HandsAt Translators Without Borders (TWB), we take our job of translating humanitarian content for the world very seriously. To date, our volunteers have translated well over 11 million words. That’s a lot of words provided, free of charge, to non-profits and NGOs all over the world.

We have a particular focus on providing translations for developing countries. These are places where access to adequate information is scarce. All too often, the meager amount of health information that is delivered arrives in English. And, all too often, the English is too difficult for the villagers to understand. People need information in their language, not ours.

When we translate into languages for the developing world, such as Swahili, if the source English is complicated, the translations run the risk of being too complicated or even incorrect. Not everything in English translates into Swahili.

This is why Content Rules and Acrolinx have teamed up to provide simplified English services for TWB. Our task is to take complicated medical articles and simplify them so that people with a 6th grade reading level (U.S.) can understand them.

In order to simplify articles that include complex terms, such as abdomen, abscess, acetaminophen, anemia, and so on, we are creating the world’s largest database of simplified English medical terminology.

Earlier in the year, I put out a “call” for volunteer editors and indexers who have experience working with medical terms. The response I received was overwhelming. More than thirty people signed up to work on this project.

We got to work in June of 2013. Using software and expertise donated by Acrolinx, we harvested over 10,000 medical terms, divided into nine categories:

  • Infectionstranslators-without-borders
  • Brain and senses
  • Immune system
  • Cancer
  • Heart Health
  • Maternal & Child
  • Mental Health
  • Public Health
  • Trauma

In the middle of June, we put our 30+ volunteers to work researching and simplifying the terms. Our goal is to have all 10,000+ terms simplified by the end of August. For those of you who do this for a living, you understand what a lofty goal this is. To top it off, our volunteers work “real” jobs during the day, and work on this pro-bono project at night and on weekends.

To date, over 2,000 terms have been simplified and are ready to be reviewed by a volunteer physician from Doctors Without Borders.

Once the terms are reviewed, the database will be populated and Swahili translations for each term will be added. Then, another group of  volunteers will get to work on simplifying the 100 most-commonly accessed medical articles from Wikipedia. After that, those articles will be translated to Swahili and 99 additional languages. And after that, there are exciting plans underway to provide the information to villagers free of charge.

There is no way that we could do this critical work without the help of our incredibly dedicated, motivated, and super-smart group of volunteers. My appreciation and admiration is boundless.


Val Swisher
Latest posts by Val Swisher (see all)