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The global language of care

Professionalism, humanitarianism, and internationalism in translation

Just this week I was WhatsApping with the program's two Social Media Managers, who asked a simple question in preparation for their first posts: what are the values of ProZ Pro Bono?

It's the kind of thing we don't always stop to think about: we live our values, we identify with them, we even breathe them, but it's not always so easy to articulate them...

Photo by Fadi Xd on Unsplash

It's perhaps especially difficult when you're at the farmers' market, with your phone in one hand, and a bag of apples and a juicy mango in the other.

But when duty calls, it calls. I put down the apples and mango and began to write this on my phone. Because that was easier than putting down my phone and trying to write on a mango, I'm sure you'll agree. And you know what, when I thought about them, three things sprang immediately to mind: professionalism, humanitarianism and internationalism.


We often speak of putting the "pro" into "pro bono". Yes, we are volunteers, yes, it comes from the heart, and yes, we're doing it because we care. But the semi-colons still matter. From the way we organise to our respect for deadlines, and from the way we distribute texts to the insistence that every text must be seen by two pairs of eyes: the translator and the reviewer – everything we do is geared towards being (and appearing) professional. The same goes for our website, our logo, and everything about the project's image.

The upshot: you can strive to be sympathetic, sensitive, slick and smart all at the same time.


This concept lies at the very core of volunteer translation. We start from a place of deep-rooted empathy and a motivation to support those in need, especially in crisis or disaster scenarios, but also women suffering domestic violence, children who have been abused, refugees seeking legal or medical assistance. A philosophy that extends beyond humans to care for animals and indeed for the planet itself. It's the stories of the beneficiaries and the organisations set up to help them that keep us motivated. At the end of the day, a 4,000-word text is still a lot of pages on a screen, but when you know it's going to help Afghan women in the USA set up a cooperative, or assist an Algerian fleeing an abusive husband as she settles in France, then those thousands of words take on an entirely different meaning and purpose.


Absolutely everything we do as pro bono translators is shot through with a deep sense of internationalism. The very fact that we've all fallen in love with foreign languages and cultures is a great place to start. But it goes way beyond that. Our own family of translators extends across the entire world as you can see here (although we're disappointingly absent from Greenland), while our Ambassadors, Social Media Managers and Ninjas are a perfect picture of diversity, from Nigeria to China and from Sri Lanka to Ireland, irrespective of age, gender, beliefs, sexuality, or politics.

It's clear every time we come together at our frequent online meetings that intelligence, compassion, enthusiasm, and verve know no borders. Despite our different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, we're all striving towards the same thing: breaking barriers, one translated word at a time. And ultimately beyond that to creating greater understanding and less suffering wherever we can. We have the gift of language, and we're putting it to use across the planet. Hey, who knows, maybe one day we will make it to Greenland.

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This program is a heaven to me. It's brought me out of isolation and into truthful, meaningful communication.

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