3 Steps for Translating Messages for a Crisis Environment

3 Steps for Translating Messages for a Crisis Environment

Today I’d like to share with you 3 key steps for translating messages for a crisis environment.

Our job is to provide translations that people can really act on. So let’s think about the translation process for a minute.

Accurate translation is very important for getting information out to diverse populations in a crisis environment.

As a matter of fact, there is a process for leading people to action. It’s not just getting the information out. We need to be very aware that not only do we physically have to get the information to them, but we must also ensure that the information is understandable. They have to be able to apply the information to themselves. Oftentimes they need to discuss it with other people. They need to go through these steps to act on the risk message.

Our job is to provide translations that people can really act on.

As we know, many people have limited English proficiency. So I’m really focusing on that limited English proficiency today.


The 3 Steps for Translating Messages for a Crisis Environment

    1. First, make it culturally competent. Make sure that translation that you’re doing is adapting a tone, a style, or an emotion that really captures the spirit of your message, particularly for the population that you’re trying to reach.

    2. Second, sometimes you need to make substantial changes to the actual content of the message itself. Just going on to Google Translate is okay, but it doesn’t often capture the exact meaning. Take that message and recraft it to really express the meaning. It’s called transcreation. It’s something that’s been around for a long time but extremely important to do. So take that message and make changes to it. But the important thing is to really maintain the intent and the style of the original message.

    3. The third step is breaking down complex concepts, ideas, and directions and rebuilding them in the native language that you are trying to reach. We want to be able to accurately convey that message, but sometimes the concepts are really difficult. If you’re dealing with public health or some other type of crisis–whether it’s pandemic messaging or something like a “boil water” order, or whatever it might be, you need to use a language and use words that really convey that message and its importance.


This needs to be done consistently, and it needs to be done regularly with the terms and phrases that you’ve created in order to get people to really understand what you are doing–making it accessible.

That’s our job, to make that language accessible.

So get out there with the three steps:

  1. Make it culturally competent.
  2. Change the words to really adapt to that language.
  3. Break down those complex concepts and make them simple for everyone.


Good luck out there doing those language translations. It’s critically important to saving lives.

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