Tower of Babel by John Skinner

A Tower of Babel By John Skinner

A couple of hours ago I received an email from my good friend and our Co-Founder Bill Storie wishing me well on my travels to Europe over the next few weeks. It reminded me of just how long it has been since my last article. To you, the Olderhood members and Bill Storie I apologise but all I can offer by way of explanation is the pressures of life. Don’t believe that retirement is a quiet life!!!! Professional training, charity work and being involved in a number of organisations and grandchildren have stopped me becoming bored

An example is what happened is that ten days ago a fishing vessel caught fire and sank some 900 miles south east of Bermuda. 19 crew had to abandoned ship. Two of the Indonesian crew were seriously burned and the Chinese Captain had burnt hands. They all spent several hours in the sea before being rescued by a passing ship. The US Air Force parachuted medics onto the rescue ship, but unfortunately one crew member died.

You can read a more detailed explanation at

The crew were later landed in Bermuda and were housed at the Bermuda Sailors Home, which is part of the Mission to Seafarers. I am a member of the Home and became involved in looking after the sailors whilst they waited for new travel documents. They had lost everything and needed these documents before they could return home to their friends and family.

As a Peer Counsellor with a local Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team, I was asked to help assess the sailors and provide whatever psychological help that I felt was needed. This was easier said than done because of the language difficulty. One of the main principles of CISM is confidentiality. The fact that the main interpreter was provided by the shipping company was a potential obstacle.

One evening I received an email from a volunteer at the Home extolling the virtues of Google Translate ( Its advertising says “Google‘s free service instantly translates words, phrases, and web pages between English and over 100 other languages.”

My friend said that this program was great for asking relatively simple questions and exchanging information. It can be used on a PC, a MAC or a Smartphone. We circulated the information to the other volunteers.

Later I decided to try something. I scanned a CISM Guide which was in English. It contained advice for people suffering from stress following traumatic incidents, such as what to expect after the trauma, how to mitigate the symptoms and advice for family and friends on how to support their loved one.

I converted the scanned document in a Microsoft Word document. As translations sometimes result in the change of the first letter of words that may be converted to initials, I gave full text to all the abbreviations.

I copied a sentence from the Word Document and pasted it into the English side of Google Translate. I set the translate language to Indonesian and lo and behold the sentence was translated. I then copied the translation into new Word document. After a while the full CISM Guide was written in the Indonesian language.

The next step was to repeat the process in Chinese. This was very interesting as the program produced the Guide in Chinese hieroglyphics.

The interpreter was impressed with the Indonesian translation of the Guide. The Captain seemed pleased with the Chinese version.

Our guests flew home last night, each one with a guide in their own language to help them over the next few weeks.

The Bermuda Sailors Home have several Guides and advice in English for stranded seamen. Now we are able to arrange that when a sailor arrives at the Bermuda Sailors Home, by using Google Translate, we can provide Guides and advice in the sailors own language.

By John Skinner

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