Somewhere in Asia, there was a restaurant owner. Despite the fact that he specialized in American cuisine and most of his clientele were English-speaking expatriates, he did not speak any English himself. Business was steady, but he still wanted to lure more international customers—so he decided to advertise the restaurant’s name in both Chinese and English. Since he didn’t speak English, he had no idea that the translation website he used to perform the translation was not working. And now his restaurant proudly boasts the name “Translate server error.” This is mistranslation at its finest and most comedic, but in places like Kenya, accurate translation is literally a matter of life and death.
Here, Lori Thicke, co-founder of Translators without Borders, and her team find themselves in the second largest slum in Africa—home to approximately 1 million of the most impoverished people in the world. In the early days, Thicke’s organization, which she co-founded with Ros Smith-Thomas in 1993, worked mainly with European languages. But her latest project is teaching Kenyan women to become document translators. If her organization successfully trains these women, they will have the skills to translate information from potentially life-saving materials (primarily on HIV prevention) into their own language.
It is worth mentioning that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in Kenya alone, as much as 20 percent of the population is HIV positive. According to the UNICEF, Kenya is also home to 50,000 AIDS orphans. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Thicke explains that life-saving information is being disseminated every day, but that most of these materials are published in a language—English, French and Portuguese—that only the educated elite can understand. And that’s where Thick and her team come in.
In her blog, Thicke explains that her team has been sent to Kibera to meet with 15 of what the Kenyan Ministry of Health calls “peer educators.” They are responsible for educating other women on family planning, nutrition and perhaps the most pressing issue, prevention of sexually transmitted infections. Peer educators understand that knowledge is useless unless it is understood by the people who need it most. They also know that the efforts of organizations like Translators without Borders are paying off: Family Heath Options Kenya (FHOK) estimates that the HIV infection rate amongst peer educators—women just like those Thicke’s team is meeting with—is less than 1 percent. In other words, these women are literally saving their community one translated word at a time.
Translation is a field that is capable of saving lives—it’s also a field that is growing exponentially. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a ten-year growth rate of 42 percent for interpreters and certified translators (the average growth rate for all occupations is 14 percent); they also list 2010 median pay for document translators as $43,300 per year ($20.82 per hour).
If you’re interested in becoming a certified translator, you should know that Marygrove College offers an online program in Modern Language Translation. In our program, students will not only study the linguistic and cultural aspects of language transfer, but they will take a hands-on approach to translating journalistic, commercial, legal, and scientific texts.
You should also know that Marygrove College is reducing tuition rates for this online graduate program by 19 percent! This is one step—amongst a few others—that the college is taking to ensure that a Marygrove education is an achievable, financially-sustainable investment.