Dublin, 24 April 2020: The sudden onset of the COVID-19 restrictions to movement and quickly changing social distancing regulations have posed challenges for most of us across the globe. Now imagine you were in a country where you did not speak the language. You would see the public information signs and pictographs on posters, but the specific details and health guidelines would be unintelligible. Access to knowledge is a necessity, especially during life-threatening emergencies and disasters.

Enter the ADAPT-led INTERACT (International Network in Crisis Translation) project which facilitates the collaboration, policy development, and knowledge sharing necessary across academia, humanitarian, and industrial sectors for timely translation enabled crisis communication. Crisis translation is defined as “the translation of written information from one linguistic and cultural system to another in the context of a crisis scenario.”

The INTERACT team headed up by Prof. Sharon O’Brien, Professor of Translation Studies at the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies in DCU, have partnered with a variety of international organisations, companies, and universities to provide a multifaceted approach to crisis translation and are supporting governments and local organisations to provide Crisis Translation through policy, training, technology, and ethics-based research.

Communities and responders with access to the most up-to-date information are better prepared and more resilient in a time of uncertainty, which means safer overall. This is why having an accessible way to deliver translations of crisis government notices is so important.

Prof. O’Brien says that crisis policies must acknowledge that communication needs to be in more than official languages to quickly reach a country’s multicultural, multilingual population.

‘Timely and accurate communication also means in a language that can be understood by minorities within your country,’ she said.

In Wellington, New Zealand, the team supported a community translation event that put together an earthquake preparedness guide in 15 local languages. This helped provide a support structure for local researchers to continue developing a more resilient multi-cultural society through crisis translation.

More recently, during the current COVID-19 crisis, the INTERACT team has been supporting government administrations with crisis translation responders worldwide. The team’s already established connections in New Zealand resulted in a Wellington City Council Community Liaison Office calling on the team to lend support for their communications with migrant and refugee communities.

In January 2020, a translator in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Wuhan, China contacted the team to provide guidance on ensuring that foreign nationals understood the government updates being issued by Chinese officials at the outset of the pandemic.

The INTERACT team has made their Citizen Translation 101 training and Machine Translation and Post Editing 101 for NGOs in crisis translation available online to aid the global community during this pandemic. These are aimed at supporting organisations who are asking people to translate in a crisis, but those people have no training whatsoever.

Machine Translation experts in ADAPT led by Deputy Director of the Centre Prof. Andy Way, Professor of Computing at DCU, are also responding to cases where language may be a barrier to access of pertinent information in a time of crisis and have built 8 Machine Translation Systems to facilitate access to multilingual COVID-19 information via Neural Machine Translation. These MT systems are trained on COVID-19 data and are freely available for use in German, French, Italian, Spanish out of /into English. They will be released before the end of April, along with a paper describing the data, system-building process and automatic and human investigations of the quality of the systems.