September 20, 2021

MS in Translation & Interpreting Student Leverages Language Skills to Provide Critical Translation Services to Afghans During This Time of Crisis and Beyond

For Adam Richardson, a student in the MS in Translation & Interpreting (MSTI) within the NYU SPS Center for Applied Liberal Arts (CALA), the current political upheaval in Afghanistan, while incredibly unfortunate, has given him the opportunity to utilize his talent for languages in providing critical communications to the Afghan people in their native dialects. A former language analyst with the US Navy, he learned the languages of West and Central Asia, including Farsi and Dari, during his 15 years of military service in the US, Europe, and Afghanistan.

“I fell in love with the culture and the people of Afghanistan when I was deployed there in 2010,” Richardson said. Noting his deep concern and sense of helplessness when the current crisis began, he hoped to find a way to be of service. When a colleague reached out seeking help in translating documents from English into Dari and Pashto, Richardson gladly agreed to contribute to the effort, convening a team of approximately 35 volunteer translators. They tackled the urgent task of providing unofficial translations of documents and communications related to the unfolding crisis.

Within a matter of hours of the Taliban takeover, Richardson’s team translated a variety of communications, including instructions to Afghans in the country on traveling to the Kabul International Airport for evacuation, navigating checkpoints, and moving without detection by the Taliban, among other critical information. Based upon this experience and the vital help it provided, he senses that rapidly deployable groups of translators can, and should, be formed and empowered to respond during humanitarian crises such as the one in Afghanistan.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Richardson found languages fascinating from an early age. He studied Latin in high school and after graduating, joined the US Navy. It was during his military career that he earned an AA in Persian Language and Culture from the Defense Language Institute; and an AA in Arabic General Studies and a BS in Political Science, from the University of Maryland University College. He was then able to put his language skills to work, translating numerous types of materials in support of US military operations around the globe.

After retiring from the Navy in 2020, he briefly worked at the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore as a case management intern, where most of his clients were Afghans. “It was an incredible joy to have such a direct impact on the lives of people who had been through so much pain and hardship,” Richardson recalled. “I think the totality of these experiences solidified my belief in the importance of translation as a tool to help others.”

During the pandemic, he was accepted into the MS in Translation & Interpreting at NYU SPS, which has provided him with additional skills and a robust support network. “It has been a great experience—one that has helped me to transition to the civilian workforce and to use my translation experience in new ways,” he asserted. “My professors are both mentors and peers, who treat students as their equals and provide the instruction and support needed to advance in the field.”

What is most striking about Richardson is his insatiable quest for knowledge and his drive to succeed professionally, while helping others. The father of four children—ages 3 to 13—Richardson is involved in a number of projects, including owning his own translation business, Babel Language Services; interning at the Farsi Translation Center, translating documents that are central to a person’s life; and working with the PARS Equality Center, which helps members of the Iranian-American and other immigrant communities to realize their full potential as informed, self-reliant, and responsible members of American society. He also is participating in a year-long program for the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators, researching police interpretation methods and qualifications. In addition, he was selected to participate in the Society for the Study of Translation & Interpreting’s Research Collaborative. His long-term plans include earning a doctorate so that he can help to train the next generation of linguists. He is currently learning Hindi and also has a basic knowledge of Spanish, Baluchi, and Tajiki.

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