West Michigan is home to at least 10 different languages other than English commonly spoken here, which can be a problem when sharing information about COVID-19.
Holly Rea, language services manager for the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, said the language barrier can lead to a delay in information reaching communities where English is not the primary language spoken.
“In this area, people are at least starting to realize we need to get things translated in Spanish,” Rea said.
Rea said the Hispanic Center recently received a request from Allegan County regarding a family unable to speak English. One of the family members showed symptoms of COVID-19 and needed to be tested, but county officials had a rough time communicating this necessity to the other family members.
“I would say this adds two to three more days (of response time) when the message could otherwise have been communicated,” Rea said.
“Lack of multi-language translation and interpretation of information further exacerbates the public health pandemic we are facing,” said Adnoris ‘Bo’ Torres, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.
The Grand Rapids Community Foundation recently partnered with the Hispanic Center to support multilingual translation and interpretation services with a $25,000 grant.
“We encourage the use of this resource during this emergency, and also hope that organizations providing critical information regarding the support and wellbeing of all members of our community consider this approach in their communications moving forward,” said Diana Sieger, president of Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
The grant funding will help ensure all members of the community have access to resources and critical information about minimizing the spread of COVID-19, Rea said.
“Because of our partnership with the Community Foundation, our Language Services Department is working around the clock and can ensure every person in our community has accurate, timely information in their language,” Torres said.
Besides helping fund written translations, the grant money also will help dub videos like updates from the city of Grand Rapids.
Rea said the Hispanic Center lately has had a 24-hour or sooner turnaround period from receiving information and having it translated for the public. At this time, there is no cost barrier for organizations to access the language services at the center, she said.
The Hispanic Center’s language services unit contracts with translators as needed. The department currently has about eight Spanish interpreters.
Rea estimated there are at least 10 different languages spoken regularly in West Michigan, with Spanish being the most prominent. The region also is home to people who speak Vietnamese, Swahili, Cantonese, Mandarin, Arabic, Bosnian and more.