Touchstone Story: One Voice, Many Speakers

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Lions around the world share many values and interests, but there’s one thing they don’t have in common: language.

While Lions Clubs International was born in America’s Midwestern heartland, Lions’ ideals of service and community engagement have captured the imagination of people around the globe. Lions are active in more than 200 nations and every time zone.

The expansion represents powerful evidence that the Lions’ fundamental message of service is universal. But it also represents a challenge.

The Lions’ overseas growth moved into its highest gear in the years following World War II, and soon the English language wasn’t enough to serve its members. In the decade after the war, clubs opened in France, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, Pakistan and other countries. By the end of 1950, the LION Magazine was being published in seven languages. By 2015, the LION Magazine appeared in 20 languages.

From Azerbaijan to Vanuatu, Lions speak to the need for service. But in order to keep Lions’ mission from getting lost in translation, Lions go to great lengths to convey one clear voice to its far-flung clubs.

Lions Clubs International maintains a staff of 26 in-house translators and language assistants at its international headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, USA. Every day, the translators convert a mountain of text into LCI’s 11 official languages, including English. “We’re a clearinghouse” for all kinds of Lion international communications, and the task continues to grow, said Beirut-born Silva Melkonian, who speaks four languages and is a manager with the headquarters translation operation.

The volume and variety of foreign-language materials that flow in and out of the headquarters is daunting. Letters, emails and manuals have to be translated from English into Swedish, French, Japanese, Finnish, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Italian and Korean—all the official languages in which LCI conducts business. The documents include financial records, grant requests, annual reports, policy documents, seminar information and board-meeting transcripts.

The translators’ work is challenging, and not a chore that’s easily outsourced. “Lions have their own lexicon,” with specific language and specialized acronyms, said Melkonian.

The work frequently moves beyond simple conversational text. Lions communications often involve complex financial terminology, medical terms and legal language that translators take pains to research to make sure the translation is precise. For example, translators work hard to stay current on the technical language relating to cataract operations and corneal transplants—information that is vital to Lions’ global fight to prevent blindness.

Thanks to Lions’ translators, Lions are staying connected all around the world.

View the full collection of Touchstone Stories on Lions100.org!

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