International Translation Day: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

In a previous post, we addressed translation as a profession to give readers a better understanding of the processes involved in the act of translation – it’s worth a read but, in summary, there’s more to it than first meets the eye. That was about process. So, what about purpose? There’s more to understand about the need for translation than is perhaps obvious, too. Which is precisely why the UN celebrates International Translation Day on 30th September every year.

Why celebrate an “International Day”?

The UN sees international days as a way of raising awareness and generating active support for various causes around the world. In its own words, an international day is “a powerful advocacy tool”.

There are plenty of international days that are just a bit of fun (World Cake Decorating Day anyone?), too, and as long as we are able to separate the serious from the playful, they should absolutely coexist. But with the UN’s support, I’m sure you’ve guessed that this is one of the more important international days. Let’s take a look at why translation is so valuable.

Cross-border projects

Without the ability to conduct the above, it’s difficult to deny that many entities would struggle to function. The UN is one large (and rather general) example of that, but professionals in many fields work daily on projects of international importance. These range from the negotiations and contracts entered into by huge multinationals to agreements on biodiversity and major scientific discoveries. Governments and international organisations are the structures we have in place to handle these issues, with language and translation being crucial to ensuring all sides have equal opportunity for input, and in promoting collaboration and the pooling of resources.

Translation saves lives

“Knowledge saves lives” goes the old adage, and you cannot spread knowledge unless you can break down barriers – language barriers, that is. Translators Without Borders (TWB) is non-profit organization that steps in wherever translations services are needed but not always readily unavailable. Translating or interpreting over ten million words per year, the aim is to provide linguistic solutions in unexpected emergencies – such as earthquakes or epidemics – as well as in ongoing conflict or crises. Its vast body of volunteers allow messages to be transmitted and received, saving lives in the process.

Generating business

This point is subtly different from the entering into negotiations and contracts we saw above. Businesses of all sizes are targeting audiences further and further afield, which is impossible unless you speak their language! In its most basic sense, that means having a multilingual website - and to do that you need translation. When businesses flourish, the economy flourishes with it and, therefore, so do we as induviduals.

Why 30th September?

This day has traditionally been “the feast of St. Jerome”, a saint whose is famed for having carried out one of the earliest Latin translations for a large part of the Bible. His so-called “Vulgate” became a widely used version of the text, hence the significance of this date.

How do we celebrate International Translation Day?

Each year, International Translation Day is given a theme. With this year also being the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, it is logical that the theme of 30th September regards indigenous languages. The UN encourages us to use special email signatures and share the posters designed specifically for the day on social media. Many events also pop up to mark the occasion, such as this day event at Free Word in London or The Saltire Society’s celebration in Edinburgh.

Just by reading this article, you have participated in the day’s celebrations and, if it has provoked you to consider the importance of translation in a new light, translation’s very own international day has done its job.