Digital development, language gaps, and a prophetic bird

Language technology can help those in need use technology to proactively communicate and access information.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented surge of increasingly powerful technologies that can help solve humanitarian and development challenges. Yet meaningful access to these technologies is not equally available to all people. Hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest, least educated, most vulnerable populations often find themselves on the wrong side of a dangerous digital divide.

Language can be the key that unlocks new digital opportunities for all.

Language is a barrier for technology use

Under the umbrella of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D, or, simply, ICT), technology efforts have become commonplace in the development world over the past few decades. Emerging machine learning and artificial intelligence applications (“AI for Good”) promise to help achieve sustainable development goals globally. In Kenya, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, an app called “Eneza Education” delivers mobile courses to 5 million people. In India, Khushi Baby supplies low-cost wearable technology to monitor child vaccinations.

While these digital applications have the potential to shift communications and empower vulnerable people, they face a number of major hurdles. Access to hardware is an obvious issue, as is access to networks. But even when those issues are resolved, there is the more fundamental barrier of language. Typically digital technology requires basic literacy skills and often foreign language skills, especially considering that more than 50 percent of websites are in English. This turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy with speakers of marginalized languages unable to interact with new tools. Without thoughtful consideration of language barriers, new digital opportunities may only magnify inequality and further exclude marginalized communities, especially speakers of under-served languages.

The world’s most marginalized communities often live in complex linguistic contexts that can further complicate the use of technology. For example, there are 68 languages in Kenya and most people do not speak either Swahili or English, the languages generally used in ICT technologies. Moreover, the digital divide for low-literate ICT users in oral-language communities, such as Berber women in Morocco, is even higher. This is not a rare phenomenon: as many as 7,000 languages are spoken today, two-thirds of which do not have a written form.

Language technology for all

Language technology can address these barriers. Languages that are ‘commercially viable’ have seen an enormous growth in digital tools, both for text and voice. Today, tools like Skype allow for people to carry on lucid conversations even when they don’t speak the same language. The advent of neural machine translation and natural language processing has greatly increased communications among those languages in which for-profit companies have invested.

The trick is to include this language technology in the development of tools for the humanitarian and development sectors.

This is why Translators without Borders is overseeing Gamayun: The Language Equality Initiative.

Named after a prophetic bird of wisdom and knowledge from Slavic folklore, the initiative aims to create more equitable access to language technology that will lead to greater knowledge and wisdom for vulnerable people.

The initiative effectively elevates marginalized languages to the level of commercial languages by ensuring development of machine translation in voice and text in those languages. It also encourages humanitarian tech developers to integrate these engines into their tools and to measure whether they improve communications. Ultimately, the goal is for people in need to have direct access to these tools for their own use, thereby controlling the communications they provide and receive.

To accomplish this, Gamayun must first build a repository of spoken and written datasets for under-served languages. The data comes from humanitarian or development sources, making the resulting translation engines more useful in humanitarian- and development-specific contexts.

Successfully building these datasets requires a massive amount of human input. The data is presented as parallel sets in which a sentence or string of text in a language critical to the humanitarian world is paired with a “source” language. As Gamayun scales, we are seeking datasets from the translation and localization industry, and asking for terminology input from humanitarian sectors. Unstructured data, such as content from open social media outlets, also can be used to train the engines; and, importantly, linguists and context specialists are used to evaluate that data to help make the engines more fit for purpose.

TWB is building datasets in a wide range of languages, but the main focus at first is Bangla, Swahili, and Hausa. These languages are collectively spoken by 400 million people, and were selected because of their associated risk for crisis. The communities that speak these languages have a strong presence online; online communities in those languages will help build, maintain and improve the datasets and the engines.

Meanwhile, Gamayun looks at integration of machine translation engines (voice and text) in applications and tools to evaluate effectiveness in improving communications. TWB and its humanitarian partners are evaluating a number of machine-translation use cases, including in needs assessment tools, two-way communication bots, and call centers, as well as the type of fit-for-purpose machine translation engines are most useful. In some cases, ‘off the shelf’ engines from major technologists work well; in other cases, it is important to contextualize the engine to get the best results.

Access is not enough – the shift of control

Building datasets and engines in marginalized languages, and integrating those engines into tools developed by the sector will improve language equality. But to truly bridge the gap, the tools need to be in the hands of those who are in need. Only they have the best sense of exactly what information they need and, likewise, what information they have and can share.

As a recent report by the Pathways for Prosperity puts it, “impact is ultimately determined by usage; access alone is not sufficient.” While there remain many other barriers to access, including hardware and bandwidth issues, in the area of language, we are poised to greatly increase access and even move beyond. Ultimately, reduction of language barriers through technology has the potential to shift control of communications to people in need. In such a world, vulnerable populations can use the same tools as those who speak ‘commercial’ languages, accessing any information they want, and providing their own information in the language they speak.

