UMass Amherst Spanish Class Translates Massachusetts COVID-19 Info

Students make information on quarantining and self-isolation more accessible
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AMHERST, Mass. – A UMass Amherst class that has students work on translating important community health information from English to Spanish has stepped up to take on helping the Commonwealth of Massachusetts translate important information on COVID-19.

The Spanish Translation for Community Health Services class taught by Luis Marentes, associate professor for languages, literature and cultures, had been focusing on translating applications and documents for the Providence Ministries’ Food Works program based in Holyoke. During spring break, Marentes was contacted by Jocelyn Langer, a UMass Amherst comparative literature alumna who works for the Pioneer Valley Worker Center (PVWC), asking for volunteers for collective translation projects. Langer visited one of the class’s first post-break online sessions to brainstorm how the class could be deployed to help translate important information during the COVID-19 pandemic. Langer and the PVWC had recently translated the state’s unemployment insurance website into Spanish and Portuguese.

Working with Langer and the PVWC, the class immediately started translating state information regarding quarantining and self-isolating. Even though the class meets twice a week, students jumped in and started translating documents immediately and completed the project within 48 hours.

Marentes credited the success of the project so far to the university’s Civic Engagement and Service Learning program (CESL) and its many years of developing the networks and pedagogies. Currently, the PVWC acts as the clearinghouse in the region for translation projects, and the class continues reaching out to other community partners to offer to translate materials.

“At first we were impressed by their almost instinctive performance, but the more we thought about it, the more we realized their performance was the result of years of developing civically engaged curriculum with CESL,” Marentes said.

As materials come in, students work on it in groups and submit their final version to Marentes to edit. Marentes’ class and a small network of student volunteers are also working to translate information into Portuguese, Haitian and Creole.

Marentes’ class focuses on translating from English into Spanish documents for a regional community health services provider while also studying the challenges and responsibilities of working as civically engaged volunteers in an urban community health services setting. The class gives students an opportunity to develop a health-specific vocabulary and reflect upon the challenges of translation as it considers a range of linguistic issues, including choice of dialect, tone and vocabulary.

Students contribute to a blog that reflects their experiences with the project and share important information about the work. The class also maintains a Facebook page with over 600 followers.