How to Translate Vaccines in Other Languages

A guide to cross-cultural marketing

Translations have emerged on centre stage during the Covid pandemic and vaccine rollout. It’s not very often we translators make headlines or get noticed at all.

We heard some shocking stories during the various lockdowns in 2020. Governments got slammed for their use of google translate to get urgent, changing information out to dozens of different language groups (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse – CALD communities) and did nothing but confuse and alarm many non-English speakers.

Ever ready to fill the gap were the informal channels that people who don’t follow mainstream media or don’t speak English turn to.

The power of WeChat

WeChat is one such example. Information travels like wildfire on this Chinese Language platform. During 2020, the mis-information and fake news was so bad that we turned our own social media platform ChinSight to the problem and provided translations of official media releases, press conferences and ministerial statements. The information was read hugely and, we hope, in some small way, contributed to the combatting of Covid-19.

WeChat and other channels are growing in influence and a crisis like Covid can provide great ideas for marketing to these non-English speakers who constitute significant buying power. A recent survey by The Lowy Institute determined that 84% of Chinese in Australia get their news and info from WeChat (in Chinese). During Covid, this intensity has only increased with people staying at home and buying online.

Vaccines in Translation

Déjà vu 2021 and the topic is now vaccines (reassuringly). But the same problem is back: translation problems, for example difficulties interpreting ‘government speak’ and the plethora of so-called “experts” out there being quoted (and mistranslated). Chinese Whispers eat your heart out!

One of the pieces of mis-information now on WeChat is that the vaccine can manipulate your DNA; another that you have to pay for it. Who do you trust when you can’t access all of the expert information.  We all know the power of FaceBook in spreading conspiracy theories and there are many channels other than FaceBook and WeChat.

If you are an English speaker it is hard to imagine how frightening it can be when you are not hearing current information, or worse the information you do receive is incorrect, and not to mention being locked up without any information at all.

The Department of Health is translating some vaccine information in around 60 languages, but we have around 200 languages spoken in Australia. This gap plus the delay in translations being available can make CALD communities think they are not important and see them turn to alternative sources of information.

It’s not just about translation, it is using the right channels and presenting the information in a culturally appropriate way.  Even many native English speakers are confused about the volume of information and technical talk.

However, the government is certainly trying with multilingual resources being rolled out including radio, print, video, web, social media and through newsletters and community organisations.

Observing the vaccine campaign will reveal many other channels to capture CALD communities. For example, if you want to reach many of the 1.2 million Chinese residents in Australia, the evidence is clear: you need to be on WeChat.

Tips to avoid getting ‘Lost in Translation’

Develop glossaries in the required languages

Train staff who speak other languages

Research how and where the communities wish to receive their information

Write the information in plain English

Utilise qualified, native speaker translators equipped with glossaries to translate and ensure culturally appropriate information is produced

For more information about language translations or WeChat marketing:


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