People who rock the industry – Simon Andriesen

For this last interview of 2012, I interviewed Simon Andriesen, CEO of Medilingua and Board Member of Translators without Borders, major contributor to the TWB training center for translators in Kenya… and much more. A fascinating and inspiring colleague – discover him now!

P1040571Hi Simon! Tell us about about you. Who are you?

Hi Anne, I am Simon Andriesen, CEO of MediLingua, a medical translations firm based in the Netherlands, and Board Member of Translators without Borders (TWB).

Your background is quite interesting – how does one go from a masters degree in history to working for the Associated Press and then to medical translation?

Oh well, when I got my degree, journalism was one of the options, or rather: a way out to escape from teaching, which is what I knew I did not want to do. It was great fun for a while, but it was more translation that journalism, and after a while got fed up with it, and started a text bureau, together with Jaap van der Meer, whom I had been friends with since high school. The company (INK International) developed into the first software localization firm in Europe, and to cut a long story short, the company grew rapidly and in the early 90s we had a staff of 200 persons, half of them in our head office in Amsterdam, the rest in offices in 9 different countries across Europe. We then sold the business to RR Donnelley & Sons, the largest printing company in the world, who, just like us, worked for IBM, Microsoft, WordPerfect and so forth. The only thing they did not do, was what we did. To keep the story short, we sold the business to them, and I moved to the US for a few years, with my wife and daughter. After 2 years I came back to Europe and left the company to set up a similar firm, but then dedicated to medical. Donnelley eventually sold the translation division and it became rather well-known as Lionbridge. So you could say that INK, the baby Jaap and I had nurtured for a dozen years, is the core of what Lionbridge now is. But they are in a different league, of course. When we sold INK it was a company with $20 million revenue, and 200 people on the payroll; Lionbridge is by now well over $450 million today, with a few thousand people. MediLingua is focused on high-end medical translations. We provide 50 or so languages to 200 regular customers, with a staff of 15, who are managing around 500 different translators world-wide.

You are also a member of the Advisory Board of the Life Sciences Roundtable during the LocWorld conferences. What is your role there?

The Advisory Board is composed of 6 representatives from companies on the demand side of medical translation (Siemens, Medtronic, and  St Jude) and the supply side of medical translation (Lionbridge ForeignXchange, and MediLingua). The board prepares the Life Sciences preconference day-and-a-half before each Localization World conference. I have been involved with LocWorld since 2004 and enjoy supporting this great event and its 2 conference organizers, Donna Parrish of Multilingual, and Ulrich Henes of the Localization Institute, who are also fellow-directors in Translators without Borders. The Advisory Board puts together the program, invites speakers, moderates the sessions, and so forth. Basically, our aim is to come up with a great program twice a year.

You’re a Translators without Borders  Executive Board Member. How did it all start?

The founder of TWB, Lori Thicke, called me the day after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. TWB had received hundreds of test translations from translators who offered their help. Lori asked for MediLingua’s support in reviewing these translations, as most of these were medical. Several translators/editors started the same day with the reviews. And one thing led to the other. I was invited to join the Board and found myself focusing first on Operations, and when the TWB Translation Workspace, generously donated by ProZ, was up and running, I redirected my focus to Training. The Executive Board and Rebecca Petras, the TWB Program Director, meet every 2 weeks via Skype, and together we basically run the organization. It is a lot of work and every time I am amazed by the dedication of the directors, and by the amount of time that is put into it.

2012-08-10 15.02.42You’re currently working on a program to train translators in Kenya. Tell us about this program.

Within the Board, we decided to help create translation capacity for underserved languages. Our pilot language is Swahili, a language spoken by around 60-80 million people in East Africa. During the course, which is partly based on the MediLingua course Medical-Pharmaceutical Translation, participants get an introduction to translation, as well as basis medical know-how about 20 Africa-relevant health issues, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, my other types of infectious diseases. They do lots of exercises and Paul Warambo, our local course instructor, projects the translations on a screen and discusses the results. This works very well.

