What you didn’t know about languages that matter in the European refugee crisis

In April 2017, Translators without Borders carried out a study to analyze what might be causing the language and communication barriers that exist in the context of the ongoing humanitarian migration crisis in Greece. A striking feature of this crisis is the wide range of languages and ethnicities involved. Approximately 95 percent of the refugees and migrants who arrived in Greece in 2015 and 2016 came from seven countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Algeria. They represent the diversity of ethnic groups in those countries and speak an array of languages and dialects.

Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Kurmanji, and Sorani speaking migrants were interviewed about how they access important information such as where to access medical care and asylum procedures. 88 per cent of respondents said that they preferred to receive information in their mother tongue. However, humanitarian aid workers are not always fully equipped to deal with the language complexities that characterize this crisis. Following the research, it was clear that humanitarian workers didn’t always know what languages they were serving, and didn’t always know which languages could be understood by whom. Knowledge of the languages spoken by migrants from different countries can present a major obstacle to the effectiveness of their work and hence, the effectiveness of the response.

Translators without Borders has created detailed language fact sheets to be used as a resource by aid workers in Greece with information on Arabic, Dari and Farsi, and Kurdish dialects – the languages spoken by the majority of refugees and migrants in Greece.  

Thanks to the help of TWB translators, the language sheets are now available as free resources in English, Greek, and Italian on the TWB website.

Cover image by Karim Kai Ani.

test your knowledge

How much do you know about the languages spoken by the refugee population in Greece? 

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What is the written form of Arabic called?

Correct! Wrong!

What is the official language of Iran?

Correct! Wrong!

Dari and Farsi are very different when written down, but very similar when spoken

Correct! Wrong!

Amiyya, or spoken Arabic, is the same in every country where it is used

Correct! Wrong!

Where is Sorani spoken?

Correct! Wrong!

Know the languages of refugees and migrants in Greece
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Take a look at the TWB language factsheets to learn more about Arabic, Farsi, Dari and the Kurdish dialects.

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Arabic Factsheet           Dari and Farsi Factsheet           Kurdish Factsheet

 


 

About TWB Words of Relief

Translators without Borders started responding to the European refugee crisis in 2015, providing much-needed language services such as the rapid translation of content for partners working in the response; training for humanitarians, translators and interpreters (professional and aspiring); setting up a language working group; establishing a humanitarian interpreter roster; and, conducting research on language and comprehension. TWB’s Words of Relief service continues to operate in Greece today. For more information and to volunteer or donate, please visit the TWB website or follow us on Twitter at @TranslatorsWB and Facebook

The voice of the vulnerable: A special kind of courage

Celebrating the humanitarian interpreter on World Refugee Day

Imagine it is your sole responsibility to ensure that a vulnerable person’s voice is heard and understood. A refugee who has seen more than you can imagine. A refugee who may need to go to the hospital or an asylum interview, or a therapy session. You are not a doctor, a lawyer or a psychologist. You are the voice. You are the interpreter!

Interpreters for refugees are taught to be the invisible voice – accurately portray the meaning of each person’s words to the other party without interpretation or added commentary.

Simple, right? Not at all.

I had finished interpreting half of an especially intense therapy session with a Syrian refugee mother of three. It was probably the third session of the day – a very long day of concentration and sorrow. I was sitting in the bathroom wiping my tears, trying to find the strength to go back inside and finish the session.

refugee day mother daughter
Refugee Processing Center. Image by Karim Kai Ani @karimkai

She was a Syrian mother of two girls and a boy, who had managed to reach Greece with the help of a smuggler.  I will call her Amal, which means hope in Arabic (her real name is protected). She entered the clinic very stressed, asking to see a psychologist right away. In her arms, she carried one of her daughters, burns covering her face and head. Amal frantically explained in Arabic that a missile fell right on top of their house, destroying her little daughter’s room, burning her entire face and hair. I interpreted as quickly as I could, my eyes fixed on the little girl’s sad face. I struggled to focus on her mother’s words.

