Although restrictions are easing across Australia we still remain in a State of Emergency. A wealth of information is being released daily from both governments and business in relation to the crisis.
Across these sectors how are we ensuring the five million + Australians who speak a language other than English have access to critical health, travel, economic and business related information? While it is common to see Auslan (Australian sign-language) interpreters for national addresses, key government initiatives risk being lost in translation for the 21% of Australians who speak a language other than English at home.
With 300 languages spoken in Australian homes, a fifth of Australians are potentially being left in the dark with some key government initiatives available only in English. These initiatives and information are crucial to the livelihood of all Australians and therefore need to be easily accessible in at least the top languages of our diverse population.
We suddenly have new words entering the lexicon such as ‘social-distancing’, ‘flattening the curve’ and ‘droplet transmission,’ along with somewhat confusing and rapidly changing information about what you can and can’t do under various restrictions. We are helping to build new awareness around what these terms actually mean for our vast multicultural communities, some of whom may already be vulnerable. A whole new vocabulary has been built around COVID-19.
Further we’ve seen various businesses, especially in the Utilities and Financial Services space, providing COVID-19 updates in relation to how customers can access special assistance. Most of these businesses have updated their websites with a special section for their customers, however, the vast majority of these updates are again only in English. Access to information on ‘financial hardship’, ‘loan deferment options’, ‘rent relief’, ‘delayed bill payments’, ‘special COVID-19 changes’, are potentially not reaching a large segment of a business’ customer base. Although many customers might have a reasonable grasp of English – these are often dense policies and concepts and details will be missed for those whose first language is not English.
To support our communities, we’ve assisted the Department of Health and Human Services to set-up a dedicated quarantine hotline available in over 180 languages, as well as providing critical health information. Further, we’ve translated travel and visa information for the Department of Home Affairs and our interpreters have assisted hospital staff in communicating with their non-English speaking patients. For example, our interpreters have recently been on rotation 24/7 at the Gold Coast University Hospital, helping patients in isolation understand their health results and release dates.
As every part of our economy continues to be rocked by this pandemic, governments at all levels and businesses, especially those delivering essential services, should think about the diversity of the Australian and global population they serve. With 49% of us either born overseas and/or have a parent born overseas we need to look beyond English and think differently about how we engage and communicate with the entire language mix of our population.
We must start engaging in the right language, which 21% of the time is not English.
LanguageLoop is Australia’s leading language services business and only full-service language provider. LanguageLoop’s extensive network of over 3,000 interpreters and translators speak over 180 languages. With over 40 years’ experience, LanguageLoop is trusted by Australia’s state and federal governments and leading brands including AGL, Energy Australia, The Westpac Group, IAG and others. Every year, LanguageLoop helps organisations connect with over 500,000 non-English speakers though its extensive range of services including on-site, telephone and on-demand video interpreting, translations, 24/7 multilingual chat bots and other digital language solutions. For more information visit languageloop.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org.