In 2012, we gave our short course (4 days) to over a hundred persons, and the longer, advanced course (6 weeks) to a few dozen people, all of them with strong language skills but no translation experience. We currently employ 13 of them, and they work in our translation center in Nairobi, Kenya. The team is specialized in healthcare information. This is crucial in any country with too many patients and not enough doctors, and also in Kenya, where health information is only available in English. Which is the wrong language for the vast majority of the population. We know of too many stories where people suffered or died for lack of information, rather than lack of medication. And for health information to be accessible, it has to be in the right language. During a recent conference in Tanzania, where I was invited to make my point about health information in the right language, I spoke a few sentences in my own language, Dutch, which I knew nobody would understand. I then asked them to imagine how they would feel if they had serious health problems and somebody providing help would talk to them in a language they did not understand…

You regularly go to Kenya – tell us about our Kenyan colleagues.

Yes, since late 2011 I have been in Kenya for a few weeks every few months. Our center is located on the campus of the Bible Translation and Literacy, who focus on Bible translations into ‘small’ African languages. Also on this campus is SIL, the developers of Ethnologue, the database that lists details of all 6,900 living languages. Together with our TWB health translation team this campus is the place in Africa with the most people involved in translation.

What other countries have similar needs for healthcare information in local languages? What can be done?

Africa counts around 2,000 different languages. If health information is available in English, French or Portuguese, this is not helping people who do not or not sufficiently speak these languages. We as TWB can help by providing training and by supporting translators. The translation world can help TWB by helping us finance our work.  Our sponsor program is rather successful, with many LSPs listed as Silver sponsors, some Gold and a few Platinum!

P1040566Many young translators are considering specializing in medicine. Based on your experience, what would you recommend them to achieve this?

Young translators aspiring to go into medical need to build translation routine first, and at the same time invest in medical know-how. As a medical translator you must be able to understand what you translate, and you only get that by studying medical info, for example from med school books, or you can read all medical articles on Wikipedia. That way you become familiar with the medical language. It is a difficult mix, but in my experience it is less difficult for a talented translator to become a medical translator than for a doctor who has no feeling for language.

In your opinion, what is the current state of the medical translation market? And its future?

It seems that every Tom, Dick & Harry is now providing medical translations and not in all cases with acceptable results. As medical translation specialists we do a lot third-party review work, and far too often, we have to conclude that the quality is simply not good enough. Big companies hope they will get the best price-quality mix by organizing tenders and even auctions. We actually decline most of these invitations; it is a lot of work and as it seems that only the price is taken into account, and not the price/performance mix, we find it hard to win. Too often the focus is on the word rate. We know what it takes to generate safe, high-quality medical translations and we use that expertise for our calculations. Many others charge less. But what if the work is rejected by the authorities? What if a product has to be taken off the market due to poor patient information? What if a patient dies because it was not clear whether to take 4 tablets per hour or 1 tablet every 4 hours.

In your free time (do you have any? ;)), what do you do to take a break?

I spend whatever free time I have with my wife and with our daughter, when she is around. To take a real break from work I run a few times per week. My best accomplishment is the half marathon in 2 hours 12 minutes, but most of the time I do 10 km, which I usually complete within 55 minutes. I play the cello in our local symphony orchestra, and this takes me one evening plus a few hours per week.


Wikipedia project takes on global healthcare information gap

English Wikipedia has more than 25,000 medical articles, which receive approximately 200 million page views a month. The encyclopedia is one of the foremost health care resources in the world, used by the lay public as well as professionals. Surveys have found that between 50 and 100 percent of physicians use Wikipedia in their clinical practice, and Wikipedia is consistently at the top of Google web searches for medical terms.

