Chicago Red Jackets

The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that 29 “airport customer service representatives” may lose their jobs as part of the City of Chicago’s effort to reduce its spending.

The problem is that these airport employees are more than just “greeters” or “customer service representatives.” They are also translators for the many visitors from other countries that go through the Chicago O’Hare Airport each year.

The employees are known as “red jackets” because of their eye-catching uniforms, and they have been part of the scenery in Chicago O’Hare Airport for the past four decades. From the article, it appears that each employee speaks at least 3 languages.

Why would the city of Chicago consider throwing away employees with these valuable skills? It all comes down to money. The city is facing a $469 million financial shortfall this year. However, upper level management in the same division as the greeters gets to stay… and they actually get raises.

If you’ve ever travelled abroad in a country where most people don’t speak your language, you know what a wonderful service it is that these greeters provide. When something goes wrong with your travel plans, it’s an incredible relief to be able to find someone who can understand you and who is willing to help.

So, who is going to provide this service now? Stephanie Burzawa, one of the employees quoted in the article, asks:

“How is Chicago going to be there to help travellers, or welcome people to the Olympics here [in 2016], if they are rolling up the welcome mat for people getting off the planes?”

Apparently, Chicago’s Olympic visitors will be warmly greeted by…a phone booth. According to the Tribune article, “the city has placed “translation phones” at five locations at the airports.”

“Translation phones” instead of real people?

Hopefully, the city will reconsider. Even the U.S. Transportation Security Administration chief in the airport is quoted saying that:

“It would be a great loss to the airport . . . to lose this valuable resource.”

Chicago’s Translation Needs Are Evolving

The city of Chicago in the USA has found that as a new influx of refugees settle in the city their translation needs are increasingly difficult to meet especially in a time of financial crisis.

There are growing communities of people from Iran, Burma and Burundi along with a whole host of other nations. New languages have entered the streets of the ‘windy’ city, like Farsi, Karen and Kirundi. The cities services are trying hard to meet their translation needs.

The worry is that without good translation services these people are at risk of being exploited simply because they are unable to communicate effectively in English.

According to the 2000 US census more than 15,000 African language speakers live in Chicago. With all the bureaucracy regarding entering the country the need for languages such as Swahili is gradually increasing and in turn translation costs for the city are increasing.

Approximately 2,600 African refugees arrived in Chicago between 2000 and 2006, this is possibly the largest number of refugees to arrive in Chicago. Since 2006 around 400 Burmese and 330 Iraqi refugees have arrived in the city and the number is always increasing.

Chicago agencies do try to provide interpreting services in whatever language necessary to all. The Chicago Courts have on-site interpreters for languages they use every day, Spanish, Polish and American Sign Language. All other languages are grouped into what they refer to as ‘Exotic’ languages. The most requested languages in this group are Korean, Russian, Croatian and Arabic. The courts are expected to find an interpreter for non-English speakers within 48 hours.

These services are essential an interpreter can have a huge effect on an immigrant’s future in life-altering situations.

As America tries to cope with the recession, translation services are slipping down the list of priorities for the local authorities. They are essential services which can help change lives and even save them. Hopefully America will not ignore their foreign immigrant population and keep providing translation services no matter what the cost.

Chicago Overcome Olympic Translation Problem

Chicago is bidding to host the 2016 Olympics but they have had to change their official slogan from ‘Stir The Soul’ to ‘Let Friendship Shine’ over problems with mistranslation in some countries.

Mistranslation is quite common; context is easily lost especially in countries such as Japan and China.

Chicago Olympic bid officials are hoping the International Olympic Committee will like their new slogan. Chicago hopes to welcome the world in ‘the spirit of friendship’ in 2016.

Many friendships  are formed at the Olympics, athletes living together in the Olympic village often share tips and experiences. The historic friendship of Jesse Owens and Luz Long is an excellent example of a friendship formed at the games.

The Chicago bid aims to continue to tell many more stories of friendships born out of the Olympics movement. The bid will even be celebrating National Friendship Day on 2nd August 09.

The new slogan will be appearing across the city of Chicago very soon and the host city will be announced in October 2009.