What are language rights?

October 8, 2014 by admin

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September 30th was International Translation Day (ITD). So what? There are silly random celebrations like this held every day. Yesterday was also ‘Mud Pack Day’, next week is ‘Bathtub Day’ – why should you care about another pointless addition to the calendar? Every year, ITD has a different theme. For 2014, this was “Language Rights: Essential to All Human Rights” – it sounds like a just cause, but do you know what it really means?

Can translation save someone’s life?

Believe it or not, for many people across the world, effective, available translation services could be the difference between life and death, freedom and imprisonment.

We’re all supposed to be entitled to basic human rights – but if you’re in a country where you can’t effectively communicate with someone threatening those rights, how can you hope to defend them?

Think about the challenges faced by asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees – if they don’t have access to translators and they don’t speak the native language, there is a real risk of that person being sent back to the very country they are trying to flee. In many cases, they even need more sophisticated services, such as certified translations, notarised translations or even legalised translations.

This is where language rights come in. Translators play an essential role in enabling those in such vulnerable circumstances to communicate their needs and argue their case. Without this language service, they could easily be the victim of any number of injustices.

Where should language rights exist?

There’s a huge range of areas where being able to speak to and understand others in a foreign language can be vitally important.

For example, what if you’re on holiday and fall seriously ill? You need hospital treatment, but without a translator, would you be able to accurately communicate your symptoms to ensure you get the right medication?

Similarly, what if you’re accused of breaking the law while in another country? Without someone to explain the charges being laid against you in a language you understand, how can you hope to give your own version of events to clear your name?

Why International Translation Day?

ITD falls on the same day every year – a date that is also known as the feast of St Jerome; the first translator who made a difference to language rights thanks to his work in converting the Bible into Latin for the first time.

Considering the significant power of religion in the 4th century, it could well be argued that St Jerome’s work made a positive difference to countless people – to this day, he’s recognised as the patron saint of translators.

The provision of translators shouldn’t ever be a luxury – there are far too many circumstances where their skills are a necessity. And this is what this year’s awareness-raising campaign is all about.

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