Ask Albion: Coronavirus translations– why multilingual safety information matters

A recent letter to the health secretary reported by the BBC online has raised the issue of access to coronavirus advice. The government claims that translations of coronavirus guidance have been completed into 25 languages. However, campaigners have raised concerns over the number of languages translated into and the time taken to edit advice when rules change. Coronavirus information translations are crucial in Britain as it is estimated that over four million citizens don’t consider English to be their first language. In our latest Ask Albion, we discuss access to healthcare information…

Coronavirus information translations – what factors should be considered?

Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, safety has been the country’s number one priority. Many English speakers have called for more clarification on guidance, with the picture made even more complex when you consider that information is needed in multiple languages. Translations must be precise and clear in each language to avoid confusion. A lack of easily understood information could result in further spread of coronavirus, putting both individuals and communities at risk.

Shortcomings in coronavirus information translations can mean some communities may be at a disadvantage in keeping themselves and others safe. Updating information in a timely fashion is also crucial to ensuring communities can follow current best practices. It is worth considering in all languages that there are different literacy capabilities too. Since healthcare should be accessible, provisions need to be made to allow for this. This also demonstrates the need for clear messaging in concise language. It’s important to consider that even a number of NHS workers do not consider English as their first language, so guidance on care and medicines should be freely available in a variety of languages.

It is also important to consider, now that certain travel restrictions have been lifted, that visitors to the UK from overseas need to be able to understand current UK guidance. This may differ from their home country, thus advice should be easy to source and simple to process.

Why are both coronavirus interpreting services and translations needed?

There is no room for error when it comes to healthcare translation. Interpreting of information happens in the here and now. This means that patients visiting coronavirus test centres or seeking medical support in person or over the phone should have equal access to understanding the diagnosis, treatment, and quarantine guidance. The same consideration should be given to the NHS track and trace scheme.

Translation usually covers the written part of medical communications. This can extend to online guidance or various forms of advertising. A key aspect of these communications is that they need to be edited as soon as the guidance changes, which, in the current climate, can be regularly. There are positives to both types of communication – interpretation allows for quick answers whereas translations can be more accurate and considered. In the medical field, both are required and used dependent on the situation.

What about businesses and coronavirus translations?

As lockdown is eased in the UK and Britons prepare to return to the office, businesses are having to consider their coronavirus safety information. From wayfinding to encouraging sanitiser use and enhanced cleaning procedures, there are plenty of back to work safety messages that may need translation. Unclear messaging could lead to criticism of businesses, so it is important that coronavirus messages are accurately translated.

How to ensure accurate coronavirus translations?

In the medical field, errors can be life changing or even fatal. It is important to ensure that any medical texts are translated by experts in translations for healthcare. Wording is often specific and requires careful attention to guarantee that texts make sense in each language. As the government seeks to build trust and confidence with the public during the pandemic, word choices are crucial.

To find out more about healthcare translations, please contact our team of language experts.

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