Amal continued. Shortly after the bomb hit their home, Amal and her husband felt they needed to act. Their daughter’s pain broke their hearts. “I just wanted to brush her hair again. It had all been burnt away,” Amal explained to me.

Her husband decided to smuggle himself into Europe to find a country that could offer his daughter surgery. Amal was left with three kids all on her own. She spoke of her fear, worrying every day that another missile would hit their home and kill them. She told me that she did not sleep for days, wondering what she would do if it happened again. She wept and shouted.

“I have only two arms….I can run and save only two. Which one would I have to leave behind?”

I paused. I tried to interpret her sentence, but the words would not come out. As a mother of two myself, I suddenly couldn’t be the invisible interpreter just relaying the story. My eyes welled up;  I felt I needed to hug her, tell her how sorry I was that she had to go through this, but, of course, that is not allowed. I didn’t want her to see me cry – and I must maintain my professionalism. I asked to be excused by the psychologist; she nodded right away. And then there I was, in that bathroom bursting with tears. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to go back in again. But I thought of Amal, desperate to feel relieved from her pain. I thought to myself that I had to find a way to make myself invisible or to imagine myself as a machine that merely translates words, not traumas or feelings. So I entered the room and returned to my work.

A few months later Amal was reunited with her husband in Germany. I still wonder what happened to Amal and her family. Were they finally able to do that surgery? How is their life there? I will never find out, I guess….


refugee day
Ferry, Lesvos to Athens. Image by Karim Kai Ani. @karimkai

Today on World Refugee Day we recognize and remember that refugees need more than just food and shelter. In a world where, every day, people are forced to leave their homes behind, we must remember that they need support at the right time, in the right language and from someone they feel they can trust. The importance of professional interpreting must not be overlooked. Interpreters need strong language skills, to convey meaning between very different languages. But, just as importantly, they must also be trained to work in highly stressful and emotional settings. They must be the voice for refugees while remaining detached and professional. They will encounter harrowing stories of death, sickness, and assault – and then go back the next day and hear more. They must avoid ethical breaches and protect the vulnerable. I am proud to be a humanitarian interpreter and to be part of the TWB team who developed this important Guide to Humanitarian Interpreting to support humanitarian field managers, interpreters and cultural mediators in their daily interactions and responsibilities. Language Matters!

Donate now and help us train humanitarian interpreters


This blog post is also available in the following languages: 

Italiano   Ελληνικά   Français   Español   العربية

Blog author refugee dayJulie Jalloul, Translators without Borders Project Officer, is a humanitarian interpreter. Currently, she works with the TWB Words of Relief crisis response team, focused on the European refugee crisis response, developing open source tools to guide and train interpreters on working in humanitarian settings. 

The TWB translator community survey results are out!

Translators without Borders (TWB) recently carried out a survey of our translator community. The survey received 168 responses, and it gave some valuable insights into the experiences of volunteer translators and what motivates them as a community.

We have highlighted here five of the most interesting findings from the survey.

1. our translators are mostly motivated by helping others.

An overwhelming majority (97%) of translators said they volunteer because they like helping others and contributing to a good cause.

While career development, increased professional visibility, and interesting projects were also mentioned as some of the benefits of volunteering with TWB, our volunteer community is primarily driven by the desire to help people in need and work for humanitarian causes.

“Recognition is always nice. However, I really don’t need any more incentives. I’m motivated by something which has nothing to do with rewards.”

2. our translators are embracing technology.

Nearly 40% of respondents have had the opportunity to work on Kató, the new and improved  TWB translation platform that enables online collaboration and allows translators to use translation memory and glossary tools.

Most of our translators are familiar with Computer-Assisted Translation tools and use them in their work. This has produced some discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of translation technology.

According to our translators, the top advantages of doing work on an online platform are:

  • better quality and consistency
  • easier collaboration and sharing
  • the use of translation memory and glossaries
  • better translation workflow
survey of translator community
The advantages of Computer-Assisted Translation tools according to TWB volunteers

Some of the downsides include translators’ preference to use their own tools while working, specific technical requirements (such as using a particular browser for translation), and the need to have online connectivity to do work.

