to Khaddamari?

Respondent: Yes, I want to.

Interviewer: When do you want to go back?

Respondent: At any time when the peace reigns. You know we are displaced here.

Interviewer: If the place become peaceful, will you go back?

Respondent: If it becomes peaceful, I will go back. 

Do you want to return to Khaddamari in the future? Yes

When do you think you are likely to return? Within the next month

What is the main reason that motivates you to return? Improved safety

What is the second most important reason? Missing home

What is the main issue which currently prevents return to Khaddamari? Food insecurity

What is the second most important issue preventing return? Financial cost of return

At no point in the interview did the respondent mention that he or she was likely to return in the next month. Food insecurity or financial costs were also not cited as factors preventing return. Without audio recordings, we would never have become aware of these issues. Transcribing even just a sample of our audio recordings drew attention to significant problems with the data. Instead of blindly relying on poor quality data, we were able to triangulate information from other sources, and use the interview transcripts as qualitative data. We also included a strongly worded limitations section in the report, acknowledging the data quality issues.

We suspect such data quality issues are common. Surveys, quite simply, are perhaps not the most appropriate tool for data collection in the contexts within which we operate. Certainly, there is a need to be more aware of, and more transparent about, survey limitations.

Despite these limitations, there is no doubt that surveys will continue to be widely used in the humanitarian community and beyond. Surveys are ingrained in the structure and processes of the humanitarian industry. Despite the challenges we faced in Nigeria, we will continue to use surveys ourselves. We know now, however, that audio recordings are invaluable for quality assurance purposes. 

A manual audio recording strategy is difficult to replicate at scale

In an ideal world, all survey interviews would be recorded, transcribed, and translated. This would not only enhance quality assurance processes, but also complement survey data with rich qualitative narratives and quotes. Translating and transcribing recordings, however, requires a huge amount of technical and human resources. 

From a technical standpoint, recording audio files of surveys is not straightforward. Common cell phone data collection tools, such as Kobo, do not offer full-length audio recordings as standard features within surveys. There are also storage issues, as audio files take up significant space on cell phones and stretch the limits of offline survey tools or browser caching. Audio recorders are easy to find and fairly reliable, but they require setting up a parallel workflow and a careful process of coding to ensure that each audio file is appropriately connected to the corresponding survey.

From a time standpoint, this process is slow and involved. As a general rule, it takes roughly six hours to transcribe one hour of audio content. In Hausa and Kanuri – two low resource languages that lack experienced translators – one hour of transcription often took closer to eight hours to complete. The Hausa or Kanuri transcripts then had to be translated into English, a process that took an additional 8 hours. Therefore, each 30-minute recorded survey required about one day of additional work in order to fully process. To put that into perspective, one person would have to work full time every day for close to a year to transcribe and translate a survey involving 350 people.

Language technology can offer some support

In languages such as English or French, solutions already exist to drastically speed up this process. Speech to text technologies – the same technologies used to send SMS messages by voice – have improved dramatically in recent years with the adoption of machine learning approaches. This makes it possible to transcribe and translate audio recordings in a matter of seconds, not days. The error rates of these automated tools are low, and in some cases are even close to rivaling human output. For humanitarians working in contexts with well resourced languages like Spanish, French, or even some dialects of Arabic, these language technologies are already able to offer significant support that makes an audio survey workflow more feasible.

For low-resource languages such as Hausa, Kanuri, Swahili, or Rohingya, these technologies do not exist or are too unreliable. That is because these languages lack the commercial viability to be priority languages for technology companies, and there is often insufficient data to train the machine translation technologies. In an attempt to close the digital language divide, Translators without Borders has recently rolled out an ambitious effort called Gamayun: the language equality initiative. This initiative is working to develop datasets and language technology in low-resource languages relevant to humanitarian and development contexts. The goal is to develop fit-for-purpose solutions that can help break down language barriers and make language solutions such as this more accessible and feasible. Still, this is a long term vision and many of the tools will take months or even years to develop fully.

