The World Bank’s Language Policy

I never cease to discover new facts about the world that stun me to silence. Rebecca Harris at Foreign Policy recently published an article addressing problems that community groups in Yemen are having in receiving a translated version of the World Bank‘s conditions on a grant they were given. When confronted, the official response from the Bank was:

“like all other project documents — [the loan conditions are] available only in English, since this is the official language to be used in all the transactions and contracts between the Government of the Republic of Yemen and the World Bank.”

The letter specifically cites the Government of Yemen, but the idea that an English-only means of communication could exist in one country whose mother tongue is not English implies that it could exist in any, if not all, countries. The recipients are then placed with the burden (in terms of time and energy as well as financial) to accurately translate the documents for comprehension in the local region.

All of that defeats a simple purpose: these groups went to the World Bank to request funding for impoverished areas in dire need of assistance. The money received will be the difference between life and death for human beings…and some of the funds available to he group now must be divested to translation when the World Bank itself will not take the time to provide a translation. This cost-heavy aspect of the project leads easily into the idea of the recipient group simply skipping the process of translation and thereby not understanding the conditions or details of the deal in full. I find it astounding that such a large hurdle is presented in the middle of a path to assistance and I commend Ms. Harris for doing her part in bringing our attention to it.