Generally TWB translators are open to trying new tools and approaches in their work and have also been very generous with providing suggestions and feedback on these tools.

3. our translators are open to collaboration on projects.

Translation is often seen as a solitary endeavor, although modern technology may be changing that. In fact, many of our volunteers expressed interest in online collaboration, citing the following reasons as the top advantages of working together as translators:

survey of translator community
The top advantages of online collaboration

4. TWB volunteers care DEEPLY about translation quality.

Many of the responses from our translators focused on ensuring good translation quality, whether through proofreading, feedback, or consistency checks.

This shows that our translators care a lot about the quality of their work and are proactively looking to improve it. In fact, over half of our translators said that receiving translation feedback and corrections from colleagues is important to them.

We recognize that comments from colleagues are particularly valuable to translators. Not only can this be a good source of specific, positive feedback (“Please keep doing what you’re doing, it’s great!”), but it also provides opportunities for growth and improvement (“Here is what you can do even better”).

We are looking for ways to provide regular feedback to our translators and will be sure to incorporate the suggestions of our volunteers about quality and collaboration into our new initiatives.

5. We heard your feedback!

Many of our translators said they appreciate recognition for their work, be it a word of thanks from the partners, visibility of how their translations are benefiting others, or, occasionally, acknowledgment in the form of recommendations or endorsements.

Recognizing this, we encourage our non-profit partners to leave feedback for translators as much as possible, and we are also looking for other ways to recognize the efforts of our volunteer translators, such as through translator appreciation initiatives and by featuring translators in our Volunteer Profiles on the TWB website.

We will continue using the feedback from this survey as we develop our translator community initiatives. It is important to us that our translators feel engaged and appreciated, and that they see Translators without Borders as a source of meaningful, interesting work.

Please stay tuned for more updates about our volunteer translator community. If you are a translator, we would encourage you to join our TWB Translator Volunteers Facebook private group, and if you would like to give us specific feedback or ask a question, you can always write to [email protected]

Until next time!


Apply here to become a TWB volunteer

Marina KhoninaBy Marina Khonina, Translation Quality and Community Manager

 

The language(s) of vulnerability

Language is bound up with power: we all know that from our own experience.

If you can express yourself in the right way for your audience, you can open doors and gain access to opportunities that would otherwise be closed to you. And that’s in your own language – imagine trying in someone else’s.

In many countries, speakers of minority languages who aren’t fluent in the official national language are at a structural disadvantage. Not only in their capacity to influence people in authority, but because the geographical region or ethnic group they belong to is less prosperous or powerful. And it is in marginalized, impoverished regions and among marginalized, impoverished sections of the population that conflicts are most likely to arise and disasters cut most deeply.

When the fighting starts, who is unable to get away in time?

When the rains fail or the floods come, whose crops are lost? Often those who are poorer, less educated, less well connected.

To ensure they are hearing from and communicating with the most vulnerable people in an emergency, humanitarians need to know which languages those people speak and understand. They need to be able to call on trained translators and interpreters working with those languages – languages where often the pool of trained linguists is small at best. They need information on literacy, existing information channels and access to mobile phones and the internet in order to determine the options open to them for relaying information and receiving feedback from communities.

Above all, perhaps, they need an awareness that language can be a factor of vulnerability – and knowledge that there are tools available to aid communication.

Translators without Borders is scaling up its support to communities and aid workers in humanitarian emergencies, with support from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) backed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To find out more, read my blog on the HIF website:

Language, Power and Aid Effectiveness – Journey To Scale

The full article is also available in:

Français Kiswahili Español العربية

By Ellie Kemp, Translators without Borders Head of Crisis Response

Celebrating Amazing Women on International Women’s Day

celebrating giti dallali on international women’s day

In honor of International Women’s day, we tell the story of Giti Dallali. Giti Dallali is providing a vital interpreting service to asylum seekers in Greece, in their language. She is one of the only female Farsi and Dari interpreters working in the refugee camps of Greece despite critical need. The semi-permanent ‘camps’ that now dot the Greek landscape can be very dangerous places for women and girls. While humanitarians have worked hard to protect women and girls, vulnerability to discrimination, trafficking, and sexual assault abound, and access to medical care and human rights consultation is spotty. This is amplified by the fact that most women do not speak Greek or English.

