Here at STAR UK, and more specifically, at Melly Manor, we’re adjusting to a new normal living the #lockdownlife. Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic is occupying all of our thoughts so I thought I would channel this into something kind of language related for the latest blog post.

It almost goes without saying, but it’s definitely worth repeating:

Key workers are the true heroes right now

NHS workers are risking their health to look after us, supermarket employees are keeping our cupboards full and numerous other industries are keeping skeleton staff so that some semblance of normal service can remain in place for those in need.

Yet today, I wanted to draw your attention to those in the languages industry who are doing their part during the COVID-19 crisis.

Interpreters and subtitlers

Although not usually grouped together in this way, I hope you’ll understand why I’ve put them in the same point.

In many ways, interpreters are supposed to be as unobtrusive as possible. When a global leader addresses a conference, the focus is on their presence at the lectern, not the disembodied voice that is speaking their words in your language.

However, interpreters are vital in ensuring that these messages are still available in a language that you understand.

In the current situation however, social distancing and restrictions on press conferences/group gatherings mean that interpreters might not be used quite as frequently as previously.

Instead, subtitles are an alternative.

Again, not much thought is given to the actual subtitler when you watch foreign language films. Yet, currently, their work is very important.

A friend has been sharing links to Angela Merkel’s regular addresses to Germany on her Facebook page. These have been subtitled into English, in case you aren’t able to follow her in the original German.

If you look at the comments on these videos, so many of them are from expats expressing gratitude for these subtitles. The current pandemic is scary enough when you are in your native land. Yet, in a new country with limited or no knowledge of its language, it must be terrifying.


I could name many scenarios where a translator’s work is required during a pandemic, but I’ll limit myself to three.

  1. Translation of instruction manuals/safety equipment. New coronavirus tests, new ventilators, new PPE. New products are entering the marketing every day and there is quite literally a global demand for these. At the time of writing 202 countries were affected by the COVID-19 virus. When lives are at stake, it is important that all instructions are accurately translated into local languages.
  2. Translation of health and safety advice. Immediately, Translators Without Borders springs to mind here. It is of paramount importance that the advice to self-isolate with certain symptoms, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face are all available in local languages. When you consider local dialects in countries like India and spread across the continent of Africa, you can see that a mammoth localisation effort is required to ensure that the correct advice is available to all.
  3. Translation of the BBC live feed. You might not have seen this, but the BBC live reporting on the pandemic is available in UK minority languages such as Urdu. Again, it’s important that this information is available to all, regardless of their language skills.

So there you have it. The languages industry is playing a small, yet important role in the fight against Coronavirus.

Next week, I’ll be back with more jargon busting and explanations for the confused translation buyer. For now though, I’ll sign off with the following: Stay home, stay safe.