Our Perspectives

Translation’s broader purpose


Students in KosovoIn Kosovo, a law protects the rights of non-majority communities to get public services in any of the official languages. Photo: UNDP in Kosovo

On 30 September, the world honors translators by celebrating Saint Jerome, the 3rd century Christian priest and patron saint of translators who is credited with translating the Bible into Latin and ushering in a flowering in intellectual activity. This year Saint Jerome’s theme’s is Language Right – Essential to All human Right.

The International day of Translation is the opportunity to reflect on the importance of multilingualism and the work of language professionals. Because theirs is a specialized profession which takes place behind the scenes, translators, interpreters, and terminologists are often taken for granted or not given enough credit. Yet they are essential to large international organizations as they make the circulation of ideas possible.

As the cornerstone of transparency, multilingualism’s basic purpose is to provide the same information to all people so they can make informed decisions, and be understood in their native language. At UNDP, we offer expert knowledge on sustainable development,  poverty reduction, and crisis prevention that would not be accessible to the public without reliable translation into its official and working languages (English, French, Spanish) and a growing number of official UN languages (Arabic Chinese, Russian).

Translation should therefore be treated and thought of as a basic service and an integral part of an organization’s internal and external communications. It can raise an institution’s thought leadership by broadening its audience. This is where we all have a role to play: when drafting circulars, staff messages, case studies, country reports, or technical publications; policy specialists, writers and editors should bear in mind that the decision not to translate their drafts has implications. It deprives the majority of our constituents and staff of the opportunity to access critical information and provide much needed feedback in their native language.  It can also carry a reputational risk if translations are not handled by professionals with relevant technical knowledge. 

As we approach milestones like the Millennium Development Goals' deadline, our fiftieth anniversary, Beijing+20, etc.,  - all of which will require major outreach (and translation) efforts and hopefully generate exchanges of knowledge - we should remember that no communication can be truly effective without proper give and take and that translation is one of the best vehicles to bring about a cross-pollination of ideas.  

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