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What price human life?

What price human life?

Semantix is in Skellefteå, among all the drum drills, bore crowns and miners at Euro Mine Expo, where international companies operating within the mining industry come together to share their knowledge. Many of those attending Euro Mine Expo also carry out translation themselves within their own companies. So I have a few questions for those who do so. Do you have time? Is it what you were employed to do? Are the translations accurate? Do you know about your company’s unique terms? Do you know what a drum drill is called in other languages? Personally, I wouldn’t have a clue.

Published 10/6/2016

At the trade fair, I met the CEO of a large ventilation company who has worked in the industry for 36 years. He is now 62 years old, is probably financially independent and has no plans to retire. He has a private jet and a large house in South Africa. He has travelled the world in his plane.

“No, I refuse to retire,” he says. “I don’t intend to just switch off my brain and die. I’ll keep working as long as I live.”

The Chairman, as he is known, has been down into the world’s largest mine, roughly 4.5 kilometres beneath the surface of the earth. It’s in South Africa, northwest of Johannesburg. He works with ventilation systems, which allow miners to work in the poor quality air.

Would you risk lives with linguistic errors?

He tells me about geothermal heat. Temperatures are incredibly high underground, and without a proper ventilation system there is a risk that people will die. The system moves air around. Smoke and grime gather in a mine and heat up. It’s like jumping into a bath that’s too hot – you can’t do it. It needs to be cooled down. So when workers detonate, scrape away and work in the mine, the ventilation helps to keep the air clean and at the right temperature.

“If the machine breaks down, everyone has to leave the mine immediately.”

The question that springs immediately to mind is how to get people up from 4.5 kilometres underground in the quickest possible way – but that’s another story, and is entirely unrelated to this blog post. He continues:

“All the mine workers therefore need to be prepared. When we sell a system to a company in the mining industry, everyone has to be trained. They have to know what to do if something goes wrong. We usually do this in English, but we also translate.”

Exactly – English alone is not enough!

The Chairman keeps close control. When they train staff, they don’t only translate into English. What would happen if not everyone spoke good English? Well, a few vital details could get lost and the machine could suddenly stop working – 4,500 metres underground. That’s half the height of Mount Everest. Wow! There’s no room for complacency. And that’s my point – contrary to popular belief, translating only into English isn’t enough. So the Chairman translates into the languages that everyone involved speaks. This ensures that everyone fully understands the instructions and can keep up with the training provided for the system.

Do you work globally?

I’ve learnt today about working as an underground engineer, looking for gold. You measure, you send materials for analysis and you blast several tonnes every day. What a great job! We are the only language company at the trade fair. And yet we have a great deal of value to offer the mining industry. You’re probably wondering why. Well, believe it or not, language management is needed everywhere. The more global we become, the more important language is. And the more complex the tools you work with, the more detailed the instructions need to be. In the right language. What language does your target group speak? Your customers? Your employees? Is your communication effective? Are you able to get your message across?

Meanwhile, we’re still talking about translating internally. The fact that companies give their translation assignments to an auditor at the company, or perhaps to a mine worker who specialises in blasting. Is that really the right way to do it? Do you have time? Do you have a full overview of the language? Or do you cheat? Do you produce a mediocre translation, with a few wild guesses? Are you simply trying to get the message across? In which case, my question is this: Is that really OK?

I say stop!

Once upon a time, I never really understood why there was a need for translation agencies. After all, can’t you use Google or colleagues to deal with these things? But after having worked at Semantix for a while, I understand their true value! Of course my customers will trust me if I communicate in their language – in the right way! And I wouldn’t sacrifice the life of my colleague in the marketing department just to save money. Of course I’d translate essential instructions into her language. Of course I’d use a translator who really knows the language and the industry. My point is that there are many different terms used in the mining industry that can be particularly tricky and need a translator with industry expertise. Not that you should translate for the sake of translating – you should do it properly. Otherwise, you risk losing confidence and even lives. And English alone is not enough. Which leads me to wonder: What price human life?

What is actually translated within the mining industry?

You might well wonder. Why are we at Euro Mine Expo? I didn’t think we would actually contribute much, but how wrong I was. These large and small international mining companies have a real need for language services when communicating with both their customers and their employees. Everything from technical manuals and catalogues to marketing mailings. Many people work at large international companies that have established a presence around the world. Translators are needed in order for them to communicate effectively, both internally and externally. And that’s where we come in. Semantix actually helps people to understand each other. And communication is absolutely essential when ensuring that your business runs effectively.

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