Multilingualism: Translating selected articles into languages other than English

21 March, 2020

Dear Jackeline, (Jackeline Alger, HIFA Country Representative for Honduras)

Thank you so much for translating this important editorial into Spanish and distributing it on our HIFA-Spanish forum:

Imagine if all critical papers were available in Spanish. This would help inform the 450 million people Spanish-speaking people worldwide. A similar case could be made for other languages.

The HIFA Multilingualism expert working group has recently successfully lobbied the World Association of Medical Editors to encourage journals to make the abstracts of research available in the language of the country where the research took place:

Our group was preparing to host a Roundtable session on Multilingualism at the Geneva Health Forum this week, but the conference has been cancelled like so many others worldwide due to the coronavirus crisis.

One issue to consider is how to improve the availability of papers such as this Lancet editorial in different languages. Is there a systemic approach that would not rely on the ad hoc good will of individuals? I know that The Lancet journals are actively looking at these issues, and the Lancet Global Health is already translating some content.

One day, hopefully, we shall be able to rely on machine translation for translation of research papers and associated comment, although it may never be the case that 100% accuracy would be ensured (to paraphrase Mark Twain: "Be careful of reading machine translations of medical content - you might die of a mistranslation")

It is one thing to improve availability of abstracts in languages other than English, and quite another to do the same for whole papers. Nevertheless, we need to keep innovating to ensure that the majority of the world's population (who do not speak or read English) will have access to the information they need in a language they can understand.

Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Project on Multilingualism

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: