Online language equality requires investment in international development translation services. This was made especially clear in the year 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. Those in charge of spreading containment information ran into a serious obstacle. Information, today, is most easily and widely dispersed online. Unfortunately, of the 7,000 languages present on our planet, only about 200 are represented online, meaning less than half of the world’s population has access to the internet.
The Internet and International Development Translation Services
Even in the cases of countries where other media forms may be more prevalent, like television or radio, there is no comparison to the amount of information that can be made available online, since anyone with a recording device, amateur or professional, can publish content in parallel with each other, whereas television and radio are limited by airtime.
Furthermore, television and radio, on their own, do not allow for spectator participation, which is not the case with online content sources, where the norm is for there to be space for interaction with internet users. What this means is that not only do speakers of high-resource languages, like English or Spanish, have access to a considerably larger body of information and content, they also have greater freedom to express their thoughts and reactions. Many global organizations have it as a goal to bridge this online language equality gap between wealthy and low-resource languages. This is a multi-step process requiring the collaboration of several different actors, from corporations to translation services who can provide translation for NGOs as well as interpreting services.
Language Inclusivity Efforts Before COVID-19
Although the COVID-19 outbreak underlined the enormous gap in online language representation, organizations dedicated to international development translation were already very much aware and putting together efforts to address it.
One such effort is Translators Without Borders (TWB)’s language equality initiative, Gamayun. The intent of Gamayun is to increase two-way communication in marginalized languages, so that, on a global level, people are able to access information and share their voice in the languages and formats they understand. Gamayun is a technological endeavor, as its first step is to amass speech and text data for the targeted languages. This makes it possible to automate these languages.
This initiative required cross-industry involvement from software engineers, a contingent of native speakers of the targeted language to provide linguistic samples and government translation services, humanitarian agents, content creators, government grant writers, and donors. From the inception of the project, TWB set a milestone in providing translation for international organizations by bringing ten marginalized languages online.
Changing Online International Development Translation Services
Gamayun was a relatively small project when it started in 2017 and evolved into a much larger effort when the pandemic hit: the Translation Initiative for COVID-19, or TICO-19. Its collaborators consisted of massive names like Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Carnegie Mellon University, Cisco (Apple, surprisingly, is not a part of this list). With TICO-19, the primary goal was changed to focus on getting out information on COVID-19 containment behavior protocols in 36 languages. The networks of translators and funding would be provided by the partner organizations. The secondary goal was to repurpose the translated material as training data in order to create machine translation and automatic speech recognition tools.
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