10 Ways Translation Tools Help Post-Pandemic

10 Ways Translation Tools Help Post-Pandemic

10 Ways Translation Tools Help Post-Pandemic

Translation tools are the kind of things we tend to take for granted – until we need them. My family used translation tools a lot while traveling, talking with strangers on the street, reading street signs, and perusing restaurant menus. Here are ten ways translation tools can help post-pandemic.

With social distancing to keep us at arm’s length from strangers, no traveling, and a scarcity of dine-in restaurants, many of those use-cases for translation tools, are, literally, off the table.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have brought to the forefront uses of translation apps and gadgets that previously never crossed our minds.

The virus brought “remote” values of machine translation tech to the fore. AI-driven technology came in handy in a social-distanced world, assisting patients and first-line responders as well as healthcare professionals. Now, even as restrictions loosen, this tech can still find new uses.

  • Interpret One-to-Many Video Conferences

It will be a while before face-to-face professional conferences are back in vogue. For now, we will make do with the virtual version of keynotes in video-conferences.

But what if we don’t speak the language of the speaker? In the good old days, we would get headphones and a human simultaneous interpreter to whisper sweet nothings in our ears. Now… not so much. But Microsoft Translator does offer a one-to-many translation option – that lets you get a machine interpretation of a speech in your preferred tongue.

True, the voice is likely to be a bit robotic, but these days at least you can choose the gender and sometimes the accent.

  • Translating medical research to more languages

There’s a massive global research effort to find treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness.

The pandemic means that dozens of papers are being published in medical journals around the world. Most will never get widespread attention due to language barriers.

But if you are bilingual and have a modicum of medical knowledge, you can provide a small service for humanity by translating the articles. Increasingly, a translation company (tomedes dot com) seeks out linguists with medical or nursing training to provide such services for healthcare communication clients.

  • Use Camera Translation for the Medical Fine Print

Both Google Translate and Microsoft Translator offer the ability to point your phone camera at an image and have the visible text rendered as an augmented reality overlay in your preferred language.

That’s great when dealing with signs and menus, but it’s not much help with the smaller lettering on bottles of prescription medicine or some of the fine print on pharma prescriptions. The solution? You can snap a photo of the text and then import the image into Translate or Translator and have the whole text rendered.

  • Interpreting to Get Info from Foreign Language Sources

Two-way conversation interpreting may once have been useful for picking up a date at a shopping mall. But these days your romantic target is likely to be masked and keeping a safe social distance from your creepy one-liners.

So take your mind off romance and use your language skills to get useful information from foreign language sources. You may think English is the world’s lingua franca, but the truth is that 6 out of 7 people in the world don’t speak a lick of it.

Just hold up your voice interpreter to that YouTube channel or foreign language podcast and know instantly what’s being said.

  • Translation Gadgets for Frontline Healthcare Providers

It’s unlikely that standalone plastic translation gadgets can match the smarts that Google or Microsoft packs into their smartphone and desktop apps.

But if you are a frontline provider of healthcare, do you really want to be using your personal phone for patient interactions in emergency rooms, intake, or intensive care? Unless you have easy access to a burner phone you are ready to discard after each use, a better option may be a pocket translator device.

A Japanese company donated its POCKETALK AI-powered translating device for use by first-responders and healthcare providers aboard the ill-fated cruise ship Diamond Princess docked for weeks in Yokohama Bay. With support for 50 languages, the device was a safe way to support two-way conversations with multilingual passengers, crew, and care providers.

  • Localize Software Products and Apps

Tools for localizing apps and other software have been around for decades, but the economic crisis that has ensued with the pandemic is compelling companies to seek additional markets that can be added digitally rather than physically.

The effort needed to add a locale to a software application costs a fraction of what it would take to open a physical office in a foreign location. So many companies are using the current period of economic slowdown to develop additional local versions of their software so that it’s accessible to foreign customers.

Because this work can be done via outsourcing, and there’s a plentiful supply of linguists and programmers looking for work, now is an excellent time for low-cost localization.

  • Map Language Use Areas to Facilitate Targeted Communications

Translators Without Borders (TWB), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting cross-lingual communications, has teamed up with tech partners to provide easy to understand information about where people speak and understand which languages.

The organization is developing maps that visualize language usage and literacy levels in affected countries – which these days is virtually everywhere, to provide more targeted COVID-19 communications.

  • Assist Members of Minority Language Communities

TWB is also teaming up with Cisco and various European government to develop and deploy machine translation systems to serve marginalized and minority language communities in the EU.

Starting with a pilot in the Netherlands, the system allows speakers of Arabic and Amharic to phone a call center and receive COVID-19 information in an understandable language. The plan is to expand to additional languages in a pan-European deployment in the coming years.

  • Health Conferences for Cross-Lingual Consultations

Many federal and state/provincial governments consider it a human right to receive timely and accurate medical information in an understandable language. In normal times, many healthcare providers would have translators and interpreters on hand to provide needed translation services.

However, with quarantine and social distancing provisions, linguists are rarely available for face-to-face service. The alternative is Video Remote Interpretation or Over the Phone Interpretation.

Multilingual interpretation is available on-demand to bridge the language gap in telemedicine conversations between healthcare providers and patients. In most cases, a human linguist provides the translation by phone or video, though some services are experimenting with chatbots.

  • Using Machine Translation to Keep Borders Safe

According to the Register out of the UK, US immigration is routinely scanning social media to detect possible bad intentions or pandemic infections among wannabe immigrants.

The US government’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been relying on online translation services offered by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to read refugees’ non-English social media posts to ascertain whether they are healthy and worthy of admittance.

The practice is not without its critics: machine translation has dramatically improved in recent years, but it is still no match for a skilled human translator.

But think: when someone is facing a possible deportation or failed immigration that can result from a poor interpretation of a tweet or post — we all need a reliable translation tool.

Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels

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Reuven Koret

R.J. Koret writes about language, psychology, and technology, with a special interest in AI, wordplay, and Freudian slips.