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The Urgency of Remote Translation and Interpretation in the Virus Crisis

Translation and interpretation were once for the most part rather humdrum professions. Sure, there were medical emergencies in far-flung locations where they played an important role in critical care. But in the current coronavirus / COVID-19 crisis, these language translation services play a crucial role in securely delivering essential knowledge where it is most needed. We’ll consider the state of the art in the remote translation and interpretation technology fields and consider how they can be best applied in dealing with the current crisis.

Remote Translation and Interpretation in Health Care and Medical Applications

The need for medical translation and interpretation in the current crisis is obvious. Important information is regularly needed to bridge language gaps separating healthcare providers from patients and their families, as well as those which divide researchers and public health officials who speak different languages. While English is often used as a “lingua franca” in the medical professional, this typically applies to the highest echelons of medical professionals and public officials, not so much to lower echelons or rank-and-file nurses and clinicians. It is clear enough why interpretation services in healthcare are needed in the current dire situation.

The urgent need is exacerbated by the infectiousness of the coronavirus and COVID-19 patients as well as the government-imposed quarantines and stay-at-home orders. Medical professionals are working from home, and remote methods enable them to stay active in dispensing diagnoses, directing treatment, and communicating essential information via tele-working platforms. And healthcare providers are profiting from telemedicine systems, with 71% of healthcare organization reporting cost-savings from remote medical practices – including certified translation services and medical interpretation services — in 2017. It is by now clear how such technology can help nurses and doctors without exposing them to risk.

Typically, document translation services and healthcare interpretation services are delivered by translation companies, remote interpretation companies, or telemedicine platform providers. Often machine translation software from online services like Google Translate or Microsoft Translator are integrated into these solutions. By now most of us know what is machine translation, and have used such services. The quality of these AI-driven robo translators have improved dramatically since the introduction of neural machine translation in 2015. Technology trends suggest that the use of telemedicine will continue to increase. A report by Mordor Intelligence suggests the market of $66 billion in 2021, even before the pandemic crisis hit.

The Urgency of Remote Translation and Interpretation in the Virus Crisis - 1

In the Virus Crisis, Need for Remote Translation and Interpretation Services is Expanding

The need for remote translation and interpretation service during the coronavirus / COVID19 crisis, of course, far transcends the healthcare and medical industries. Almost every company on earth by now has been affected by the outbreak and government-mandated quarantines, closures, and restrictions on normal business operations and travel. Billions on the planet are advised or compelled to remain in their homes. All of these factors decrease the feasibility of face-to-face interactions and real-world conferences, raising the demand for remote teleworking services and virtual audio-video conferencing solutions.

In the past decade, online communications and project management solutions like Slack and Asana and more generation communications solutions like WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom have achieved high degrees of penetration in both business-to-business applications and in consumer uses. Obviously, translation and interpretation represent just a segment of the possible uses of these online platforms. But as international travel dwindles, they become a vital communications link between people and businesses.

How to Find Remote Translation and Interpretation Services in the Current Crisis

Fortunately for those seeking such solutions, providers of remote translation and interpretation services, in general, have not been adversely affected in their functional capabilities. They were already, in effect, largely virtual businesses, using the Internet to bridge far-flung teams of linguists specializing in as many as 100 languages and even more language pairs with project managers and with their clients.

How to find the best translation agency or providers of remote interpretation services? Like most everything else, the first step is an online search for one of these keywords, combined with the source and target languages you require. Most of these companies will respond to inquiries with a no-cost price-quote and timetable within hours, often preceding this with clarification of the job requirements. Once a business relationship has been established, it should be possible to get a remote interpreter or an online translation in the required language pairs arranged in short order.

Working with a professional translation agency has the advantage of providing a one-stop-shop for all your language service needs. As a rule, with such agencies you have a single point of contact, or two, for managing all of your projects, from interpretation to translation to transcription, or for setting up the platform for a multilingual event or presentation. However, you will pay a premium for this robust capability and multiple language support. Agency fees reflect this higher cost, though you should at the outset compare rates – both according to cost-per-word for documents and cost-per-hour for interpretation – from among several vendors. Look for hidden costs, and inquire about service level or document quality guarantees.

Freelance Translators, Remote Interpreters and Machines as a Lower Cost Option

For those on a tight budget, you may consider working with freelancers via marketplaces such as Upwork, or Fiverr. There you can search for linguists with the specific language skills you require, along with profiles, portfolios, reviews, ratings and rates. Typically, their services will be available at a fraction of the cost of a translation agency or dedicated interpretation companies.

Bear in mind, however, that working with freelancers shifts most of the management burden onto yourself. You will need to vet candidates and negotiate the deals for each project individually, and for each language pair separately. Remember, too, that freelancers are human beings who get busy and get sick, often with little or no backup or advance notice.

Even more risky, but even less expensive, are voice interpretation and machine translation software. Their quality has improved dramatically in recent years, and the costs of using them are either free or inexpensive relative to skilled linguists. Microsoft Translator and Google Translate already have these capabilities built in both in their mobile and desktop applications. While language bots like these can assist with research or internal document translations, don’t rely on them for public documents or events. Their quality is far from commensurate with human interpreters or translators. But at least they don’t get sick.