Wikipedia’s Medicine Translation Task Force is an initiative established in late 2011 to make sure that the content readers are finding is accurate, unbiased, and accessible. As part of this endeavor, the task force is taking 80 core medical articles–articles like cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis–and improving their quality to a good article or featured article status through a process of peer review by task force participants. Though 80 might not seem like much, these articles are very popular, with over 10 million page views per month. Eventually they hope to have these articles formally peer reviewed, published in the journal Open MedicinePLoS Medicine, or the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and then ultimately indexed in PubMed. The first article is already in the publication process.

The ultimate goal is to provide health information for every person on the planet in the language of their choice. One of the biggest challenges has been reaching out to the often ignored non-English demographic.

“The only viable platform to get health care information out to the whole world is Wikipedia,” said Dr. James Heilman, an editor and English Wikipedia administrator (Jmh649). Heilman, or “Doc James” as many people refer to him, is the founder of the task force. “I asked myself, ‘How can I get high-quality health care information to everyone in the world?’”

A plan developed to take the improved English Wikipedia articles and translate them into the multiple language versions of Wikipedia. Heilman sought out Translators Without Borders (TWB) a non-profit whose mission is to provide humanitarian translation for other non-profits and NGOs worldwide. The initial goal of TWB’s inolvement is to take the 80 peer-reviewed, core articles and translate them into 80 different languages.

Lori Thicke, co-founder of Translators Without Borders, said partnering with Wikipedia would help “bridge the language last mile for access to high quality health information.”

“Wikipedia has the reach to make a major impact on public health in the developing world. Because of language and physical barriers, the health information we take for granted is locked away from the people who need it most — those with the deadly combination of relentless poverty, a high disease burden and grossly inadequate health resources,” said Thicke. “Yet these people are connected. Increasingly their phones are Internet-enabled and they are ready to move into the digital age. We need to help them.”

While the task force aspires to translate content, another goal is to do so at a level of complexity that is accessible for every reader. Heilman and Thicke enlisted the support of Content Rules, a company that specializes in professional simplification of technical content. Although they typically focus on information technology, Content Rules offered to take on simplifying the entire first batch of 80 medical articles (13 have been simplified as of this writing).

“When people can actually read medical information and understand it, it can save lives,” said Content Rules CEO Val Swisher, who put a call out for pro-bono editors to work on the Wikipedia medical articles in late 2011. “The response I got from my network was so overwhelming that I literally had to turn people away.”

Swisher explained that although the articles are outside the core area of her company, Heilman is there to review them and Content Rules does have some medical experts on staff. “Our purpose is to take deep medical information and make it understandable,” said Swisher. “So, if we don’t understand it, then we have to rewrite it. And if we do understand once we are done, then we know we’ve been successful.”

Once the simplified articles have been translated, Heilman and the task force members search for Wikipedia editors who can integrate that content into their own language version of Wikipedia. Heilman said he is currently on the lookout for editors from the Dari, Turkish, Polish, and Vietnamese projects, as well as any others who think they can help.

“No one else is attempting to solve the problem of delivering medical information in the other 280 plus languages we work on,” said Heilman. “We need to make sure that when the next billion people come on line — those who don’t speak English, Spanish, or French — that there’s something there for them.”

(You can monitor the progress of the translations here or sign up to become involved here. For further reading, see the Wikipedia Signpost’s coverage of WikiProject Medicine)

Source: Wikimedia blog, 9 August 2012
Author:  Jake Orlowitz



Translators Without Borders Newsletter II

  Click on the image below to read the original newsletter in your browser

Webinar with Lori Thicke: Helping to Save Lives by Overcoming Information Disparities

Helping to Save Lives by Overcoming Information Disparities

Knowledge is power: It saves lives, lifts people out of poverty, creates and maintains economies, and ensures better health and nutrition. Aid groups working in crisis-situations often face the mission-critical challenge of breaking down language barriers to provide access to information to those who need it.

