How COVID-19 is Impacting Language Translation

by Drew Evans
3 Minute Read

Many industries have been drastically affected by the global outbreak of COVID-19 throughout the beginning of 2020. For some, the impact of the virus seemed like something that may pass quickly. But as more time passes and international economies suffer, its affects cannot be understated. While localization may not be an industry in a high-risk environment, it does touch so many others that are. 

Language plays an extremely important part in response to the pandemic. Especially today, translation is key to how medical information spreads from community to community, and from country to country. Since the disease is spreading rapidly and countries are operating with imperfect information, it’s never been more important to quickly and accurately pass information regardless of any potential language barrier. 

For example, as the Oxford English Dictionary points out, it’s a rare experience to see such a rapid and exponential rise in the use of one word, especially over such a short time period. But the word COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019, is now one of the most popular terms in the world. 

Translating Language in a Pandemic

So how do individual words or important documents translate across the world? The CDC has taken its most popular documents and translated them to ensure there is no language barrier. Their pamphlet, 10 Things You Can Do to Manage Your COVID-19 Symptoms at Home, has been translated into French, Burmese, Farsi, and more - so the spread of crucial information can continue. 

However, while some documentation is being translated for non-English speakers, the US alone is home to more than 350 languages, and not all information has trickled down to the less commonly spoken languages. But thanks to a new project from medical students and physicians at the Harvard Medical School, essential information and data factsheets are now being translated into over 35 additional languages. 

“It’s really meant to be a kind of centralized repository of information that’s available in all these different languages,” Pooja Chandrashekar said in an interview with STAT. The first year medical student at Harvard and starter of the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project has been able to bring together a group of over 175 medical students that represent 30 institutions and 37 languages.

Smaller Budgets, Growing Content

But outside of the medical community, industries are starting to feel the effects of COVID-19. It’s estimated that the pandemic could lead to an 8% decline in the total language services market, according to the Slator 2020 Language Industry Market Report. Some sectors have been hit harder, like travel and hospitality, and thus may be less likely to focus on localization in the near future. 

In a recent survey, over 54% of language services buyers reported that COVID-19 has decreased their budgets, with nearly 30% of them sharing that the budget cuts were significant. About 20% of respondents actually reported an increase in budget, with the remaining 25% staying put.

While the amount of focus and time spent online is increasing in a world where many workers have transitioned to remote work, the amount of money spent on localizing the corresponding content has dipped a little. Buyers are now looking for more ways to optimize their translation workflows, primarily through the use of automation, so they can stretch their budgets and get the most out of their systems. Whether it's improved organization and communication or reduced human intervention, buyers are rethinking how automation can play a big role in the midst of reduced budgets. 

How will budgets continue to be affected? How can automation improve localization processes to make budgets go further? Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date with more industry news and the latest localization information.