Kenya: Translators Foster World Peace and Trade By Linking Nations

Today is the International Translation Day, on which the world celebrates the feast of St Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators.

The UN General Assembly adopted the day on May 24, 2017.

The day is meant to educate the public on the role of language professionals in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development.

The raison d’être of translators and interpreters is to facilitate dialogue, understanding and cooperation between nations.

Translation deciphers the meaning of the written word from one language to another, while interpretation conveys the meaning of the spoken word from one language to another.


However, the two professions require very different skills. The main languages that require translation in Africa are French, Arabic and Portuguese.

We don’t all speak the same language; hence, translation helps us to overcome language barriers and enables effective communication between people around the world.

It is necessary for the spread of information, knowledge, and ideas and absolutely necessary for effective and empathetic communication between different nations and cultures.

Translation therefore is critical for social harmony and peace as well as the spread of religions: the most translated document in the world is the Bible — into 531 languages!

Translation also develops the global economy. Companies can venture into lands where people speak foreign tongues and communicate effectively with them as they do business.


Translators are also very important in the local context of indigenous languages.

In Kenya, for example, we have great diversity with over 40 local languages, and translation is vital for enhancing peace, cohesion and understanding among communities that speak different languages.

People who don’t speak the same language tend to be wary of one another. Given that they cannot understand what the other is saying, they always assume the worst of each other.

Translation helps to bridge this gap, bringing warring communities to the negotiating table and helping each group to express their innermost feelings in their own language.

More often than not, peace is restored once people realise that beyond our different tongues, we’re all human beings who are just looking for a better life.


Document translation is not just converting words from one language to another.

It requires a deep understanding of the subject matter to successfully convey the meaning of the document to be translated while properly rendering industry-specific terminology. It takes time to build this skill set.

A translator should be passionate about their job. They should use all the means at their disposal to deliver every project in excellent shape.

They should master not only the foreign language they work with, but also the skills involved.

One must be curious and motivated to keep on learning new words and forms of expression. The learning process should be never-ending.

It is vital to build a wide lexicon, not only in the foreign language, but also their mother tongue. This will make translation easier and of higher quality.


Translators should acquire technical terms in specific fields — such as business, law, sciences and engineering.

A good translator should be obsessed with quality. As much as is humanly possible, one should provide an exact transfer of information, in the context and spirit in which it was originally intended.

It is normal for them to not know some expressions or words. Nevertheless, experience plays a huge role in knowing how to navigate such situations.

Translation is delicate and mistakes can end up being very costly. In 1980, 18-year-old Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state.


His friends and family, who only spoke Spanish, tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors.

A bilingual staff member translated “intoxicado” as “intoxicated”. A professional would have known that the word is closer to “poisoned” and doesn’t carry the connotations of drug or alcohol use.

Ramirez was actually suffering from an intra-cerebral haemorrhage but the doctors treated him for intentional drug overdose, which can have some of the symptoms he displayed.

Due to the delay in treatment, he became quadriplegic. He got a malpractice settlement of $71 million (Sh7.1 billion)!

Mr Gathii is the director, Bonjour Institute.


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Publish date : 2019-09-30 13:54:20

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