Join Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, and Val Swisher, CEO of Content Rules, for a discussion with Lori Thicke, CEO of Lexcelera about how Translators Without Borders facilitates the transfer of knowledge to people who need it from one language to another by leveraging the power of professional, vetted translators who volunteer their time. Learn how you can help Translators Without Borders save lives, protect human rights, and make the world a better place, one word at a time.

The webinar starts on July 13, 2012 10:00 am Pacific Daylight Time

Complete info on

Registration open for the 2013 IMIA Conference

Registration Opens for the January 2013 International Medical Interpreting Conference: Guadalupe Pacheco, from the Office of Minority Health, USHHS is Keynote Speaker

The International Medical Interpreters Association is happy to announce that Guadalupe Pacheco, Senior Health Advisor to the Director Office of Minority Health Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the keynote speaker and will speak on the revised National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) as well as the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity. “The 2013 IMIA Conference will provide a forum to hear national and international perspectives on the emerging practices of providing quality interpretation services to a growing global village,” said Guadalupe Pacheco.

Medical interpreters have been benefiting from an annual conference since 1996. The field of medical interpreting has grown in ways that few could have predicted. Innovative approaches have evolved into common practices that are being widely disseminated and adapted. Several standards and language access policies have been adopted at the state, national and international levels, spreading awareness about the importance of accurate communication and interpreting services to reduce health care disparities due to language access.

Registration just opened, and for the first time the IMIA has added a super early bird rate that expires July 15th, 2012. IMIA is encouraging early registration, which helps interpreters and other stakeholders better budget their trips. IMIA recommends the following to attendees: register first, book a hotel second, and buy the tickets last, as rates are not always cheaper earlier.

This IMIA led 3-day event has expanded and in just seven months will take place in Miami Beach Florida. “It was important to take the conference out of Boston to bring it to interpreters in other areas”, said Izabel Arocha, M.Ed., CMISpanish, and Executive Director of IMIA, “and Miami Beach seems like a great place to start”. The theme of the conference is Specialized Interpreting-Getting Beyond the Basics: Exploring Quality Interpreting for Multiple Specialtiesreflects on the in-depth level of skills and knowledge asked for by interpreters, and shared at the event.

It will take place in sunny Florida on January 18 – 20, 2013 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. “Florida is a state that is in constant motion and is more diverse than people think due to international tourism, medical tourism, and new residents from all over the world. There is a need for medical interpreters in many more languages, in addition to Spanish. We are happy to work in collaboration with IMIA to make this event a success”, said Gio Lester, President of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF). Panels and forums offer interactive discussion on relevant topics of the day, as well as over sixty very interesting workshops for interpreters, from Demystify Simultaneous Interpreting to New Trends in the Provision of VRI Services. To learn more about the conference, and to register, please visit the IMIA website .

About IMIA

The International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) is an umbrella association that promotes all standards and best practices in the field of medical interpreting. As an international non-profit organization of medical interpreters, it represents over 2,000 practicing medical interpreters as the ultimate experts in medical interpreting and as the best option for equitable care for minority language patients around the world. It promotes language access as a human right. The IMIA contains the only free international registry of medical interpreters, where they can be found by language, state, or country.

About ATIF

The Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida-ATIF, a Chapter of the American Translators Association, is a 501(c)6 non-profit professional association incorporated in the State of Florida. Our association was established to provide support to professionals, students and end users of translation and interpreting services. ATIF is dedicated to promoting professional recognition and growth opportunities through educational and training initiatives targeting T&I professionals in the State of Florida. Website:

Source: IMIA –
Photo: IMIA
Event schedule:

Can better content save lives?

Lori Thicke about Translators without Borders doing medical articles with Wikipedia.

Source: Translators Without Borders

TWB Kenya Healthcare Translation Training Program

An overview of Translators without Borders and its work in the Kenyan Healthcare Translation Training Program, featuring an interview with co-founder Lori Thicke

Language Barriers to Health Care in the United States

This perspective article was written and published back in 2006 by Glenn Flores, M.D. in the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2006; 355:229-231 – July 20, 2006) yet it remains dramatically and sadly true today, 6 years later.