In the meantime, there are four things you can do now to incorporate audio workflows into your data collection efforts

  1. Record your surveys using tape recorders. It is a valuable process, even if you are limited in how you are able to use the recordings right now. In our experience, enumerators are less likely to intentionally skip entire questions or sections if they know they are being recorded. Work is underway to integrate audio workflows directly into Kobo and other surveying tools, but for now, a tape recorder is an accessible and affordable tool.
  2. Transcribe and translate a small sample of your recordings. Even a handful of transcripts can prove to be useful verification and training tools. We recommend you complete the translations in the pilot stage of your survey, to give you time to adjust trainings or survey design if necessary. This can help to at least provide spot checks of enumerators that you are concerned about, or simply verify one key question, such as the question about informed consent.
  3. Run your recordings through automated transcription and translation tools. This will only be possible if you are working in major languages such as Spanish or French. Technology is rapidly developing, and every month more languages become available and the quality of these technologies improve. Commercially available services are available through Microsoft, Google, and Amazon amongst others, but these services often have a cost, especially at scale.
  4. Partner with TWB to improve technology for low-resource languages. TWB is actively looking for partners to pilot audio recording and transcription processes, to help gather voice and text data to build language technologies for low resource languages. TWB is also seeking partners interested in actively integrating these automated or semi-automated solutions into existing workflows. Get in touch if you are interested in partnering: [email protected]
Written by:

Chloe Sydney, Research Associate at IDMC

Eric DeLuca, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager at Translators without Borders

Getting community engagement right from the start: a reflection on the Cyclone Idai humanitarian response

If I had to summarize Translators without Borders’ learning from the Cyclone Idai response, it would be: language support can be a significant tool for effective, accountable humanitarian action. But only if there is a more comprehensive approach to community engagement from the outset. 

It is one thing to read a statistic about the linguistic diversity and low literacy levels of the population in Mozambique. It is another thing entirely to sit down with a group of Cyclone Idai survivors in Beira and hear it in person. To learn from one person after another that they are unable to communicate with aid workers in a language they understand. 

Community engagement MozambiqueThis is what TWB’s assessment team and I heard a few weeks ago when we conducted a rapid language assessment in four temporary accommodation sites. We found that many people do not understand the main languages and formats used by humanitarian organizations. They voiced frustration about how difficult it is to access information about available assistance. After one of southern Africa’s worst disasters in decades, we learned that much humanitarian communication is failing because it is in the wrong language.

Today, in the comfort of my home, I’m thinking about what this means. In a way, it shows that humanitarians still fall short of meeting their commitments to “leave no one behind” and “put people at the center.” This is probably not news to many. But it leaves me torn when thinking about the impact of TWB’s language support services in the Cyclone Idai response. Looking at our project, I can say we worked with others to strengthen communication with affected people in the relevant languages. But looking at the remaining gaps, I am less convinced that our work ensured effective engagement with all those affected from the onset of the response.

My point here is not to be skeptical about the first-phase emergency aid delivered in Mozambique. Many communities lost everything due to Cyclone Idai and rely on that aid to rebuild their lives. But I want to reflect on learning in the humanitarian sector. I think we generally try to question ourselves. However, it sometimes feels like we spend more energy evaluating how things went wrong after the fact than we do getting it right up front. 

IOM response to Cyclone Idai, Beira, Mozambique
Credit: Andrew Lind / IOM

In recent years, there has been no shortage of research on the importance of meaningful community engagement. Effective two-way communication is an essential element of engagement. Yet, activities aimed at ensuring people’s voices are heard and understood are still implemented as optional ‘add-ons.’ They are rushed, under-resourced or restricted to the later stages of a response. That needs to change.

What then, can be done?

For a start, we need to collect and share language data as part of needs assessments. That data is a basis for workable and effective communication strategies. It tells organizations three key things: 

  • Which language skills we need to recruit for; 
  • Which languages and formats we need to provide information in; and
  • Which languages and communication preferences we need to tailor feedback mechanisms to. 

Language assessments of the kind carried out by TWB in Beira can provide additional insight into information comprehension and specific vulnerabilities. On that basis, language support like translation and interpreting can be built into community engagement response plans and budgets. 

It is not too late to start collecting, sharing, and using this data in the Cyclone Idai response. But we need to apply this change from the outset of the next emergency. It is the time to ensure we are accountable to the people that need it most, and that this process is in the languages and formats they want. We owe it to the people we aim to help – and to ourselves to maximize the learning we get from them. 

Any takers?

