XTM Advent Calendar Day Five – Inspiration in Action

XTM Advent Calendar Day Five – Inspiration in Action

“The practice of translation rests on two presuppositions. The first is that we are all different: we speak different tongues, and see the world in ways that are deeply influenced by the particular features of the tongue that we speak. The second is that we are all the same—that we can share the same broad and narrow kinds of feelings, information, understandings. Translation is another name for the human condition.”

David Bellos

Do we all share a common understanding? Every day we see evidence of common empathy and humanity. People who’ve never suffered from a condition or a set of unfortunate circumstances can reach out to those who do and offer them comfort. December 5th is United Nations International Volunteer Day, and with the UN rallying cry of “Inspiration in Action” it celebrates the selfless work of volunteers all over the world. Seven out of ten volunteers are not only unpaid but have no affiliation to any organization; they are simply reaching out locally and being good neighbours. With social isolation a major threat to wellness, these local volunteers have been more important than ever to communities in various stages of lockdown.

What about the volunteers who venture further afield? Some of the most respected and impactful volunteer programs are focused on Africa, offering partnerships with local communities that match volunteer skills to regional needs.

Volunteering Solutions, for example, delivers admirable medical support projects in Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

Projects Abroad supports childcare and conservation projects across Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Togo.

South Africa alone is home to eleven official languages. Kenya’s 55 million people speak a total of 68 languages. Many of the languages spoken in communities supported by volunteer programs are under-resourced, with limited numbers of translators skilled and available to bridge communication gaps. Going forward, how can we offer the best possible support?

Language technology will have an increasingly central role to play in this decade and beyond. Automated translation and localization, acting as a support to those offering their support, can open the door to more widely available healthcare, improved infrastructure and of course to equality of opportunity. Social and economic disadvantage can be isolating and cruel, and when that isolation is compounded by a language barrier it can seem insurmountable. Improved multilingual communication changes the game, and creates more and more winners.

David Bellos, a gifted linguist whose literary translations are works of art in their own right, sums up the human condition with typical eloquence. We are all different, but we can all share empathy and respect. And translation, via the marriage of people and process, is enabling it every day.

Thank you to the volunteers who invest their time and commitment planting trees so that others might sit in their shade. And thank you to the translators and language technology professionals who help them make their voices heard. Happy International Volunteer Day.