A 12-year-old Latino boy arrived at a Boston emergency department with dizziness and a headache. The patient, whom I’ll call Raul, had limited proficiency in English; his mother spoke no English, and the attending physician spoke little Spanish. No medical interpreter was available, so Raul acted as his own interpreter. His mother described his symptoms:

La semana pasada a el le dio mucho mareo y no tenía fiebre ni nada, y la familia por parte de papá todos padecen de diabetes.”(Last week, he had a lot of dizziness, and he didn’t have fever or anything, and his dad’s family all suffer from diabetes.)

“Uh hum,” replied the physician.

The mother went on. “A mí me da miedo porque el lo que estaba mareado, mareado, mareado y no tenía fiebre ni nada.” (I’m scared because he’s dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, and he didn’t have fever or anything.)

Turning to Raul, the physician asked, “OK, so she’s saying you look kind of yellow, is that what she’s saying?”

Raul interpreted for his mother: “Es que si me vi amarillo?” (Is it that I looked yellow?)

“Estaba como mareado, como pálido” (You were like dizzy, like pale), his mother replied.

Raul turned back to the doctor. “Like I was like paralyzed, something like that,” he said.

If Raul received inappropriate care owing to his misinterpretation, he would not be alone. One interpreter, mistranslating for a nurse practitioner, told the mother of a seven-year-old girl with otitis media to put (oral) amoxicillin “in the ears.” In another case, a Spanish-speaking woman told a resident that her two-year-old had “hit herself” when she fell off her tricycle; the resident misinterpreted two words, understood the fracture to have resulted from abuse, and contacted the Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS sent a worker who, without an interpreter present, had the mother sign over custody of her two children. Clearly, catastrophes can and do result from such miscommunication.

Some 49.6 million Americans (18.7 percent of U.S. residents) speak a language other than English at home; 22.3 million (8.4 percent) have limited English proficiency, speaking English less than “very well,” according to self-ratings. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Americans who spoke a language other than English at home grew by 15.1 million (a 47 percent increase), and the number with limited English proficiency grew by 7.3 million (a 53 percent increase, see graph). Percentages of Americans Who Speak a Language Other Than English at Home or Who Have Limited English Proficiency.). The numbers are particularly high in some places: in 2000, 40 percent of Californians and 75 percent of Miami residents spoke a language other than English at home, and 20 percent of Californians and 47 percent of Miami residents had limited English proficiency.

Yet many patients who need medical interpreters have no access to them. According to one study, no interpreter was used in 46 percent of emergency department cases involving patients with limited English proficiency. Few clinicians receive training in working with interpreters; only 23 percent of U.S. teaching hospitals provide any such training, and most of these make it optional. Data collection on patients’ primary language and English proficiency is frequently inadequate or nonexistent. Although no federal statutes require the collection of such information, no statute prohibits it, either.

Language barriers can have deleterious effects. Patients who face such barriers are less likely than others to have a usual source of medical care; they receive preventive services at reduced rates; and they have an increased risk of nonadherence to medication. Among patients with psychiatric conditions, those who encounter language barriers are more likely than others to receive a diagnosis of severe psychopathology — but are also more likely to leave the hospital against medical advice. Among children with asthma, those who confront language barriers have an increased risk of intubation. Such patients are less likely than others to return for follow-up appointments after visits to the emergency room, and they have higher rates of hospitalization and drug complications. Greater resources are used in their care, but they have lower levels of patient satisfaction.

