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Medical Translators in Kenya

Translators without Borders is an American nonprofit group. It provides language services to nongovernmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders. The group recently trained some new translators in Nairobi in how to translate health information into local languages for Kenyans. For health translators, finding the rights words is not only about language. It is also about culture.

Muthoni Gichohi is a manager for Family Health Options Kenya, the group that organized the training. She says she has no problem expressing the names of body parts in English. But, as a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group, she says there are some words in her first language that could cause problems if she says them in public. So, she finds a way to deliver the same message with different words.

Trainer Paul Warambo says the same issue arises with one of Kenya's national languages, Swahili. He says, in Swahili, people use euphemisms to describe some words. A euphemism is a harmless word, name or phrase that replaces another word that may be offensive.

In Swahili, this is helpful to describe suggestive words, or words relating to sex. The culture of a community will largely decide how words and expressions are translated into socially acceptable language.Whether or not a community will accept or even listen to a message is especially important in health care.

Lori Thicke co-founded Translators Without Borders in 1993. She says a lot of development organizations have often overlooked the importance of language in changing health behavior.She says, people do not think of translation, but it is critical for people to get information about medication or how to find supplies in a crisis situation.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 24Oct2012)