Ken SubediKen Subedi Why is it Crucial to Localize Corona virus Resources and Materials in Low Resource Languages?May 6, 2020

Why is it Crucial to Localize Corona virus Resources and Materials in Low Resource Languages?

The corona virus pandemic made the world stop in its tracks. It made people give up on their conveniences and luxuries, it exposed a deeply flawed system and how fragile to its core it is, and it revealed that common sense is now a rare commodity.

The world now battles to prevent further spread of the corona virus, while putting strategies in place to mitigate the ramifications that this pandemic will have on the economy and our lives in general.  Given that this is a novel virus and many details still remain unknown and uncertain, the most effective “cure” is quarantine and social distancing.

We are now able to work from home, study from home and we are urged to go out only when it’s extremely necessary. We have constant access to information, which is updated daily, making it possible for us to, above all, stay protected and react in a timely manner.

Corona virus documents in less developed languages.
Coronavirus documents are least available in rare and low resource languages.

To this day English remains the most well-resourced language and is now a global lingua franca. Tutorials, forums, chats, news, documents – from all around the world are at our fingertips, and a large portion of them are in English. And even if the information is in some other popular language – Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean – there is always some partially translated copy readily available. Just one click away. This doesn’t apply for low resource languages. However, it comes as no surprise that languages from poorest parts of the world, such as Africa are utterly swiped aside as there is simply no incentive to invest resources and effort into fragmented and isolated societies that are more often than not economically unstable. In short – it`s just not profitable.

Providing materials for communities of this speaking area is challenging and due to scarce resources and lack of glossaries, dictionaries and other lexical resources, translation is near impossible, making these communities even more vulnerable. Information is a powerful weapon against the Coronavirus and most COVID – 19 related materials are available only in high resource languages. A lot of common people share their experiences with COVID-19 online and this phenomenon combined with official guidelines give people some semblance of choice and control. They can check and double check information and procedures, consult others in real time and act accordingly. But what about others? In a digital age, how people without phones and computers face a pandemic that even the most advanced countries struggle to contain?

Most of these communities have very weak health-care systems and are unprepared to deal with this pandemic. That’s why prevention and quick coordinated response are the most efficient strategies, but it’s impossible to form a plan without all the necessary information. That’s why it’s crucial to localize Coronavirus resources and materials in the communities with low resource languages. If we take Africa as an example, strategy to localize these resources and materials has to be thoroughly planned. Every language is deeply connected with history of its people and stands as a vital part of their cultural identity. Many African languages were suppressed during the colonial era, making them near extinct – with many having less the 2500 speakers today. The fact many live in secluded, inaccessible areas, makes the matter even more difficult. This makes it hard to maintain a regular flow of interaction or provide any COVID-19 material and it must be taken into account that some of these communities are not willing to be taught a second/intermediate language, or to be a part of urbanization.

That’s why the best plan would be to utilize the existing resources, being mindful of tradition and culture. Representatives of these smaller communities must find a way to keep their kindred updated with relevant information. For example, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, authorities keep Amish communities informed by cooperating with priesthood and by sending pamphlets via couriers to churches in both English and Pennsylvania Dutch (which is a dialect of German the Amish most commonly use).

Informing Amish communities is also very challenging, given they are isolated and reject most modern technologies and utilizing their practice of church-going as a form of dissemination of information is a good prevention plan in the fight against COVID – 19. Lessons learned here could help design and deploy methods of approaching and informing similar isolated communities and giving them a fighting chance against COVID-19.

Thus, for the low resource language communities, the plan would be to utilize their traditional media of communication. For the people who live in rural settlements the instrumental model or demonstrative model of communication are often practiced, so the focus should be on already available and practiced means of informing the public.

For the communities which do not speak European languages but only the “tribal” languages, visual mode of dissemination of all COVID – 19 relevant information would most likely be the most convenient way of communicating the message. Inequalities between countries and languages are reflected in the amount and absence of language resources. Africa, despite being ethnically diverse and being a home to a myriad of families of languages, remains unable to standardize means of communication making it a top priority in the effort to localize information and keep the public informed of the threats this global pandemic brings.

Aboriginal tribes of Australia and many others throughout Asia and South America should also be included in these efforts. The governments all over the world are tackling this issue with varying degree of success, but not all have the time, manpower or resources to do so effectively. The COVID – 19 pandemic shows that the expansion of language resources should not be an afterthought. Knowledge is our most powerful asset, one all of humanity is entitled to, and the least we could do is make it available to those who need it now more than ever.

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Caridad Rios says:

Very interesting article! Indeed, it is crucial that the information (in this case, related to COVID-19) be provided to communities of all languages, most importantly in remote areas and to speakers of “tribal languages” and other non-European languages. Thank you for your insight on this! Caridad Rios

Andy Zackerman says:

Exactly there should be more awareness regarding this in times of crisis such as these . Especially in languages like Twi, Bambara, Fon and similar languages the resources are not enough .

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