Inadequate communication can have tragic consequences: in one case, the misinterpretation of a single word led to a patient’s delayed care and preventable quadriplegia. A Spanish-speaking 18-year-old had stumbled into his girlfriend’s home, told her he was “intoxicado,” and collapsed. When the girlfriend and her mother repeated the term, the non–Spanish-speaking paramedics took it to mean “intoxicated”; the intended meaning was “nauseated.” After more than 36 hours in the hospital being worked up for a drug overdose, the comatose patient was reevaluated and given a diagnosis of intracerebellar hematoma with brain-stem compression and a subdural hematoma secondary to a ruptured artery. (The hospital ended up paying a $71 million malpractice settlement.)

In 1998, the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum regarding the prohibition, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, against discrimination on the basis of national origin — which affects persons with limited English proficiency. This memorandum states that the denial or delay of medical care because of language barriers constitutes discrimination and requires that recipients of Medicaid or Medicare funds provide adequate language assistance to patients with limited English proficiency. In 2000, a presidential executive order was issued on improving such persons’ access to services. Thirteen states currently provide third-party reimbursement (through Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program) for interpreter services. Unfortunately, most of the states containing the largest numbers of patients with limited English proficiency have not followed suit, sometimes citing concerns about costs. Although the Office for Civil Rights issued guidelines in 2003 that seem to allow health care facilities to opt out of providing language services if their costs are too burdensome, Title VI provides no such exemption.

Ad hoc interpreters, including family members, friends, untrained members of the support staff, and strangers found in waiting rooms or on the street, are commonly used in clinical encounters. But such interpreters are considerably more likely than professional interpreters to commit errors that may have adverse clinical consequences. Ad hoc interpreters are also unlikely to have had training in medical terminology and confidentiality; their priorities sometimes conflict with those of patients; and their presence may inhibit discussions regarding sensitive issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, psychiatric illness, and sexually transmitted diseases. It is especially risky to have children interpret, since they are unlikely to have a full command of two languages or of medical terminology; they frequently make errors of clinical consequence; and they are particularly likely to avoid sensitive issues. Given the documented risks associated with the use of ad hoc interpreters, it is of concern that the 2003 guidance from the Office for Civil Rights states that such use “may be appropriate.”

Later this year, the California legislature will consider a bill prohibiting state-funded organizations from using children younger than 15 years of age as medical interpreters. Leland Yee, the California speaker pro tempore, proposed the bill, prompted by his experiences interpreting for his mother and, later, as a child psychologist. The bill requires organizations receiving state funding to establish a procedure for “providing competent interpretation services that does not involve the use of children.”

Although this legislation may emerge as a state model, as an unfunded mandate, it will have limited power to improve care. Perhaps the time has come for payers to be required to reimburse providers for interpreter services. The provision of adequate language services results in optimal communication, patient satisfaction, outcomes, resource use, and patient safety. A 2002 report from the Office of Management and Budget estimated that it would cost, on average, only $4.04 (0.5 percent) more per physician visit to provide all U.S. patients who have limited English proficiency with appropriate language services for emergency-department, inpatient, outpatient, and dental visits. This seems like a small price to pay to ensure safe, high-quality health care for 49.6 million Americans.


Dr. Flores is director of the Center for the Advancement of Underserved Children and a professor of pediatrics, epidemiology, and health policy at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Children’s Research Institute of the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Glenn Flores, M.D.- New England Journal of Medicine 2006; 355:229-231 July 20, 2006 – original article:

Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap

Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap

Volunteers translating health messages from English into local languages are providing a vital service for NGOs and freeing up millions of extra dollars to be used for medical aid.

Lori Thicke had an epiphany in Thange in eastern Kenya when she saw Aids orphans playing in front of posters with advice on Aids prevention. “The posters carried excellent advice, but they were in English, a language that people didn’t understand,” she said.

What was the use of this information provided by well-meaning NGOs, she wondered, if the people they were trying to reach could not read English. “People are delivering aid every day in Africa in English, French and Portuguese,” said Thicke. “That is fine for the educated elite, but they don’t need aid. It is the parents among the poor who need the information on symptoms of malaria.”

