A Linguist’s Approach to Fighting a Pandemic

Who would’ve guessed that the aptitude for being a polyglot can be equally effective in the fight against COVID-19? Irene Agnew, linguist and president/CEO of Agnew Multilingual, the translation agency she founded over 30 years ago, has been adept at picking up languages since her multilingual childhood in Harbin, China. And the skills most common in linguists? According to career counseling guides, a knack for identifying patterns, understanding local and global perspectives, and analyzing and interpreting data.

It was these same skills that came into play when, under the current lock down, she began pondering solutions in the fight against coronavirus. She recalled the wildfires that annually plague Southern California, most recently the Woolsey Fire that in 2018 came dangerously close to consuming her home. If aerial drops had been so effective in achieving containment then, why not apply the same approach now? Simply switch out an efficacious, medically approved disinfecting agent in place of fire retardant and attack the enemy from above. Agnew shared her idea with officials at the state and local level but has yet to receive a response.

You can imagine her surprise, then, when news broke last weekend of Spain’s announcement it would be prepping its fleet of military aircraft to pursue spraying in the fight against Coronavirus, just as she had envisioned. Who knew that a linguist by trade could be on to a possible weapon against this disease?

Agnew is gratified to see that her idea may be put to use after all. In the meantime, she continues to look for more options in the fight against this pandemic by identifying patterns of how similar challenges were resolved in the past. And who knows, she just might come up with more actionable ideas, which in any language is pretty remarkable.