2021 Update: Language Access and COVID-19 Information – How’s the World Doing? 

By: Cheryl

As we approach 2022, we have yet to overcome COVID-19 globally. The world without the pandemic seems like such a long time ago. And although vaccines are now available in most countries, vaccinations are not mandatory, and many choose not to get vaccinated for various reasons. Furthermore, some individuals are not able to get their dose safely or in a timely manner. With the Delta variant now becoming more widespread and creating new challenges for doctors and health care workers worldwide, we are entering another stage of the pandemic. It is important to continuously update what is occurring in the world, as well as make sure safety information is accessible in multiple languages.

The issues related to language, lack of translation, and the spread of relevant information have affected people worldwide and here in Canada. And although we have come a long way since the start of the pandemic, many things still need to be done to make information accessible to as many people as possible in the most timely manner. Therefore, we researched each province and country’s efforts in providing language access to disease-prevention information. (It is entirely possible that we have missed some available sources, and we encourage readers to inform us if we have missed any).

On a national scope, here’s each province’s effort.

  • Ontario offers the information in two languages: English and French. They now also offer resources on various topics in multiple languages!
  • Saskatchewan offers the information in two languages: English and French, while enabling some of the COVID-19 related pages to be translated into all languages that Google Translate supports, from Afrikaans to Zulu.
  • British Colombia’s government webpage offers information in English, while the province’s Centre for Disease Control has Q&A sheets in Chinese, Farsi and Punjabi.
  • Quebec offers English and French.
  • Manitoba provides English and French.
  • Alberta provides information mostly in English, while one page directs users to all webpages available in French. Alberta Health Services takes a similar approach and provides webpages for services in Chinese, Arabic, French, Punjabi, Spanish, Tigrinya and Vietnamese, although COVID-19 related information is not included in these pages.
  • Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Yukon webpages are in English and French.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador’s website offers English and French, while COVID-19 related information is only available in English.
  • Nunavut provides information in English, French, Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut.
  • The Northwest Territories offers information in English, French, Chipewyan, Gwich’in, South Slavey, North Slavey, Tłı̨chǫ, Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut.

On an international level:

  • WHO offers information in its six working languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic and Russian.
  • Government of Canada’s website is available in three languages: English, French and Simplified Chinese, while downloadable information sheets are provided in Chinese, Farsi, Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, Vietnamese, Arabic and Russian, depending on the webpageyou look at.
  • Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. offers both English and Spanish content the website, with downloadable information sheets in 64 languages, from Amharic to Wolof.
  • The Government of France provides information in French and English.
  • Germany’s website offers languages in German, English and French. Downloadable information sheetsinclude Turkish, Arabic and Russian.
  • The U.K.’s government website is in English only. Downloadable guidelines for self-isolation can be found in Welsh, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Gujarati, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu.
  • Japan’s Ministry of Health has website content in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. Local governments also provide languages including Tagalog, Vietnamese, Thai and Filipino, depending on the prefecture.
  • China’s government website offers content in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English. Information in some of the main minority languages are aired on national TV, including Mongolian, Standard Tibetan, Kazakh, Korean and Uyghur. Information in Chinese dialects and regional minority languages are provided on a local level through print materials, including Hubei dialect, Jingpo language, Gyalrongic languages and Loloish languages.
  • Australia provides website content in English, while offering translated resources in Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, Farsi, Italian and Korean.
  • New Zealand government provides information in Te reo Māori, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and New Zealand Sign Language.

It’s a great comfort for us to see that so many countries, even those that have only one official language, are incorporating more than one language into their critical information provided to the public. As we move into an era when information is shared without borders, and language services become the essential tool in exchanging ideas, it’s a wonderful sign to see minority and Indigenous languages being valued and being paid respect.

To read more on various topics about COVID-19, please see some of our other blogs:

COVID Stories: Translators: The behind-the-scenes crew of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Ongoing Hardships with Small and Medium-Sized Business enterprises due to COVID-19

The Progression of American Sign Language Throughout COVID-19

Vaccination and Protecting Oral Traditions of Indigenous Languages