Removing Language Barriers – A Little “Byte” at a Time

by: Hongyan (Jack) Xu, Marketing Manager

As the COVID-19 pandemic began developing in Canada, MCIS Language Solutions recognized the ramifications early on and began to act. On March 6, 2020, we made a decision to cancel our much-anticipated 30th Anniversary Gala. This was a full week before the provincial government announced it would close Ontario’s schools, which set in motion a domino effect leading to a full-scale quarantine in Ontario. Taking this early action allowed MCIS to focus on preparing the organization, as well as its people – our staff members, customers or Service Providers (SPs), students in training, the thousands of freelancers under our wing, and, indirectly, the thousands more limited English speakers we help serve through our service offerings – for the social and economic disruptions that would accompany the quarantine measures across Canada.

Remote Interpretation Services

Prior to the quarantine measures, as a social enterprise, MCIS routinely completed hundreds of face-to-face (F2F) interpretation appointments daily serving some of the most vulnerable populations across Canada such as those experiencing violence, abuse, inequality and marginalization, but who are unable to access services and assistance available due to language barriers. With the acknowledgement that we must do our part to #FlattenTheCurve, and that we would be unable to conduct the majority of these F2F appointments, MCIS temporarily suspended all F2F interpretation services (the latest update is until June 30) and began to actively reach out to our SPs, to convert these in-person appointments to remote video or telephone appointments.

To ramp up telephone capacity, MCIS tripled its previous number of virtual conference call rooms in our telephone system. For video capabilities, we invested in Zoom for Business, the widely popular video conferencing platform, which also has built-in simultaneous interpretation functions. While Zoom fell to the world’s scrutiny and criticism on its privacy concerns, MCIS had requested a special, HIPAA-compliant version of the Zoom environment for our use from the outset, drastically reducing data privacy risks in our environment. Nonetheless, we closely monitored Zoom’s responses to the world, and we are confident that our Zoom environment is secure to use for our SPs.

At the same time, we recognized that the nature of conversations conducted by our SPs would change drastically during the quarantine. The complete shift away from F2F appointments by organizations across Canada would mean that most SPs would adopt a video platform of their choice, to carry on conversations and virtual appointments with their English-speaking clients. Therefore, in an effort to prepare our professional interpreters for the influx of and conversion to video interpretation appointments, our Training Department did not limit our enhanced training to just Zoom, or any one platform. Rather, we focused on the popular platforms of today and adopted on a platform-agnostic training concept. This has allowed us to quickly ramp up capacity in providing video interpreting services across the full range of languages for which we have professional interpreters. Now, our Training Department is further developing webinars, and eventually a full course offering on the provision of remote interpreting services.

On our online interpretation request form, we made it simple to request scheduled video interpretation services, allowing SPs to add a meeting invitation link as part of the request, or choose the option to have MCIS arrange the video conference with one of our Zoom accounts.

Translation Services

On the translation front, MCIS saw a huge influx of requests for translation of information and resources related to COVID-19. In order to help our translation SPs save on costs and resources, we began to catalogue these translated documents, and made an effort to make them available to our SPs when they request translations of similar information. The department is coordinating the translation of our COVID-19 multilingual resource pages into as many languages as possible.

Transitioning to Working from Home

Early in March, our IT Department began working to upgrade our internet services to a dedicated gigabit connection delivered over fibre optics, and began to explore shifting to cloud-based services. Our major operations departments – Interpretation, Translation and Training – already had their department software hosted in the cloud (full stack solutions hosted in Canada, all HIPAA-compliant and encrypted, of course!). We were able to quickly upgrade our Internet connection, which significantly boosted our capabilities to mass-connect to the MCIS office network via VPN. We also upgraded our business phone system from an intranet environment to a cloud-based system, freeing up our telephone lines for our SPs to use for scheduled and immediate telephone interpreting services. All these initiatives were completed in a matter of days, and the entire office was in a perfect position to work from home by the middle of March.

See blog post here about MCIS staff working from home.

To keep staff morale high, our HR Department is actively sending our staff activities such as the #WeAreInThisTogether campaign, Work from Home bingo, crossword puzzles, scavenger hunts, and wellness tips, some with incentives. We are also gathering some of the activity results and creating blogs and social media posts. To follow us on social media, use these links:

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram

COVID-19 Response Page

For our SPs and language professionals, MCIS has a dedicated COVID-19 response page, to keep everyone informed on how we are responding to the evolving situation. There are dedicated sub-pages for both SPs and language professionals, along with an FAQ section for each to address recurring questions. MCIS updates these pages regularly as we respond to ongoing policy updates at both provincial and federal levels of government.


In addition, we are sending routine newsletters to keep everyone updated on MCIS’ policy decisions and measures. Recently, we informed everyone that MCIS is suspending all face-to-face services until June 30. Please visit this link to subscribe to our public and training newsletters.

Social Impact Initiatives

Free/subsidized Interpretation and Translation Services

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting lives across Canada and around the world. It is now more important than ever that non-English speaking communities have access to critical information about COVID-19 so they can keep themselves safe and healthy, so that everyone can work together to beat this pandemic. At MCIS, we do not want cost to be a barrier preventing people from having access to critical information in their language.

For this reason, we have created a fund to assist organizations that are working hard to support these communities. We are offering a free interpretation phone line for COVID-19 related conversations and making it available to eligible SPs and partners. In addition,  we are offering free and subsidized translation services for COVID-19 related materials. If you need either of these services and cannot afford the regular cost, please click to access the application forms for free interpretation or free/subsidized translation.

Multilingual Resources in Dozens of Languages

Finally, for our limited-English speaking beneficiaries, MCIS has been curating a list of reliable and credible multilingual COVID-19 resources, most with Canadian relevance, which are also available at our COVID-19 response page. The resources are mostly related to government policies, information and public health recommendations. These multilingual pages are sorted by language, which is different from what many similar websites are doing, and all the resources relevant to one language can be browsed together. At the outset, we put these pages together to make the information available to the public as soon as possible. Now, we are engaging staff and translators to translate these webpages, so they appear in their native languages when browsed. Currently, there are resources posted in 50 languages, and this list continues to grow. In addition to written content, we are also in the process of producing multilingual video content for the language-specific pages. Please have a look at these multilingual resources, and share them with anyone who may find them useful.

Over a short span of time, MCIS Language Solutions has swiftly converted to a virtual company, with adapted policies, processes, and development plans. We remain committed to removing language barriers, using a flexible range of platforms and solutions. We are also committed to developing resources to keep our multilingual beneficiaries informed on COVID-19 developments.

During this exceptional time, MCIS continues to remove language barriers virtually, a little “byte” at a time.