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders

An Interview with Liudmila, a Russian translator connecting the world through language

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Translation is not the only skill that helps TWB translators connect people through language. A deep understanding of culture, people, and precision can also help nonprofit organizations communicate with people affected by crisis or poverty.

“I am a translator to the marrow of my bones, and a perpetual learner — every translation for me is a discovery.” Liudmila Tomanek, Translator for TWB.

Take, for example, Russian translator Liudmila Tomanek. When she is not freelancing and running her translation company, this linguist with a penchant for perfection translates information for people in need, on a diverse range of topics. To date, she has donated over 225,000 words translated from English into her native Russian. Through her work with TWB, she uses and develops her communication skills and cultural understanding to help people understand vital information, no matter what language they speak.

Working in the real world

As a multilingual translator and interpreter working from English, French, Spanish, and Italian into Russian, Liudmila understandably has a range of experience and cultural knowledge. She draws on this in projects with TWB, and is comfortable working in diverse subject areas. Particular interests lie in journalism, economics, and medical translation.

During her time with TWB, Liudmila has used her deep cultural understanding to translate information on topics ranging from human rights to poverty and infectious diseases. In doing so, she has supported nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross, Internews, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Donating words

The very fact that TWB exists and flourishes, she believes, demonstrates that quality skills can be incredibly valuable when it comes to helping a good cause.Book, spectacles, glasses

With her translated words, she reaches out to those who would otherwise lack the access to information they need in a language and format they understand. Liudmila compares her volunteering with TWB to doctors working for Doctors without Borders: professionals using their skills to treat people where the need is greatest. She explains, “professional translators who volunteer for TWB provide information where it is needed and in the language it is needed.” Projects with TWB have opened Liudmila’s eyes to the wide-ranging need for professional translation: from the families of children born with a cleft lip and palate, to natural disaster management.

It helps me to see the world through a different set of spectacles. It removes a curtain from some aspects of life that people prefer not to think or talk about. – Liudmila

Liudmila lists her projects with Operation Smile International among her favorites. “They really do amazing things. They go around the world and give children born with a cleft lip or palate a chance to smile and live a full life. I cry every time I translate their newsletter,” she says.

Befriending technology

And sometimes translating leads to new skills. As a self-confessed old-fashioned type, she was once wary of computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. However, with Kató, TWB’s online translation platform, Liudmila was converted. Though a professional eye still is still needed to ensure context and quality, this translator now works faster and more consistently with Kató  – and gladly so.

When helping the world communicate, we’re thankful that Liudmila uses skills both old and new.

 

Want to use your language skills for good? Apply today.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected]

 

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Liudmila Tomanek, Translator for Translators without Borders. 

How I found meaning in my career

Volunteering with TWB is a rewarding and enriching experience.

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Iris Translator

Iris Soliman sets out to prove that when the cause matters to you, giving back comes naturally. Since early 2018, this translator’s enthusiasm for TWB’s work has shone through in her personal and professional life. Her support for the cause extends far beyond the translation work itself, as Iris has thrown herself into TWB’s Kató Community forum and social media platforms. Driving TWB’s vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers is a dedicated community of translators. They all volunteer because of a shared set of values: they believe in the need to make information available in languages that people understand. Iris embodies the energy and passion shared by many TWB translators.

Advancing a career in translation

The 35-year-old Belgian translator of Egyptian descent works in English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, and French. Iris began her professional translation career five years ago. And in just one year with TWB, she has participated in over 100 projects and translated over 200,000 words. Those words have helped individuals supported by a plethora of organizations including the NEAR network, Concern Worldwide, and Humanity and Inclusion.

Humanity and Inclusion is where Iris began her volunteering career in the Brussels office and in the field, 10 years prior to discovering TWB. More recently, she has been able to achieve a personal goal of translating a text from Arabic to French and participating in numerous meaningful projects.

Iris is touched by the knowledge that her work with TWB makes a real and discernible impact on lives. A fondly remembered translation was for a smartphone app called Miniila, by Missing Children Europe. The app provides migrant children with information about their rights and the services available to them on their arrival in Europe. In a separate project, she learned that important vaccine stocks in Syria had to be destroyed because they were in a location occupied by Daesh. For Iris, these translations are personal reminders of her lucky situation, while others sometimes struggle to meet basic needs.

