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Crisis Language Support

The most powerful way to help people in a crisis is to provide support and information in their own language – but the challenge that authorities, NGOs and aid organisations often face is that access to and funding for professional language support can be difficult to put in place in a rapidly developing crisis situation.

The ATC together with partner organisations has created a set of infographics and videos on language support in crisis situations that can be downloaded and used by authorities, NGOs and aid organisations across the world to share best practices on translation and interpreting with their teams in the office and on the ground.

Crisis translation & interpreting support infographics and videos

In a crisis situation, it is vital that displaced people have access to aid and advice in their own language. Language often creates barriers for refugees to access the support and care they require, and there is inherent trauma in seeking refuge in a foreign country whose language you may not understand.

These free crisis language support assets, videos and infographics enable authorities, NGOs and aid organisations share best practices with their teams in the office and on the ground, and to put in place crisis language support at an early stage.

The assets have been created by a group of language service organisations, drawing on their translation and interpreting expertise, and in their experiences in implementing emergency language support for people fleeing war in Ukraine. The assets consolidate best practices and recommendations for putting in place emergency language support solutions in crisis situations, regardless of language or geography.

The assets have been created as a collaborative effort by the Lapigua Foundation and Lublin Translators Association LST in Poland, the International Federation of Translators FIT Europe, and the Association of Translation Companies in the UK, and financed by the Translating Europe Workshop “The social role of the translator in peace, war and humanitarian crisis” organised by LST on 18 November 2022.


Lowering barriers to aid through language support

In a crisis situation, food, shelter and medical attention are critical, and refugees need to be able to access help and information in their own language.

Stefanie Bogaerts, the co-founder of Lapigua Foundation, explains, “We have been working with Ukrainian refugees coming across the border to Poland, and seen first-hand how debilitating the consequences of language barriers can be. These new resources allow us to share best practices with aid organisations across the world, and to help put in place appropriate professional and volunteer translation and interpreting support in challenging circumstances.”

These testimonials by Ukrainian refugees underline the huge difference language support can make:

“My eldest daughter suffers from epilepsy. When the war started, medicine stopped being imported. Thank God that our doctor told us about a hospital in Germany that provides free treatment. Of course, there was no time to think about translating documents. At first, I tried to communicate with the doctors through Google Translate, but then they told me that official translations were needed for my child to be treated, because who knows what the computer translated.”

Julia, 35

“I’m always with my son. He was born with hearing loss. I don’t want to imagine how he would suffer when evacuating from the occupied territory. So when we finally reached Poland and were safe, I started looking for a school for him. We were lucky to find a school with a Ukrainian teacher who works with kids like him. We both are trying to learn Polish sign language now. If it hadn’t been for a sign interpreter at school, my boy would stay at home and be afraid of communicating with children.”

Alena, 40

Best practices for authorities, NGOs and aid organisations

In a rapidly developing crisis, access to and funding for professional language support can be challenging to put in place. In many cases, volunteer language support is a great help, but professional translators and interpreters are needed for demanding legal, medical and other sensitive communications.

These crisis language support assets help authorities, NGOs and aid organisations manage language support in a crisis situation. The assets are freely downloadable, and can be shared with any local or national authority, NGO or aid organisation.

The assets outline the steps involved in putting in place language support in a crisis situation, including:

  • What’s the difference between translation and interpreting?
  • When do you need a professional, and when is volunteer support OK?
  • When can you use machine translation or interpreting apps?
  • How to take care of professional and volunteer translators and interpreters?
  • How to incorporate language support in crisis management planning?
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