Published on 10.02.2021
By Aliagan Muhamed and Afaf Steiert
The Great Language Barrier
The diversity of human languages is a feat worthy of displaying the organic, complex intelligence of our species. Though ever impressive and unifying, in our present globalized environment, it is a barrier. Being a hindrance of communication, it causes misunderstandings and misinterpretations among people. The pace of translation technology and increased access to language services is apparent; it is not the inability of people to communicate the barrier, but the lack of attention toward translation services. In 2012, the Rosetta Foundation declared April 19 the international “No Language Barrier Day.” The intent for the day is to raise awareness about the existence of various languages not causing such barriers. In fact, language diversity is a good thing. Instead, lack of access to translation services is the barrier preventing communities from accessing and sharing information across languages[i]. The annual celebration of this day aims to raise awareness about the global community translation efforts.
We cannot underestimate the influence of language on human beings. Language differentiates human beings from other living things. When we communicate and express our feelings, we inform, share experiences and ideas with one another through languages. We share love, foreground our unionism, and educate one another for the betterment of the human race. While language is an invaluable tool, unfortunately, language barriers confine and hinder understanding—the existence of various languages limits the connectivity and relativity of people to the boundaries of their languages. It can be argued that the public sector ought to provide support toward incentivizing a dismantling of these barriers, to increase gains in research, improve tourism, and build stronger relationships with our neighbor’s around the globe. In addition, this serves to stimulate the economy, and during the current pandemic, no economy can do without it.
Language Barriers and their Effects on Tourism
The tourism sector being absolutely demolished globally during the coronavirus pandemic and investments to dismantle language barriers can have a direct effect boosting the economy. Prior to the pandemic, tourism contributed around 10.3% of the global GDP[ii]. 2019 totaled 1.5 billion in international tourist arrival (a 4% increase over the prior year)[iii]. This year 2020 was originally expected to reflect growth rates of around a similar percentage; unfortunately, the opposite has taken place[ii]. The tourism sector has been obliterated, considering the travel sector exclusively is expected to lose a 100 million jobs in this year alone[ii]. Many countries such as the British Virgin Islands, Maldives, Macau and Aruba depend on tourism for economic development and are currently suffering the economic weight of the pandemic[iv].
Tourism takes one to meet different people, taste culinary delights, and experience different cultures and languages. Dismantling initial language barriers can make a community far more receptive to visitors, while improving the economy as re-openings seem to set to inevitably occur. Consider that in a survey of 20,500 travelers, 26 percent reported language barriers as an obstacle to their tourism[v].
Tourists are also more vulnerable to committing illegal offences unknowingly due to the language barrier. From taking photographs of military installations, embassies, wearing footwear in some places, more commonly not wearing footwear in other places, to consuming alcohol and consuming drugs such as cannabis, both have variable enforcement in terms of legality globally. Without clear communication, tourists are more likely to be arrested further fouling the image of the respective country enforcing its laws if foreign nationals that base its tourism sector deem the treatment unfair. Avoiding such a detriment to attracting visitors is vitally important and it begins with properly translated materials.
Language Services are Vital for Tourism and the Economy
Language accessibility makes a foreign country more inviting and hospitable, and this encourages tourists for longer stays. Tourists must know basic things about the tourist destination. Otherwise, they may be breaking laws and regulations. For these reasons, standard translation of tourist text is necessary for the description of places, areas, sights, information on appliances and facilities, basic rules and regulations, price lists, and other materials tourists would contact. Airports or ports of arrival, booklets and brochures containing laws of the country that can be violated should be provided and explained to tourists in their own language; easily available guides may also make tourists feel more independent and capable of navigating a “foreign” land. Therefore, accessibility to language is a source of economic stimulus. In these trying times, when multiple businesses and governments liquidity grows tighter, investment into a more globalized language landscape may lead to many positive benefits associated with tourism and expand into a vibrant, capable, healthy, and strong economy.
Standardization and Professionalism in Language Translation/Localization
The major reason why language translation and localization are important for tourism is to ease communication. If the translation is not done efficiently, there could be misinterpretation, misinformation, and confusion. These negative effects can be worse than having access to translation. For efficient translation, the translator must be professional and should localize or standardize the translation considering the tourist/foreigner’s original culture.
Across the globe, there are poor translations being produced, on both governments and businesses behalf, that have a high comedic appeal while likely lacking in their effectiveness in attracting tourists into their businesses.
When the translation is not done well, language is often left out. In some languages, intonation, and phonology render different meanings. Standardization and localization in translation must be an important part of the quality control process for language service providers (LSP), to assure the comprehension and the efficiency of the translation into the target languages.
Translation and language access to the tourists are a form of stimulus to the global economy. Adjusting to our new COVID-19 world to revitalize tourist economies, health information will be a vital necessity to decrease the spread of the virus through travelling and tourism in future.
*Special thank you to Yasin Steiert for editing this article.
[i] Pierce, G. (2018). Introducing Translational Studies. London: Ed Tech Press.
[ii] Lee, Y. N. (2020, May 06). 5 charts show which travel sectors were worst hit by the coronavirus. Retrieved from here.
[iii] World Tourism Organization. (2020, June 20). International Tourism Growth Continues to Outpace the Global Economy. Retrieved from here.
[iv] Smith, O. (2018, February 05). Revealed: The countries that rely most on your money. Retrieved from here.
[v] Booking.com. (2016, April 19). Booking.com Survey Reveals Top Causes for Travel Angst. Retrieved from here.
Korolkovaite, I. (2018). 139 Translation Fails That Will Have Rolling on the Floor Laughing. Retrieved from here.