Iris Translator

“Now I hope I’ll help all kinds of people – elderly, grownups or children – particularly those fleeing conflict, starvation or natural disasters.”


As an engaged member of the TWB community, Iris is thankful for the knowledge-sharing, the friendly environment and the opportunity to help others while gaining humanitarian experience.

Fitting TWB volunteering into a busy life.

Though she is busy, Iris finds time to dedicate to her volunteer work. For her it is about so much more than doing a job: she is part of a thriving community. While still volunteering for TWB regularly, Iris is completing various online courses and preparing for the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi Chinese proficiency examination. 

Iris hopes that her energetic approach to the translator community will encourage other translators to join. For anyone who is curious, she offers words of advice: “You can always ask the project managers questions (they are more than simply available). And don’t worry if you need to double check, make corrections, or have your work revised. I was like you less than a year ago!” This is all part of her endless desire to make a difference and grow professionally.

“Iris has contributed a substantial number of words on TWB’s translation platform, Kató. But what really distinguishes her is the great enthusiasm she is showing in the Kató Community” Paulina Abzieher, Translation Project Manager for TWB.

If you, too, share our values, apply to join TWB’s translator community today.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected]

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Iris Soliman, Translator for Translators without Borders. Cover photo by Karim Ani.

Beyond translation: Maysa’s far-reaching contribution

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

This month’s featured translator works in two of the most widespread languages in the world: English is an official language across 59 countries, while Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in 26 countries. Arabic and its many varieties are the mother tongue of 310 million people in the Arab world, parts of Latin America, and Western Europe.

Maysa Orabi

For Maysa, joining TWB made sense: “I rushed to submit my application. I realized that I could finally give a helping hand using what I do best and love the most: translation.”

Maysa Orabi is an invaluable member of the TWB community thanks to her enviable translation skills. By translating into two of TWB’s most common language pairs, English to Arabic and Arabic to English she directly impacts the lives of many. Not only has Maysa translated more than 100,000 words for TWB, but she has also reviewed almost 200 translation tests as a trusted quality reviewer. This enables TWB to recruit new translators, build our language community, and maintain high translation quality.

Telling Human Stories

It was only after joining TWB that Maysa came to realize the magnitude of what she was giving. Maysa is interested in human nature, and our desire for communication and understanding of our world. Yet often, that understanding is only possible thanks to our access to knowledge in a language we understand – and not everyone has that advantage.

Maysa has a deep desire to understand the world, and the hardships faced by many. But she is especially invested in the stories of people living through difficult times. She wants to help them tell their stories:

“They want to have a voice and they need to know they are being heard.”

Translators have chosen to help amplify the voices of others, so Maysa says that translators must be diligent and put their heart and soul into what they translate. With this in mind, she guides the translators she works with whenever she revises their work. Over the last three years, she has reviewed the quality of an additional 50,000 words of translation tests on top of her own translation tasks.

Ferry to Athens,
“Because your words are as important as a warm blanket for a poor child on a cold night.” Maysa Orabi. Photo by Karim Ani.

“As a Jordanian and an Arab, not to mention a human, I was shaken by the events the Arab world witnessed in recent years. I wanted to be present and helpful in any way possible. When vulnerable, displaced, and deprived people cry for help, their suffering is doubled if they cannot communicate with those who want to help them. I want to know there is something I can do.” Maysa Orabi.

And so, Maysa decided to put her efforts, knowledge, and experience into translating for TWB, to prove that language matters.

Still learning

Maysa explains that TWB has given her the chance to gain and develop her skills fast. Her projects remain in the back of her mind while she is working on other translations, and they occupy much of her spare time. The extra experience in translation and lessons in efficiency have honed her professional abilities.

The projects she handles for TWB have also developed her awareness of the world. In particular, she has worked on medical content for Wikipedia and articles for Internews. Those Internews articles touched on the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece and other European countries. They showed her the difficulties faced by people trying to settle in a safe place: tumultuous legal procedures and regulations, uncertain futures, separation from family, an inability to work, and limited access to a proper residence. Her work involved translating questions and concerns, in which she learned of the troubled, inescapable realities of so many people. Maysa describes how those communications revealed the urgency of the situation for many, and the hard time the world is having to contain the ravages of wars.

