How Expertise in Translation and Localization Helps Global Health and Development Projects Succeed

June 28, 2018 |

International development projects create healthier populations, ensure natural resource development is responsible and sustainable, and offer relief to communities suffering from sub-standard living conditions. NGO researchers, developers, and humanitarian aid workers cannot work effectively without proper translation and localization services.

For example, in Africa, according to a UNESCO policy brief, the mass media employs at least 242 African languages, the judicial system uses at least 63 languages, and 56 languages are used in public administration. Demand for translation services in major languages such as Amharic, Hausa, Swahili, and Yoruba is on the rise by both business and humanitarian entities.

hand holding a green plant

Many questions arise about translation efforts for businesses and organizations working on international development projects:

  • What languages are spoken and read in the area?
  • How do you address different cultural, political, and legal aspects of your development project with leadership in the community?
  • How do you create training programs, employee handbooks, and safety procedure manuals that are easily understood by cultures with different social norms, not just languages?
  • What changes must you make to reports and research papers to be understood by all parties?
  • How do you cite measurements, data, and scientific information to be understood and effective?

Making Resources Available to the International Community

Members of the AOT team recently attended the annual Devex conference. The organization provides business and recruiting information that helps various parties come together in service of thousands of foreign assistance projects worldwide. This conference focused on new technological assets for responsible energy development.

Devex uses content sharing and social networking tools to dramatically reduce the time and expense typically devoted to recruiting and information gathering. These documents not only require translation in to multiple languages, but also need the expertise of linguists to translate concepts into language understood within local cultural norms.

Applying new western technologies and methods to any project in a community that speaks different languages, however, is impossible without effective, nuanced communication. Translation and localization between project leaders and local workers and managers who will implement and maintain these projects is crucial.

What is the Difference Between Translation and Localization?

People often confuse localization with translation, but localization involves more than simply translating text word-for-word. Localization refers to the process of doing whatever is necessary to make a concept or content understood in another culture.

As an example, there is no word for “rape” in Swahili. For humanitarian organizations working to improve women’s health and well-being in Uganda, communicating the concept in an accurate, culturally sensitive manner is necessary to assist victims (who feel just as victimized as any other rape survivor) and discourage the practice of forcing young girls and women against their will (to men who don’t even consider it wrong).

Also, keep in mind that while many countries share the same language, the cultural context could be entirely different. Therefore, understanding the distinctions from community to community is important.

Case Study: USAID-Funded Climate Links

Mercy Corps Fellow Kelly Kurz and Peace Core Volunteer Kristin Lambert collaborated on an effort that brought farmers and climate change experts together in in Niger. In a June 2018 article for Climate Links, they describe a project with many moving parts, none of which would have been successful without the help of the most experienced linguists.

Under the USAID-funded Climate Information Services Research Initiative (CISRI), a Mercy Corps-led project held a series of participatory workshops in Zinder, Niger, with climate information providers, users, and interpreters to identify the factors that influence how climate information reaches farmers. These conversations became the foundation for locally led improvements to the communication system between scientists, the media, and farmers.

In Zinder farmers use knowledge gained through generations of observation and experience. With the effects of climate change, however, they need additional information from climate experts to continue their work. Consider the following:

  • For generations, certain birds sang before a significant rain, and a species of tree grew new leaves before the dry season. Wind patterns changed predictably during summer and winter. How do local farmers describe these occurrences? And how do we translate that to scientific data in English for USAID?
  • As the indicators above have shifted due to climate change, farmers are facing increasing challenges to read nature’s signs of seasons and weather. Not only does it threaten the way of life of these farmers, it also affects the result of their harvest and therefore the food supply.

“Preliminary findings show that most information reaches farmers via radio broadcasts, mayoral offices, and word of mouth,” Kurtz and Lambert write. “While public and private climate research organizations operate in Niger, climate information is rarely shared back with farmers, comes largely after they needed to make key decisions, or lacks the context needed to inform their decisions.”

By bringing both local and researched-based knowledge to the table, all parties learned from and educated one another to better understand the effects of climate change in west Africa. The potential for this project is endlessly exciting, the results of which could help both the food supply locally and understanding of the specific consequences of climate change for the global interest.

However, the project can only attain such lofty goals by ensuring communication between the various parties is clear, culturally sensitive, and consistent throughout the workshops. And resulting reports and guidelines offer the same challenge for both farmers and scientists.

In Zinder, there are five spoken languages: French, Hausa, Djerma, Fulfulde, and Tamashek. This requires a team of translators to work together at both the workshops to ensure everyone understands one another, and in creating documents made to implement improvements to the communication system between climate experts and farmers.

This is why translation and localization experts worked together with the farmers and the scientists in this effort. By ensuring clear communication and documentation of these workshops, the project made it possible for farmers to adapt to new patterns and save their crops. And scientist now have a rich source of data to apply to their efforts to better understand new patterns of weather and season created by climate change.

“Communities and national stakeholders alike value this farmer-focused approach as they gain insights into a system many recognized as broken but could not change alone,” they write. “Maman Ousmane, a Nigerien farmer, says it best. ‘These discussions were useful because there was a consideration of our answers. It was our experiences and our observations that were asked each time. We are very grateful that we have been brought together to share our perspectives and knowledge and to speak with one voice.’”

It All Comes Down to Experience

As in the case study above, accurate and culturally sensitive communication between various stakeholders in a development project was key to its success. NGO researchers, natural resource developers, and agents of humanitarian organizations work to ensure sustainable development and improve the health and living conditions of people all over the world. Alpha Omega Translations has also contributed its services to projects with UNICEF in Niger and Development Finance: Impact Investing for Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for example, to translate studies, reports, and employee handbooks into multiple languages. AOT has also translated handbooks for proper procedures to avoid infections in public health services.

To ensure your development project is successful, don’t skimp on translation services. Communicating with local relief workers, health care professionals, engineers, and the communities you want to help requires an understanding of cultural traditions and customs that your prospective beneficiaries practice before construction, implementation, or administration of health care begins.

Contact us today learn how our services can help your development project succeed!

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