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Challenges for Translators and Interpreters During the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic rages on, but many countries are now in the process of easing lockdown restrictions, with varying degrees of success. It appears that those that shut their borders early; used physical distancing measures, masks and test, track and trace strategies have come out of the pandemic the best, even though their economies have still suffered due to the fact that they are intertwined with other economies that have suffered worse.

Translating and interpreting a microcosm of economic activity during the pandemic

The translation and interpreting industries are a microcosm of many others during these difficult times. A few have done better than ever, others have just about survived and there are those that have basically suspended activity awaiting better health outcomes and more favorable economic conditions.


    Interpreters have been hit the hardest

    It is the face to face interpreting industry that has predictably been affected the worst. Interpreting has normally had a huge role to play in international communication, but that is precisely the sort of communication that has been drastically curtailed as the pandemic has hit regions across the world like toppling dominoes. Most affected are large international meetings and conferences, as well as regional and international tourism. The former has to some extent survived as online conferencing using media technologies like Zoom has taken over at least some of what might have been scheduled. Whenever people meet to discuss important topics but cannot communicate because of the lack of a common language, then there will always be a role for interpreters, although the skills involved may change somewhat as the lack of face to face signaling and body language makes interpreting just a little more difficult.

    The use of interpreters in the tourism industry has basically come to a shuddering halt as one country after another suspended inward and outward travel and borders everywhere were effectively closed. Interpreters who were involved in the tourism industry have to make a choice over job prospects or simply hope and wait for an effective vaccine to be developed to allow borders to re-open. Of course, there are small signs in many regions of the world that there may be small openings in regional tourism despite the threat of the virus reinvading. Europe, with safeguards, is certainly considering opening itself up to regional tourism and there is talk in the Pacific of a trans-Tasman or even a regional travel bubble, but as this is primarily an English language area, there is hardly much scope for interpreters.

    Medical translators have been in greater demand

    As for translators, there has been an unprecedented demand for medical translators. Translators generally have been less affected than interpreters as their trade can be more easily converted to an online business, even if it hasn’t been up to now. Many freelance translators, as well as professional translators who work for translation agencies, are used to working online. The scope of the Internet has not been affected by Covid-19, so that has meant that any professional who has already developed an online presence before the pandemic has been well placed to maintain a steady income stream.

    Working online may become the new normal

    Large businesses that have had their own in-house translation team have probably been the most affected as effectively in many countries their face to face office work would have come to a halt. It is likely that the changes that would have been made in many office environments to adapt to video conferencing and communicating online would become a fundamental change in the way many businesses perform, even after the return to semi-or ‘new’ normality.


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