Language focus | 27.04.2010

Interpreters assist in relief efforts following earthquake in China

Interpreters have been helping with relief efforts following the 6.9 magnitude earthquake which struck the town of Yushu in China last week. As the majority of relief workers do not speak Tibetan, this inability to communicate with the local population has severely hampered the rescue mission and has prompted a call for volunteer interpreters.

The epicentre of the earthquake occurred near the Tibetan plateau in the remote town of Yushu, located in the Quinghai province of north-western China. Although Mandarin is taught in schools nationwide, such remote communities often speak their own dialect or language. An official from the Ministry of Health stated that ‘Most of the injured are Tibetan and that makes treatment and enquiries about their medical conditions difficult due to problems of communication’ reported the Straits Times.

This situation led to the recruitment of around 500 Tibetan interpreters from six ethnic minority colleges across China. Not only will these volunteers be assisting at the scene, they have also taken an intensive specialised medical course which will enable them to communicate more effectively in the hospitals.

These interpreters are providing an essential lifeline between locals and the non-Tibetan speaking rescue workers. The youngest interpreter at the disaster zone is Tsering Tendru, a ten year old boy of Tibetan ethnicity who is helping staff to communicate with patients in a medical facility. Over 2,000 people are thought to have died in the earthquake, and whilst Tsering is considered very young to be interpreting in such traumatic conditions, the language barrier is posing such a threat to patients’ survival that he has become a welcome member of the team.

Interpreters are certainly vital for effective communication in a wide range of fields from business to medical situations. But at times like this, it becomes painfully apparent just how vital their services are.

Sources:; Radio Asia; The Straits Times

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