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Home » Aimee Ansari: How to Change the World Through Language Whilst Sitting on Your Sofa (Transcript)

Aimee Ansari: How to Change the World Through Language Whilst Sitting on Your Sofa (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Aimee Ansari’s TEDx Talk: How to Change the World Through Language Whilst Sitting on Your Sofa at TEDxYouth@Bath conference. 

Aimee Ansari – Executive Director of Translators without Borders

Just over a year ago, I watched a child die. I was working for a major aid organisation in South Sudan, responding to the humanitarian crisis caused by the civil war.

The child’s mother had walked eight hours crossing front lines known for the brutality and violence against women in order to save her starving child. We accepted the child’s death as the consequence of a cruel and unjust war, but it didn’t have to happen that way.

That mother had information on nutrition and how to feed her children. But it didn’t help save her baby girl. In part, it didn’t help save her child because she couldn’t understand the information. The information was in Arabic. And while she speaks Arabic, she really only understands Nuer, and she’s illiterate.

The organization I work for, Translators Without Borders, has done some research on language comprehension. One of the things we found is that when you get information in a language you speak, you really only understand about 16 percent of it. So look at the person sitting next to you.

Pretend that person is bleeding, perhaps profusely. And I give you this information. It’s 16 percent in English. Is this information going to help you to stop the bleeding? Now, if that’s a loved one, is this the information you want to help save their lives?

Clearly, getting the right information in the right language matters if we want to help save lives and get people the information they need. I think there are three critical issues that have to be addressed in order for people to get the information they need and want in their language.

First, critical life-saving information has to be communicated effectively in local language. Second, people need access to information. And third, with that access to information, they have to be able to understand it.

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