Smartling Webinar Highlights Role of Translation in Australia’s Covid-19 Response

Smartling Covid-19 Response

A recent Smartling webinar highlighted the importance of language in boosting confidence and engagement around Covid-19 immunization and other prevention strategies among various at-risk groups.

Speaking to an online audience on November 16, 2021, Professor Holly Seale noted the gaps in vaccine uptake across the world, whether it be in childhood, adolescent, or adult immunization programs.

Seale, an infectious diseases expert from the School of Population Health at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, has spent over 15 years in social science research.

She said gaps in vaccine uptake generally occur for a range of reasons. Among them are what people think and feel about vaccines, whether or not they perceive a disease as being severe, if they feel at risk of infection, or it could simply be about lack of vaccine access. Crucial to addressing these issues is communicating information about a disease or vaccine in a language the public can easily understand.

As Seale pointed out, Australia is home to a number of big migrant groups. “We’ve got large populations of Chinese migrants, people who’ve come from Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Thailand. Beyond that, we’ve got languages that are linked to more newly emerging communities,” Seale said, adding that these groups may lack an established support network to disseminate Covid-related information.

Watch the Smartling Multilingual Covid-19 Glossary Webinar Now

Developing and Deploying a Multilingual Covid-19 Glossary

To mitigate gaps in Covid-related information and make the vaccine universally accessible, Seale’s team developed a comprehensive medical glossary of new public health and vaccination terms related to Covid.

Despite having received no funding, the glossary has since been translated into 31 languages for non-English-speaking populations and successfully deployed to communities in Australia, where it has gained traction.

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Seale outlined the three-step process they employed in building the glossary.

1. Build a diverse team of experts – On the team that developed the glossary were members of the UNSW academe, translators, immunization experts, government, NGOs, refugee services, community and faith leaders, as well as the Sydney Health Literacy Lab, a health literacy research group based at the University of Sydney.

Including immunization experts was not enough, Seale said. “We needed to match them with people whose everyday job is to focus on supporting health literacy, who have a past history in actually taking technical websites or resources and trying to simplify them down to the reading level that we were trying to reach” — which included those with low health literacy levels, she pointed out.

“So we called on those who work in community settings, multicultural health settings and, most importantly, those who work every day as translators,” Seale said.

Go to the Multilingual Covid-19 Glossary Now

2. Build the glossary – This step comprised identifying terms, evaluating the population’s health literacy, simplifying terms and, finally, translating terms.

As they were dealing with medical, vaccine, and immunization terminology, the team needed to ensure that any technical terms they simplified stayed true to the original meaning. Accuracy and consistency in translated terms were especially critical in light of the confusion and interchanging of terms prevalent in mass media.

“Throughout this pandemic, misinformation has been undermining our pandemic activities and it has caused confusion. It has caused changes in trust levels; and, unfortunately, we’ve even been able to link misinformation to deaths around the world,” Seale said.


She added, “It is probably the people who work in translating and interpreting services who gave me the hardest time in the development of the glossary because they kept coming back to me and saying, ‘Holly, this just doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t sound right. When I try to use this phrasing or use this language, this word isn’t working — what does it mean?’” All of which was necessary feedback in building a better glossary.

It would sometimes happen that the team would receive 20 different versions of the same term. So the experts from various sectors had to weigh in and decide on a simplified term that would be acceptable to all.

3. Promote the glossary – The team used network emails, social media, and workshops via Zoom to reach as many groups as possible, which would then take the glossary back to their local networks to pass on.

Moreover, Seale said they called on the help of community and faith-based leaders who were already devoting months of their time “going door to door, putting together food hampers, turning up at local faith organizations, jumping on Zoom calls with their community members to try and pass on the message about why it’s important to receive the Covid vaccine and what it means at a community level.”

She said ​​the Multilingual Covid-19 Glossary now serves as an easy-access tool for all the various stakeholders producing Covid-related outputs and fora, as well as anyone who wants to know more about the vaccine.

To learn more about creating meaningful experiences for your audience in any language, visit the Smartling translation services page today.