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New York Times on Social Translation
Ethan Zuckerman, 19 May 09

Leslie Berlin did a great service to proponents of social translation by featuring a range of online translation efforts in her column for today’s New York Times, titled “A Web That Speaks Your Language“. Not only did she give an overview of some of the important players in the space, she focused on reasons why human approaches to translation are important at a time when people around the world are creating online content in their native languages.

I’ve gotten several email and Facebook messages asking for information on social translation and the idea of “the polyglot internet”. Here are a few references from my blog and around the web for those interested in finding out more about the topic.

The phrase “polyglot internet” comes from an essay I wrote late last year as a thought piece for a discussion in Dubai hosted by the World Economic Forum. I was trying to make the case that we were likely to miss the diversity and nuance of the user-generated web unless we found better ways to translate the variety of languages we’re seeing online. To be a pain in the ass, I turned in a version of the essay translated by Global Voices volunteers into a dozen languages - my colleagues at the WEF weren’t able to print it correctly, because it included a couple of character sets they’d never seen before. (Serves me right).

The Times piece mentions Global Voices Lingua, the community translation arm of Global Voices. Solana Larsen, managing editor of Global Voices, offers a history of the project. I’d note that Lingua, like all these social translation projects, involves a technical aspect as well as dedicated translators and project managers - Lingua owes a real debt of gratitude to Boris Anthony, who built the original architecture that allowed a post translated on one word press blog to “signal” the English-language “master” blog, and to Jeremy Clarke, who’s been maintaining, extending and expanding the code.

The article leads off with a screen shot from TED’s Open Translation project, and quotes June Cohen, who’s championed the use of social translation to make TED’s video content available in dozens, and ultimately hundreds, of languages. June talks about the project in an interview with Newsweek. I wrote about the launch of the Open Translation project a couple of days back, arguing that the model TED is using could be used for any high-quality, compelling internet content. It’s worth mentioning that the TED project is built around, a powerful platform to enable subtitling and translation of web video.

Berlin’s tour of social translation also includes Meedan, an ambitious project that uses machine translation, backed by human translation, to enable dialog between English and Arabic speakers. And she mentions efforts by Google and by Wordpress to work with volunteer translators to make software interfaces available in multiple languages.

I’d urge people interested in this topic to look at Pootle, a translation framework developed by Dwayne Bailey, who has dedicated a great deal of time to making open software available in South Africa’s 11 official languages, via And everyone interested in social translation should be paying close attention to Worldwide Lexicon, an exciting project by Brian McConnell, which invites bilingual and multilingual people to translate texts in sections as small as single sentences or as large as whole articles.

Almost everyone mentioned in this blogpost will be attending the Open Translation Tools Summit hosted by Aspiration in Amsterdam this June. I’ve got high hopes that articles like Berlin’s will get more people interested in participating in these efforts, and that the hard work Allen Gunn at Aspiration and others are doing to bring toolmakers and project leaders together will help build a global movement around the idea of social translation.

If you'd like to learn more about how you can help translate Worldchanging TED talks click here.

This piece originally appeared on Ethan Zuckerman's blog, My Heart's In Accra.

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Although I am all for information being widely available no matter what language you speak, it is important to remember that translators have invested a lot of time and money to acquire they skills. Most translators I know are pretty generous people and do not mind volunteering their expertise when they can, but they do need to eat!

Posted by: JLibbey on 20 May 09

I got a comment in German on one of my youtube videos, "Unknown Auschwitz Satyagraha." I used babelfish to translate it and then to translate the reply I sent.

I read Global Visions and sometimes test my own linguistic chops by reading the Japanese, Spanish, and French entries and their translations. I really appreciate the work that goes into the site and the care with which you present all the different voices in all the different languages that you do.

Posted by: gmoke on 20 May 09

Dziêki za odpowiedz :)

Posted by: zabawki edukacyjne on 20 May 10

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