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One year later: The pandemic’s impact on language professionals and the language industry

By Meaghan Girard, Certified Translator

This theme was pitched to the Circuit Magazine editorial board back in May 2020, with a proposed publication date of spring 2021, in order to create an issue that took stock of the pandemic’s impact on language professionals and the language industry approximately one year after the designation of the COVID-19 pandemic—and perhaps even inject some optimism as we forged ahead. However, while we all knew that the pandemic would represent a sort of watershed moment for our society, few could have predicted the extent to which multiple lockdowns, unprecedented public health measures, widespread uncertainty, and new levels of local and international discord and collaboration could alter the fabric of our ways of life. Accelerated digital transformations paved the way for rapid vaccine development, but created new societal challenges such as larger digital footprints1 and perhaps a wider digital divide.2 The overnight transition to remote work and education improved accessibility and quality of life for some, but ushered in mental health crises for others. The rapid adoption of virtual communication platforms resulted in a world without borders… as well as a new type of psychological exhaustion known as “Zoom fatigue.”3

So, while it is not yet possible to make any pronouncements on “the new normal,” this remains a poignant milestone as well as an opportune time to shed light on the roles and experiences of language professionals and the language industry throughout all of this. 

The six articles that comprise this issue do exactly that. Maryse M. Benhoff starts us off by providing a macro perspective on the pandemic’s impact on the industry, touching on the changing roles of language service providers and evolving trends as well as one key element of constancy—namely, the importance of accurate information and high calibre language professionals.

Given how the “work-from-home” phenomenon has impacted so many, two articles in this issue address this topic. First, Josée Champagne and Carole Maillette share their interviews with two experienced linguistic services managers who not only had to learn to manage their employees remotely, but moreover joined new teams mid-pandemic! Judy Murphy, also a linguistic services manager, shares her reflections on building connections and relationships with her team at a time when people—her included—feel so vulnerable. 

No issue on the pandemic would be complete without mentioning health care and education. Marc Pomerleau touches on the critical nature of translation and its impact on accessibility in health care, and how we must go beyond official unilingualism and bilingualism to better protect the public, especially in times of crisis. Meaghan Girard brings us into the classroom with translation students to discuss the highs and lows of remote learning and teaching.

Finally, Achille Yaya reports on the pandemic’s impact on interpretation, which brought the entire sector “to its knees” at first.  Writing from Benin, he highlights the additional challenges this created for the African market as well as the new opportunities presented by virtual communication platforms, including the opportunity to come together with language professionals from all over the world for networking events such as OTTIAQ’s Mentorat Express. 

One thing is certain: If we are to have any say in shaping “the new normal,” we must think critically about the things we want to keep… and the things we don’t. The contributors to this issue propose certain fundamental values. Indeed, despite reflecting and reporting on markedly different issues and experiences, the importance of relationships, communication, access to information and human connection shine through in every article. 

Other sections of this issue provide additional material related to the pandemic. La esféra hispánica looks at the vocabulary born from the new circumstances, and Entretiens presents an interview with OTTIAQ’s Diane Cousineau on the need to accelerate changes in order to face the pandemic challenge. And since conspiracy theories seem to go hand in hand with any type of crisis, Des mots takes a look at some words and expressions frequently used in conspiracy-seekers circles.

In closing, and while waiting for this storm to pass, Circuit wishes you all happy reading. 

And stay safe. 

And you are probably on mute. 

  1. Paul M. Leonardi. 2021. “COVID-19 and the New Technologies of Organizing: Digital Exhaust, Digital Footprints, and Artificial Intelligence in the Wake of Remote Work.” Journal of Management Studies 58(1).
  2. Gerard George, Karim R. Lakhani and Phanish Puranam. 2020. “What Has Changed? The Impact of Covid Pandemic on the Technology and Innovation Management Research Agenda.” Journal of Management Studies 57(8).

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