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Communication: our theme of 2020

A look back at the translation work of 2020 and what it might be telling us about the world

This week marks eight months of working from home for the Wessex team – not a milestone we hoped or expected to reach, but something we are settling into as our new way of life for the time being. With coronavirus case numbers in the UK down at the beginning of the summer, then on the rise again by July, the possibility of returning to the office appeared briefly on the horizon a couple of times before retreating out of reach again. The most important and most responsible thing we can do right now is to stay at home where possible, and sadly the office cake table and cringey jokes from the Directors (which somehow we are beginning to miss!) aren’t good enough excuses to claim our being together in the office as essential.

So we continue to work from home, and remember to be grateful that our work can carry on as usual. Our once-temporary desks have now become a more permanent feature of our homes, and we are getting used to our new routines. Here in the UK, children are now back to school, so thankfully it’s only our pets and partners we have to worry about interrupting us at work during lockdown 2.0! We know that many of our clients are in the same position as us, working remotely, or working in a new, COVID-secure arrangement. At Wessex, we have found communication to be key – not only among the Wessex team, but with our providers and clients, too.

In fact, we’ve noticed that communication seems to be the real “theme” of 2020. When we’ve reached out to our clients, providers, colleagues, friends and families, people have reached back out to us, and we have found everyone to really embrace any opportunity to keep each other in the loop. Indeed, many of the translation projects we have worked on this year have constituted some kind of effort to reach out, share, inform, update and re-assure each other during this pandemic. From clinical trial investigators contacting patients to inform them of how the study will continue, to charities providing safety guidelines so that their workers can continue to provide essential aid – communication this year has been crucial to enabling continuation; ensuring that life can go on, in a new COVID­-secure and COVID-informed manner.

While the world’s priorities changed almost overnight, it has been fascinating as a translation company to watch the change in translation requirement trends, and to see urgent information‑sharing for the purpose of keeping each other safe become a new common priority of our clients.

We have helped our clients in the transport industry to produce business continuity plans, publish operational changes and provide safety information for travellers and crew, to ensure that those who still have to travel between countries can read the local guidelines in a language they understand. We have helped companies and governmental institutions to translate research data to be shared between countries, and we have helped manufacturers bring safety products to the international market. We have translated working-from-home guidance for employees, as well as safety guidelines for those workplaces remaining open. Providing these important guidelines in their employees’ first language is the only way our clients can be confident that they are equally understood by all.

30th September saw International Translation Day 2020, and the very fitting theme this year was “Finding the words for a world in crisis”.

As described by the International Federation of Translators, this theme was chosen to reflect “the importance of our work to ensuring clear information reaches everyone and overcoming language barriers”.

This highlights the role of translation professionals in facilitating interlingual and cross-border communication, and its significance in the context of this year. By making information-sharing across borders possible, translators have brought the world together to battle against this pandemic collectively.

In effect, this underlines a role that translators carry out every year, not just 2020. Translators are crucial to the sharing of information day-in, day-out, from medical research data to inter-governmental agreements to legal documents to business contracts, to art and literature, to travel documentation, to websites (I could go on and on!). Put simply, translators allow more people access to the same information. Would it be too self‑congratulatory to say that translators make the world go round? Too late, I think I might have just said it!

In the context of this year it has been fascinating and encouraging to see how our team and all of our colleagues worldwide have played their part in facilitating global communication and continuation.

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