The Importance of Localizing Covid-19 Resources and Materials for Low Resource and Isolated Populations

September 23, 2020 |

The world is now battling to prevent further spread of the corona virus, while putting strategies in place to mitigate the impact that this pandemic has on the economy and our lives in general.  Given that this is a novel virus and many details still remain unknown and uncertain, the most effective approach to the pandemic is quarantine and social distancing.

The importance of Localizing Covid-19 Resources and Materials for Low Resource and isolated populationsWe are now able to work from home, study from home and we are urged to go out only when it’s extremely necessary. We have constant access to information, which is updated daily, making it possible for us to stay protected and react in a timely manner in order to get medical assistance.

Coronavirus documents are rare in low resource languages.

People can find numerous pieces of advice, videos, brochures, and graphics, both on line and offline, most of it in English. To this day English remains the most well-resourced language and is now a global lingua franca.

Now more than ever before, we understand how important language is for health and how wide the language gap is if you’re on the English-speaking internet, and English is not your native language.

Tutorials, forums, research reports, chats, news – from all around the world are at our fingertips, and a large portion of them are in English. And even if the information is in some other popular language – French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean – there is always some partially translated copy readily available. Just one click away. However, this doesn’t apply for low resource languages and languages from poorest parts of the world, such as Africa are utterly swiped aside as there is simply no incentive to invest resources into fragmented and isolated societies that are more often than not economically unstable. In short – it`s just not profitable.

Providing materials for low resource communities is challenging and due to scarce resources and lack of glossaries, dictionaries and other lexical materials, translation is near impossible, making these communities even more isolated and vulnerable. Information is a powerful weapon against the disease, but medical materials are available only in high resource languages. A lot of people share their experiences with COVID-19 online and this phenomenon combined with official guidelines give people some semblance of choice and control. However over half of the world’s population has difficulties obtaining crucial information let alone getting a pamphlet from their doctor explaining their diagnosis, because it is not available in a language they can understand.

In a digital age, how people without phones and computers face a pandemic that even the most advanced countries struggle to contain?

Most of these communities have very weak health-care systems and are unprepared to deal with this pandemic. That is why prevention and quick coordinated response are the most efficient strategies, but it is impossible to establish a strategy without all the necessary information. That is why it is crucial to localize resources and materials in low resource communities. Strategy to localize these resources and materials must be thoroughly planned. Every language is deeply connected with the identity and history of its people and stands as a vital part of their cultural identity. Many African languages were suppressed during the colonial era, making them near extinct – with many having less the 2500 speakers today. The fact many live in secluded, inaccessible areas, makes the matter even more difficult. This makes it hard to maintain a regular flow of interaction or provide any COVID-19 materials and some of these communities are not willing to be taught a second/intermediate language, or to be a part of urbanization.

The best strategy to reach these communities is to utilize existing resources while adapting to tradition and culture. Representatives of these smaller or isolated communities must find a way to keep their kindred updated with relevant information. For example, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, authorities keep Amish communities informed by cooperating with priests and by sending documentation via couriers to churches in both English and Pennsylvania Dutch (which is a dialect of German the Amish most commonly use).

Informing Amish communities is also very challenging, given they are isolated and reject most modern technologies and utilizing their practice of churchgoing as a form of dissemination of information is a good prevention plan in the fight against COVID – 19. Lessons learned here could help design and deploy methods of approaching and informing similar isolated communities and giving them a fighting chance against COVID-19.

Thus, for the low resource language communities, using their traditional media of communication is a life saver. For the people who live in rural areas the focus should be on already available and practiced means of informing the public.

For the communities which do not speak European languages but only the “tribal” languages, visual mode of dissemination of all COVID – 19 relevant information would most likely be the most convenient way of communicating the message. Inequalities between countries and languages are reflected in the amount and absence of language resources. Africa, despite being ethnically diverse and being a home to a myriad of families of languages, remains unable to standardize means of communication making it a top priority in the effort to localize information and keep the public informed of the threats this global pandemic brings.

Likewise, Aboriginal tribes of Australia and many others throughout Asia and South America need also be included in these efforts. The governments all over the world are tackling this issue with varying degree of success, but not all have resources to do so effectively. The COVID – 19 pandemic shows that the expansion of language resources should not be an afterthought. Knowledge is our most powerful asset, one all of humanity is entitled to, and the least we could do is make it available to those who need it now more than ever.

To learn how Alpha Omega Translations helps translate and disseminate crucial information on Covid -19 in African, Asian, South American and other dialects, contact us at

Category: Translation Services

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