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The language of the pandemic

During these trying times, history is being written before our eyes. As conveyors of information, language professionals must carefully choose their words in order to get the information across to a very broad audience and bring people closer despite the distance separating them.

Such thoughtful linguistic decisions have pushed the World Health Organization to adopt particular words or structures when addressing COVID-19, choices which then trickle down to the media, our texts and ultimately the general public. As an example, to fully understand the nature of this crisis, distinctions had to be made between an infectious disease and a contagious disease, and between case fatality rate and infection fatality rate. The use of words like isolation, quarantine, lockdown and health emergency has also needed refining over time. And the term social distancing has been a real head-scratcher, considering that it is the farthest thing from social. For us, after many discussions, we have chosen to take a case-by-case approach. Sometimes, you have to create and maintain social distancing, other times, you have to follow physical distancing guidelines. It’s all about context and, let’s face it, nothing about this pandemic is straightforward, with changes happening daily. And during this time, the vocabulary is also changing.

The need to work from home

As we are forced to navigate unknown territory, we have all had to change our work methods, habits and routine to some extent. Fortunately, almost all language experts were already equipped to work remotely due to the nature of their profession. At most, only a few small adjustments were needed to enable work to continue under these circumstances. This capacity to adapt easily to the situation has allowed us to be somewhat less affected by this crisis than companies in other lines of business.

Clients can continue to communicate with our project managers online. Client confidentiality and data security remain core concerns for us, and our undaunted IT team is on top of the situation. We operate through a robust IT infrastructure that enables us to continue our activities uninterrupted while meeting increased demand. There are definitely many challenges, but they are no match for our team.

Staying healthy, connected and on the job

For a good many of us, we are experiencing the impact of this crisis in three ways.

First, we need to meet exponentially greater demand for language services. Each of us also has to juggle our personal circumstances around working from home, shopping for groceries or medication, and caring for children, elderly parents or other vulnerable people in our lives. And lastly, we have to comply with the measures in place and to take care of our own physical and mental health so that we can continue working and meeting client needs.

At a time when thousands of workers across all sectors have been laid off, those of us fortunate enough to keep working have a civic duty to continue providing essential services that support our economy, to the extent possible. We don’t really know what tomorrow holds. We could get lost in idle speculation, but one thing is certain: as long as there is information to share and rendered in another language, we will be there.