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Tools for language access during COVID-19

Translation services make it easier to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the same language, whether you’re traveling abroad or living in a new country. But in the context of a global pandemic, government and health officials urgently need to deliver vital information to their communities, and every member of the community needs access to information in a language they understand. In the U.S. alone, that means reaching 51 million migrants in at least 350 languages, with information ranging from how to keep people and their families safe, to financial, employment or food resources.

To better understand the challenges in addressing these translation needs, we conducted a research study, and interviewed health and government officials responsible for disseminating critical information. We assessed the current shortcomings in providing this information in the relevant languages, and how translation tools could help mitigate them.

The struggle for language access 

When organizations—from health departments to government agencies—update information on a website, it needs to be quickly accessible in a wide variety of languages. We learned that these organizations are struggling to keep up with the high volume of rapidly-changing content and lack the resources to translate this content into the needed languages. 


Officials, who are already spread thin, can barely keep up with the many updates surrounding COVID-19—from the evolving scientific understanding, to daily policy amendments, to new resources for the public. Nearly all new information is coming in as PDFs several times a day, and many officials report not being able to offer professional translation for all needed languages. This is where machine translation can serve as a useful tool.  

How machine translation can help

Machine translation is an automated way to translate text or speech from one language to another. It can take volumes of data and provide translations into a large number of supported languages. Although not intended to fully replace human translators, it can provide value when immediate translations are needed for a wide variety of languages.

If you're looking to translate content on the web, you have several options.


Use your browser

Many popular browsers offer translation capabilities, which are either built in (e.g. Chrome) or require installing an add-on or extension (e.g. Microsoft Edge or Firefox). To translate web content in Chrome, all you have to do is go to a webpage in another language, then click “Translate” at the top.

Use a website translation widget

If you are a webmaster of a government, non-profit, and/or non-commercial website (e.g. academic institutions), you may be eligible to sign up for the Google Translate Website Translator widget. This tool translates web page content into 100+ different languages. To find out more, please visit the webmasters blog.


Upload PDFs and documents

Google Translate supports translating many different document formats (.doc, .docx, .odf, .pdf, .ppt, .pptx, .ps, .rtf, .txt, .xls, .xlsx). By simply uploading the document, you can get a translated version in the language that you choose.


Millions of people need translations of resources at this time. Google’s researchers, designers and product developers are listening. We are continuously looking for ways to improve our products and come to people’s aid as we navigate the pandemic. 

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