Originally from Iran, but living the United Kingdom for almost 25 years, Giti has been working with Translators without Borders since June of last year. In December she was deployed by Doctors of the World UK to provide interpreting services, working alongside midwives and gynecologists, to female patients seeking medical care either for themselves or for their children.

In high demand…

This incredible lady is also often sent to respond in other camps in Athens (Eliniko, Malakassa, Eskisto) where she works with general practitioners, psychologists, and social workers when there are sensitive cases or issues regarding women’s health.

Giti at work in the camp of Eskistos - a story told on International Women's Day
Giti at work in the camp of Eskistos, bridging the communication gap between an asylum seeker and a Doctors of the World UK midwife

In terms of physical strength, women and children tend to be not as strong as men, and the tough journey that they have had to endure, coupled with the poor conditions in the camps, has a greater impact on their health. Many of these women have suffered domestic abuse, both verbally and physically and oftentimes they don’t feel comfortable discussing their health issues or family problems in the presence of male interpreters. Many of them are victims of physical or sexual abuse and have hidden their pain and health issues for months while they waited for a female interpreter. Some of them will even choose to give birth in their tent because they know that there is no female interpreter or midwife available at the hospital,” Giti tells us. “I find my job quite satisfying as I feel that I can be the voice of many of these people, especially women.

“I can try to ensure their pain and sorrows are heard by the service providers. As a female interpreter who can speak a few languages, I feel that maybe I can help these women to communicate better and perhaps remove the barrier of language”

Giti has been an interpreter in the United Kingdom for ten years, working in hospitals and courts, with social workers, schools, and lawyers. She started interpreting after completing her Master’s Degree, first working with different communities and then going on to interpret for people unable to speak English.

training of translators and interpreters

Since deploying the Words of Relief crisis relief translation network in Greece and the Balkans in late 2015, Translators without Borders (TWB) has trained over 200 staff and volunteers of partner agencies on translation and interpreting in a crisis. To do this, TWB collaborates with partners such as InZone and the Language Project. To learn more please the TWB website.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Blog AuthorBy Amy Rose McGovern, Translators without Borders Director of External Affairs 

Changing the world while sitting on your sofa

Changing the world through language

Listen to Translator without Borders Executive Director, Aimee Ansari talk about changing the world through language at [email protected] in November 2016.

12 reasons to celebrate TWB in 2016!

celebrate twb

In 2016 we worked with some wonderful partners to change people’s lives through access to vital information in the right language. We believe that no person should suffer because they cannot access or understand the information that they need.
So lets celebrate TWB with a recap of our year:

January

In JANUARY we were providing translations in six languages to humanitarian aid agencies responding to the European refugee crisis.

Board with translated text
From left to right: Abdelah Lomri, former TWB Arabic Team Leader and Farideh Colthart, TWB volunteer interpreter

FEbruary

In FEBRUARY we worked with the American Red Cross to translate their First Aid and Hazard Universal apps. These apps help enhance individual disaster preparedness and response to emergencies.

march

In MARCH we announced the winners of our third Access to Knowledge Awards, in acknowledgement of their outstanding support.

april

In APRIL we partnered with Global Health Media Project, to bring multilingual health care instruction to practitioners of health through video.

may

In MAY we attended the World Humanitarian Summit where we advocated for the inclusion of language in humanitarian response.

june

In JUNE we made an impact with a new video on how Translators without Borders responds to crisis by working with non-profit partners globally.

july

In JULY we translated the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability into Swahili for partner CHS Alliance.

august

By AUGUST we had trained over 480 interpreters and translators and we had created the world’s first-ever humanitarian interpreter roster.

