Language as a weapon

A whistleblower tells ABC News (US) that many interpreters hired to work for the US army in Afghanistan cannot speak the local language very well. Story here. This is probably no huge surprise, and definitely not a surprise to the armed forces personnel who are trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people.

What is additionally distressing is that, according to Paul Funk, the whistleblower, language proficiency tests were falsified by Mission Essential Personnel in order to get more contractors working, earning MEP the accompanying fees. Doing this with one interpreter — when you consider the possible consequences — is heinous. But, according to the report, 25% of the interpreters did not pass their test.

Marc Peltier, MEP’s COO, said that an internal company survey that showed 82 percent of its customers were satisfied with the performance of its translators. When I was in school, 82% was a solid “C” grade. Now, I am sure there are some excellent interpreters in place. But to have an overall satisfaction rate of 82%, that means there are some interpreters endangering US and Afghan people (even more than they are already), with consequences I shudder to think about.

According to ABC, some Afghan veterans have rated the value of a skilled interpreter as equal to that of a working weapon or sturdy body armor.

This is not news to us in the language industry. But evidently that importance has not been brought home to the contractors or the agencies that hire them.

Donna Parrish
Publisher of MultiLingual, Donna Parrish is also co-organizer of the LocWorld conferences. Coming into the language industry from a background of mathematics and computer programming, she has an appreciation for the wizardry of language technology and an awe for linguists.

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