Translators Without Borders is an American nonprofit group. It provides language services to nongovernmental organizations such as, yes, Doctors Without Borders. The group recently trained some new translators in Nairobi in how to put health information into local languages for Kenyans.
For health translators, finding the right words is not just about language, but also culture. Muthoni Gichohi is a manager for Family Health Options Kenya, the group that organized the training. She says she has no problem expressing the names of body parts in English. But as a Kikuyu she says there are some words in her first language that may be "provocative" if she said them in public.
She says she often has to change the wording of the information. Trainer Paul Warambo says the same issue arises with Kenya's national language. He says people are sometimes force to use euphemisms -- speaking in a language that is more acceptable to the listener. The culture of a community will largely decide how words and expressions are translated into socially acceptable language.
In some cases, the way people in a culture think about an activity or object becomes the translated name for that activity or object. For example, Paul Warambo says that, in Ki'Swahili, the common translation for the term "sexual intercourse" is to do something bad. Whether or not a community will accept or even listen to a message is especially important in health care. Lori Thicke co-founded Translators Without Borders in nineteen ninety-three. She says, in general, a lot of development organizations have often overlooked the importance of language in changing health behavior.
Lori Thicke says people generally do not think of translation. But she says it is important when sharing information, whether it is how to take medicine or where to find supplies in a crisis situation. Muthoni Gichohi and her team recently opened a health information center in a Maasai community.
She learned that young Maasai cannot say some things in the presence of their leaders. Also, men are usually the ones who speak at public gatherings, so people might not accept a message given by a woman. For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal. You can find more stories about health at voapsecialenglish.com. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 02May2012)