TWB's team in Greece
From left to right: Abdelah Lomri and Lali Foster, TWB team in Greece

september

In SEPTEMBER we trained 15 Guinean translators so that communities in West Africa can access more health care information in their language.

october

In OCTOBER following Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, we translated cholera prevention messages into Haitian Creole, for affected communities.

november

In NOVEMBER we developed the world’s first crisis-specific machine translation engine for Kurdish languages using content from our Words of Relief response in Greece.

december

In DECEMBER we reached 10 million words translated in one year, something we would not have been able to do without the help of our volunteers and
supporters!

We’ve had some great successes this year but there is still more work to be done! This holiday season, consider a donation to support the work of TWB.

5 ways to support TWB on #GivingTuesday

#givingtuesday

 

There are several ways to support TWB on #GivingTuesday. How can you help?

“When you learn, teach. When you get, give” – Maya Angelou 

Donate

Donate today to TWB and be in with a chance to win one of 10 TWB mugs! With our goal to translate 10 million words in 2017 in our sights, we also want to give back – 10 mugs for 10 lucky donors!*

Sharing is caring!

Share this email on #GivingTuesday using a simple post such as: ‘Today is #GivingTuesday. If you believe #LanguageMatters, then #SupportTWB by donating here.’

Organize Fun!

Organize a fundraiser in support of TWB. Our handy Fundraising Pack is full of inspiring ideas. Little or large, online or in the office, fundraisers help raise funds for TWB but also to raise awareness of our work.

Volunteer

Translators without Borders works with all kinds of volunteers. Sign up as a TWB volunteer today!

Amplify!

Some employers will double your fundraising for you by donating a matching amount – ask your employer today!

* We will be giving away 10 TWB mugs to the first 10 #GivingTuesday donors (valid from Monday 28 November 12am EST to Tuesday 29 November 11.59pm EST). Please specify that you are a Giving Tuesday donor in the donation form

TWB merchandise

“I want to ask myself, why are people dying every day?”

translation saves lives

A speaker of 5 languages, Jeanne Martin Goumou from Guinea, recognized the importance of giving people access to information in the right language during the Ebola crisis. In a country of almost 12 million people where more than 40 languages are spoken daily, Ebola prevention messages in French and English were not understood by the majority of the Guinean population. Making good use of her fluency in 3 local languages, Jeanne Martin decided to help by manning the lines of the free National Ebola Hotline, helping those across the country who were desperately seeking vital information in a language they
could understand. Because she knows that translation saves lives.

During my interview with Jeanne Martin, she told me about Guinea and the times of Ebola. “

“I want to ask myself, why are people dying every day?”

She spoke of a country with a high maternal mortality rate, and where malaria is one of the biggest killers of children. She spoke of a country where information arrives in European languages that the majority of the population doesn’t understand.

Jeanne Martin is one of the 12 recent graduates of the Translators without Borders’ translator training course in Guinea, a project in collaboration with eHealth Africa that aims to build language capacity in countries where there are few to no translators. She feels passionate about the training, and for her, the course was a professional opportunity to grow as a translator and to learn new information on important medical topics.

Translation saves lives
Image courtesy of Photoshare

Challenges

One of the biggest linguistic challenges she encountered during the training is emblematic of the importance of the very work she is doing. She says there are a great amount of “false friends” in the documents she translates; words that look or sound very similar in two languages but that have very different meanings. This is just an example, in the everyday life of a translator, that shows why information in the right language is so important – so that information is clear and there are no misinterpretations when vital health care instructions are given in a foreign language.

Looking to the future, Jeanne Martin wishes to continue to help people in Guinea access health care information in a language and format they can understand.

Blog AuthorBy Caterina Marcellini, Translators without Borders Communications Officer

 

Lugha Zima La Teknolojia – The Universal Language Of Technology

The Uber driver told me his 80-year-old grandmother would only accept M-Pesa as payment. She sells bananas up-country. The Uber guy and I are sitting in the infamous Nairobi traffic, chatting about business, robbery and technology. It’s safer for her, he explains, she tells all that she only accepts M-Pesa payments because it means she’s less likely to get robbed. I think his grandmother must be a strong character. M-Pesa is a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service. It was started in Kenya, and the idea quickly spread across borders – and now M-Pesa is used in Tanzania, South Africa, India, Albania and Romania. Funds are transferred between accounts via mobile phone – any cell phone. The system is intuitive and in Swahili, so even basically literate people can use it. You can pay for your vegetables from the street vendor with M-Pesa (she prefers it); you can pay for your Uber driver via M-Pesa. EVERYONE in Kenya pays or gets paid with M-Pesa. The language of technology speaks for itself.