“A traveler I am, and a navigator, and every day I discover a new region within my soul.” Khalil Gibran

The translating and reviewing work that Maysa does is enormous: it deals with big languages, big issues, and makes a big difference. But its effect is immediate, even life-changing, on a personal level. Individuals and families have been given access to vital information that they might not have had, thanks to Maysa and our community of TWB translators.

“TWB has increased my love for translation and my sense of the significance of what I do; that I translate for a cause.” Maysa Orabi.

Click here to join TWB’s community of translators.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected].

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB, with interview responses by Maysa Orabi, Kató translator for TWB. 

United by language: Tigrinya translators use their skills to help others

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experiences and skills, and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Two of our top translators of Tigrinya, a language spoken by approximately seven million people, deserve special recognition for the work they did in 2018. Our featured translators, Kidane Haile and Kalayu Menasbo, have their roots in Eritrea and Ethiopia respectively. But they are united by a common language and their tireless desire to use their skills to support those in need.

Tigrinya is a Semitic language, belonging to the same language family as Amharic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Maltese. It is widely spoken in Eritrea and in northern Ethiopia, and by immigrant communities in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and parts of Europe.

Eritrea Landscape, Ghinda
Ghinda, Eritrea.

Missing Children Europe  

Tigrinya was one of the most important marginalized languages at TWB in 2018, primarily because of our partners’ work with refugees. For example, Missing Children Europe works with refugee youth in Europe who are unaccompanied; Tigrinya is one of the most important languages for this work. Kalayu and Kidane both contributed to the Missing Children Europe work, giving hope to people who have been forced from home due to poverty, hunger, persecution, discrimination, civil war, or unemployment. Young people and displaced or unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable in such situations. They need to be able to report problems and to know their rights and responsibilities. They cannot do any of that without information in a language they understand.

Kalayu knows how important it is to ensure communication does not become a barrier to humanitarians providing safety. Language mediators are crucial. So the documents provided by our Tigrinya translators can be life-changing.

Kidane, too, sees it as a privilege to work with an organization like Missing Children Europe: to know he is supporting young children, and that the work he does is valuable.

A translator’s journey: taking refuge and delivering safety with words

Kidane now works from his home office in Buffalo, New York translating from English to Tigrinya. The dedicated volunteer prides himself on communication and a desire to help others, hence his enthusiasm for working with TWB. Since joining in April 2018, Kidane has completed 60 tasks, amounting to 32,000 words.

“At one time in my life, I was a refugee. So, I understand what it is like to be in an unfamiliar country, facing a language barrier and other challenges. When I work with people in that situation, I understand what they are going through and it makes me happy to help them,” Kidane Haile, Translator

In 2010, Kidane arrived in the United States with refugee status. For four years he worked part-time, studied full-time, and worked on his English fluency. It was then that he realized his knowledge of Tigrinya and English opened up an opportunity to work and help the community simultaneously. Now he works as a full-time interpreter, though he never forgets where his journey began:

“I often think about making life easier for people who start in a new country and need help communicating and understanding their new situation, the way I was years ago.”

Kalayu, the second of our spotlighted Tigrinya translators, works in the same language pair from his home in Ethiopia. This busy volunteer has translated almost 30,000 words across 17 tasks since he joined TWB in October 2018. He continually aims to serve and provide for others through improved communications.

Kalayu
Kalayu Menasbo, Translator

And his dedication to the mission is evident: Kalayu often works late into the night to complete translation tasks, without the convenience of a home laptop.

In fact, the keen reader and ex-radio journalist wears many charitable hats: he also works for World Vision Ethiopia, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to transforming the lives of vulnerable children and families. In his various roles, he creates safe, protected environments by translating vital information into local languages.

Beyond TWB

Kidane’s experience with TWB has expanded his written translation skills and helped him to take on work outside of his primary field of interpretation.

Kalayu explains how working with TWB helped him understand the impact a translation can make:

“I have no money to support people, but I have the skill of translation – a skill that can support those who need it in their daily life.” This revelation has made Kalayu a committed language professional.

Photo by Kalayu. Sunset over the Adwa mountains, Ethiopia.

A translation task may take you a day, but for those who need it, it may serve as a life continuing catalyst,” Kalayu Menasbo.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected].

If you know a second language, and you too want to help build a world where knowledge knows no language barriers, apply here to become a translator for TWB

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB, with interview responses by Kidane Haile and Kalayu Menasbo, Kató translators for TWB. 

