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Medical translation: In tough times, multilingual emergency information is more important than ever

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed weak points in every industry, from food production and medical equipment supply to travel safety and financial support for small businesses. This is the biggest health crisis in living memory and many countries are learning how unprepared they are for catastrophic events, such as the one we’re facing.

Some of the most unfortunate people in difficult times are those excluded by the brunt of a crisis: cancer patients who are unable to receive the treatment they need and British travellers stranded abroad, for example. Not to mention the non-native speakers who find themselves trapped in foreign nations.

Everybody needs access to emergency information

According to 2011 census data, 4.2 million people living in the UK speak a foreign language at home and this doesn’t account for the millions of foreign students, businesses people, tourists and non-residents currently in the country.

A common theme we keep hearing about the coronavirus outbreak is that the virus doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care which country you’re in, what language you speak or what access to medical care you may or may not have.

Just as there are millions of people in the UK who don’t speak English as their first language, there are millions more around the world who find themselves trapped in a health crisis who may find it difficult to access the medical and emergency information they need.

Emergency and medical advice needs translating, too

Medical translation normally focuses on instruction manuals for life-saving equipment, medical services and research findings. However, in difficult times, it’s important that everyone is able to access key government and medical advice, especially when their actions can impact public health as well as their own.

Advice published on the Seoul Metropolitan Government website in English

South Korea has managed one of the most successful defence campaigns against COVID-19. The country is, by no means, out of danger but it’s the most obvious example other countries could learn from in terms of early response, widespread testing and constant communication with the general public.

South Korean news outlet, The Chosun Ilbo, publishes the latest news and advice related to the coronavirus outbreak

Keep in mind that South Korea is increasingly becoming more multi-cultural. It’s never been more important for the country to provide key information in multiple languages and its coronavirus response proved it’s ready to step up to the mark.

Neighbouring Japan is another country we can look at, as its natural beauty comes at the price of being one of the most naturally volatile countries in the world. Earthquakes and other natural disasters are part of everyday life in Japan and, as the rate of foreign residents increases, the country is translating emergency and medical advice to try and keep everyone safe.

Sadly, Japan’s geographical make-up means times of crisis are more common in the country than many other parts of the world might be used to. However, it’s also one of the most capable nations in terms of dealing with crises and, as the country opens up to more foreign nationals, it’s also taking steps to provide medical and emergency information in foreign languages, too.

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