The tech side of Kenya

I was in Nairobi to support the filming of a Translators without Borders (TWB) video and to meet the TWB team there; TWB’s only physical office is in Nairobi; we train translators in east Africa and beyond. I’ve been to Kenya dozens of times – mostly on holiday, but also for work – so I wasn’t expecting to learn much about Kenya itself. I knew that Kenya has a cool tech side, but didn’t think much about it.

I was blown away

The woman we hired for the video, Jane, lives in a slum; she has M-Pesa. She also is confident and comfortable around smart phones, iPads, etc. Jane is functionally illiterate; she can’t sign her name, but she was happy to read her lines from a script on an iPad, sign a receipt with a thumb print and accept money into her M-Pesa account. She is thinking about getting M-Kopa to affordably provide solar electricity to her home in the slum for her phone, lights and radio.

M-Kopa
M-Kopa

Jane knows how to use her phone. She can easily get information from it. Literacy is not a barrier. Basic menus in Swahili work for Jane.

Which brought me, later that day, to iHub (I missed Mark Zuckerberg’s visit by about an hour). I was there to meet Ushahidi and to discuss our growing partnership; but I also wanted to meet the mobile systems providers’ association to discuss developing mobile courses to train translators in very local languages outside of Kenya (TWB already has translators in 11 Kenyan languages). If TWB can develop a larger cadre of local language translators, then more information can be translated into languages that people actually speak and can understand. And, combined with some other projects, including Facebook’s Free Basics, more information can get to more people in a way that they can access themselves.

That’s the crux. Can Jane get the information she wants and needs in her own language? Or can she only get what information “aid agencies” and governments give her – what “we” decide is important to translate? The answer, sadly, is that vital information is mostly in English and what is translated may not be what Jane wants or needs. For TWB, our challenge is to turn that system on its head so that Jane can get whatever information she wants in her language, when she wants it.

The future of information exchange

After a week in Kenya – seeing it not just as a country with a huge refugee population, beautiful beaches and wonderful game parks – I am convinced. Nairobi is a vibrant regional hub where non-traditional business practices are developing rapidly to suit a population of 46 million people, 75% of whom live in rural areas, with 12 main languages and dozens of smaller languages. Kenya really can be the future of information exchange.

As I’m writing this in Istanbul airport, the electricity goes out. I can feel the tension rise. The electricity doesn’t go out in airports. And the last time it went out in Istanbul there was a bomb. The security presence around me is palpable. It reminds me that there is also a lot of tension in Kenya because of recent attacks; there are security checks everywhere. You go through security to get into shopping centers and sometimes within them; security forces are on the streets; you walk through metal detectors to go into hotels and cars are searched for bombs before going into parking lots. The country borders on two unstable and insecure countries; bombings and other acts of violence are, sadly, not uncommon and make people nervous. Graft and corruption are ubiquitous. Kenya and Kenyans have a lot to overcome; but, if any country can do it, Kenya can.

The language of technology

Mobile savvy Kenyans aren’t nervous about technology; new technologies pop-up every day and Kenyans (mostly) accept them – from Uber to M-Kopa to Ushahidi. Ordinary Kenyans, even low income Kenyans, have a sense of what the world outside of Kenya can offer; they know that information is there and that it can help pull the country out of some of difficulties people are mired in now.

I think Kenyans can lead the way in making the world available to Kenyans and, hopefully, the rest of East Africa – and they can make Kenyan ideas and thoughts accessible to the millions of others who can benefit from some of the models that they are developing. It’s super-inspiring; I am excited about working with Kenyan language professors, NGOs, and tech companies to help transform how development happens – so that people themselves have the information they want and can make informed decisions about their futures.

Blog AuthorBy Aimee Ansari, Translators without Borders Executive Director