The language lesson: what we’ve learned about communicating with Rohingya refugees

A Translators without Borders study found that access to information has improved in the Rohingya refugee response as a result of an increased humanitarian focus on communicating with communities. Yet language barriers still leave many Rohingya refugees without the critical and life-saving information they need. Prioritizing spoken communication in Rohingya and a mixed approach on formats and channels is key to effective communication.

Our assessment of comprehension and support needs among Rohingya refugees tested their comprehension of simple spoken, visual, and written information.

From the outset, language challenges have played a central role in the Rohingya refugee response. There are at least five languages — Rohingya, Bangla, Burmese, Chittagonian, and English — used in the response. Low literacy levels and limited access to media compound the situation.

To find out how humanitarians can effectively communicate with refugees, Translators without Borders assessed language comprehension and support needs among the refugees. We surveyed more than 400 Rohingya men and women living in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. We asked them what languages they spoke, how they preferred to receive information, and we tested their comprehension of simple spoken, visual, and written information.

Here is what we found.    

Communication has improved, but not all Rohingya refugees feel informed

Twenty-eight percent of refugees say they do not have enough information to make decisions for themselves and their family. Extrapolated to the whole camp population, this suggests that about 200,000 people feel that they lack the basis to make properly informed decisions.  Nevertheless, it is a marked improvement from a year ago when an assessment by Internews found that 79 percent of refugees did not have enough information.

Communication in spoken Rohingya is critical

Rohingya is the only spoken language that all refugees understand and prefer. Our study shows that 36 percent of refugees do not understand a simple sentence in Chittagonian. Women are less likely than men to understand spoken Bangla or Burmese. Refugees prefer to receive information in spoken Rohingya, either by word-of-mouth, loudspeaker, or phone call.

This preference for spoken Rohingya coincides with strong trust levels in imams, family, aid and medical professionals, and majhees (government-appointed community leaders) as sources of information. Radio, TV, and the internet are less trusted by and less familiar to women.

After spoken Rohingya, simple visual messaging is the most widely understood format. Comprehension rates for visual communication are high regardless of gender, age, or education level.

These Rohingya participants helped us assess language comprehension and support needs among the refugees living in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
These Rohingya participants helped us assess language comprehension and support needs among the refugees living in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Burmese is the preferred written language, and is relatively well understood

After Rohingya, Burmese is the preferred language for written communication. Although two-thirds of refugees prefer written communication in Rohingya, the language lacks a universally accepted script. Refugees prefer written information to be given in brochure or leaflet form. This allows them to take information away with them and ask a friend or family member to help them understand it.

Sixty-six percent of refugees said that they cannot read or write in any language, and comprehension testing broadly confirmed this. When tested for reading comprehension, 36 percent understood Burmese, a similar rate to Bangla and English.

Investment in language will improve the response

These findings make it clear that there are varied language needs within the Rohingya community. They show that different people understand, prefer, and trust different formats and sources of information. Nonetheless, practical actions for effective humanitarian communication exist.

Using Rohingya for spoken communication, and Burmese for written information is important. Providing information in a mix of formats and channels to account for varied preferences and education levels will also help.

Investing in formal training for field workers and interpreters in the Rohingya language and in humanitarian interpretation techniques is key. Staff should be supported to communicate in the language understood and preferred by the whole community.

This enumerator is tests a Rohingya man’s comprehension of simple spoken information.

As time goes on, communication and language preferences may change. Ongoing assessments on information and language support needs should be coupled with further research to better understand communication issues affecting the Rohingya refugee response. Sustained coordination among humanitarian organizations can help ensure communication is consistent, appropriate, and addresses key community concerns.

View the research brief.

Read the full report.



This study is part of the Common Service for Community Engagement and Accountability. Funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and by European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). It was conducted in partnership with IOM Needs and Population Monitoring and REACH Initiative. Translators without Borders has been working in Bangladesh in support of the Rohingya refugee response since 2017, conducting research on language barriers and communication needs, advocating for local language and cross-cultural competence, providing translation and localization support, and training humanitarian staff on the Rohingya language and culture.

Written by Mahrukh 'Maya' Hasan, Evidence and Impact Consultant for the Rohingya refugee crisis response in Bangladesh.