She saw the fatal effects of the language gap in India too, where mothers could have saved their children from dying from diarrhoea if they had followed the simple advice on health brochures and leaflets.

Thicke, a Canadian who came to Paris to write the great Canadian novel but founded a translation company instead, had pinpointed a glaring but little-noticed paradox in the information revolution. Thanks to the internet and mobile phones, knowledge and information is disseminated far and wide and at speed. But that knowledge is wasted unless understood by those who need it most.

Translators without Borders was founded by Thicke and Ros Smith-Thomas in 1993 after Médecins sans Frontières, the medical NGO, asked her company, Lexcelera, to work on a translation project. She asked if they needed translation often, and if giving them the words for free would be like a donation. They said yes to both questions, and TWB was born. But until that moment in Kenya two years ago, the group dealt mostly with European languages. Now Thicke is determined to bridge what she calls the “language last mile” in the developing world.

One of the group’s current projects is to teach sex workers in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, to translate material in English on sexually transmitted diseases into languages such as Swahili, Luo and Kikuyu. The project started last week, with Simon Andriesen, a specialist on medical translation who is on the TWB board. He will teach about 125 women from Kibera, who speak different languages, to translate four-page brochures in English into the different Kenyan languages.

“He is teaching them translation skills so they can reach their own people,” said Thicke. “All the girls from Kibera represent different languages. They have been recommended to us by a health NGO and their job is to pass on information to other girls. We want to provide brochures in a language that can be understood so it doesn’t get thrown away.”

Paul Warambo, a recent masters graduate in the Kiswahili language living in Nairobi said: “The health translators training has come at a time when the country urgently needs translators in every sector, but especially in the health sector where little information is available in languages that can be understood by the majority of Kenyans.”

TWB is working on an even more ambitious project with Wikipedia. The aim is to take Wikipedia entries on the most important health topics, turn them into simple English and then translate them into as many languages as possible. The articles will then be accessible for free on mobile phones through new agreements betweek Wikimedia, which runs Wikipedia, and telecoms operators. A number of Wikipedia articles covering dengue fever, Aids, malaria, cholera and tuberculosis are awaiting translation from TWB’s army of volunteers.

The group has about 2,000 translators, who have passed its translation tests. Indian languages are well served but Africa is a big gap, with only about 15 of TWB’s translators able to deal with African languages. Africa has more than 2,000 different languages, such as Amharic, Swahili and Berber, spread across six major language families. Nigeria alone has more than 500 tongues spoken within its borders.

Until the 2010 Haiti earthquake, TWB had limited reach. But the crisis revealed not only the need for translations from thousands of aid groups that need humanitarian translations but also a critical mass of translators willing to help.

So the group created an online platform to bring the two communities together. Last year,, the world’s largest translator organisation, created an automated translation centre for TWB so it could broaden its reach. Approved NGOs can now post translation projects such as field reports, treatment protocols and websites. Alerts then go out to the translators in those language pairs. Those who are interested in the work of that particular NGO will take on a project, translate it, and return it to the platform for delivery. Most of the projects are picked up within 15 minutes.

Translators without Borders can easily handle projects for 100 non-profits at a time, but as its volunteer community grows, so does its capacity. Over the years, it has donated almost $3m in translation services, which means that money went towards medical supplies, vaccines, rehydration kits and more.

“We are working to build a world where knowledge doesn’t have borders,” Thicke said. “With technology, and cellphone penetration in Africa, we have the potential to spread knowledge, but no one is talking about how people are getting information even if they are connected. People die not just of disease but from a lack of knowledge on how to avoid getting sick.”

Mark Tran, “Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap”, The Guardian (, April 11,2012

View the original article on the Guardian website here . We’d like to thank the author, Mark Tran, for allowing us to reproduce it here on the Stinging Nettle. Some in our staff are volunteering for Translators Without Borders themelves and this article is a very good tribute to Lori and to TWB and the amazing work they do everyday along with their volunteers.