| by Minting Lu

News Stories

Zhang, Meng
 Meng Zhang MAT ’22 served as the student Commencement speaker in May 2022.

“If you talk to a man in the language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

This Nelson Mandela quote is a favorite of Meng Zhang, an alum of the Middlebury Institute’s translation master’s program.

“It encapsulates the essence of the impact language has on connecting people on a deeper level,” said Zhang.

As a student, Zhang took Professor Adam Wooten’s social localization and translation crowdsourcing class. For her final project, she teamed up with classmate Helen Bartlett to help assist older adults in overcoming language barriers. Translators for Elders (TFE), a crowdsourcing initiative, is now its own 501(c)(3) organization run by current students in the Translation and Localization Management program. We talked to Zhang about TFE.

Can you tell us a bit about who you are and how Translators for Elders came to be?

We started TFE while in a class at the Middlebury Institute to assist the elderly in our communities facing language barriers. I first had the idea during my tenure as the board president at the Asian American Senior Association of Pennsylvania. While in this position, I noticed that many senior members had daily language needs. Simple tasks like making appointments with their doctors or understanding correspondence became challenging due to language barriers.

Translators for Elders logo
Translators for Elders logo.

What drew you to the field of translation?

I have always loved language. I enjoy reading literature in my native Chinese and exploring books in other languages. My studies at the Institute helped me to realize the critical role of translation. A single piece of literature can be translated differently by various translators, resulting in different versions. Translation acts as a bridge, facilitating understanding and communication between people.

Throughout my professional life, I’ve integrated interpretation into my consulting work. Both interpretation and translation are vital in helping people in the world comprehend each other better and fostering cross-cultural understanding. 

Yao, Jizong
Jizong Yao MATI  ’23 during her winter internship in Philadelphia.

What’s next for Translators for Elders?

In early 2023, TFE organized a six-week winter internship program in Philadelphia, led by intern Jizong Yao MATI ’23. The initiative aimed to address language barriers faced by the elderly Chinese community at 99 Adult Day Care Center. Jizong Yao provided translation and interpretation services to help this community overcome challenges related to cultural differences, digital gaps, and physical and mental health conditions. The internship showcased the organization’s commitment to improving the well-being of elderly immigrants in the U.S.

However, the needs of those that TFE helps aren’t exclusive to Chinese senior communities; similar challenges exist among speakers of other languages, such as Vietnamese or Korean. Philadelphia is a diverse sanctuary city that welcomes refugees with language needs from all over the world, including those from war-torn countries such as Ukraine and Russia. We hope to expand our language services to accommodate these diverse linguistic needs.