We must support speakers of under-served languages as technology continues to evolve and allows us all to be stewards of our own information and communication.

 

Written by Mia Marzotto, TWB's Senior Advocacy Officer. 

 

Using language to support humanitarians

Humanitarian emergencies know no language boundaries.

In the 13 countries currently experiencing the most severe crises, people speak over 1,200 languages. Yet, humanitarians operating in these crises often do not have the necessary language support, making their jobs even more difficult. 

World Humanitarian Day on 19 August is an opportune moment to reflect on this challenge. On this day, we honor all aid workers risking their lives to help people facing disasters and conflicts. At Translators without Borders (TWB), we believe that language should not stand in the way of the ability of these dedicated and brave people to deliver life-saving support.

Yahaya (center left) TWB Kanuri Team Leader conducts research on how well words like "stress" and "abuse" are understood in Kanuri and whether words like "rape" and "mental health" carry a stigma.
Yahaya (center left), TWB Kanuri Team Leader, conducts comprehension research. Internally displaced people’s camp, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.

Yet, too often, aid agencies do not give their staff the appropriate resources and tools to engage with communities and local responders in a language they understand. Translation is a consistent challenge, but mostly overlooked in humanitarian budgets amid other more tangible items. As a result, humanitarian workers are often forced to rely on unsupported national colleagues, untrained interpreters, English-centric jargon, and procedures that may exclude those who speak local languages.

The consequences of overlooking the need for language support are dire for the people in need of humanitarian aid – and pretty tough for humanitarian workers themselves.

Many of these aid workers are forced to rely on national staff or local community members to act as translators or interpreters. These staff members are largely expected to deal with the many challenges that differences in languages present on their own, although translation skills are rarely what they are recruited for. Program documentation such as guidelines, manuals, and other materials including specialized terminology is translated without training or support. Some may be working between two languages when neither is their first language.

Situations where interviews with community members pass through three or four languages are not uncommon. An international aid worker may speak in English, a national staff member interprets into the national language, and then a local school teacher interprets into the language of that village, and back again. This approach multiplies the potential loss of information in translation and lacks proper quality assurance. It also forces under-supported humanitarian staff or community members to perform a stressful task with little or no confidence that people’s information and communication needs are being met.

Mustapha (left), TWB - Hausa Team Lead, works with enumerators from the Danish Demining Group / Danish Refugee Council to conduct research on comprehension of information in various languages and formats at Farm Centre IDP Camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
On World Humanitarian Day, we honor all humanitarian aid workers, including our staff, and commit to ensuring language does not stand in the way of their ability to support and empower those who need it most. Here, Mustapha (left), TWB Hausa Team Leader, conducts language comprehension research in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

The fact that complex humanitarian terms and concepts in English are not directly translatable into other languages compounds the problem for humanitarians. TWB’s research in different contexts has found that even aid workers do not always understand the English concepts they are asked to interpret. For example, “violence against women” was translated into Rohingya as “violent women” and “food security” in northeast Nigeria as “food protected by guards”. Comprehension rates among humanitarian data collectors are as low as 35 percent in some places. The result may be, at best, confusion or misunderstanding, and, at worst, inaccurate data upon which response plans are built. It is also undoubtedly stressful for those trying to do their best in challenging circumstances.

A lack of language support can also undermine coordination with and involvement of local responders. When meetings are held in a national or international language, for example, local language speakers are excluded from decision-making. This is not only a matter of dignity and mutual respect, but it is also a crucial precondition for tapping into local knowledge and capacities, allowing those on the frontline of a response to avoid delays in making potentially life-affecting decisions.

In short, humanitarian aid workers are better equipped to ensure people affected by crisis receive timely and relevant aid when they have proper language support.

This support begins with collecting the data needed to plan for language needs, and resourcing those needs appropriately. Training and capacity development programs can help build translation and interpreting capacity in languages for which there are no professional translators. A library of resource materials and tools in the relevant languages can be built up for all aid providers to make use of.

As we mark World Humanitarian Day on August 19, it is time to shift our attention to how we can use language services to support humanitarian workers trying to help in the most dire of circumstances. Addressing language barriers between humanitarians and crisis-affected communities can deliver the humanitarian world’s commitment to quality and accountability across responses, helping support and empower those who need it most.  

 

Read more about TWB’s response in northeast Nigeria.

Join us as a partner to benefit from our translator community, or sponsor us and enable TWB to provide humanitarian workers with the language support they need.

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders.

Photographs by Eric DeLuca, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager for Translators without Borders.

A translation worth a million words  

translator
Suzanne Assénat

In 2017, this team of four translators donated over 1.2 million words to the work of Translators without Borders (TWB).

In recognition of their invaluable contribution in mentoring new French translators, the French translation team (Barbara Pissane, Suzanne Assénat, Gladis Audi and Ode Laforge) won the 2018 Translators without Borders Access to Knowledge Award for Empowerment. Their work has allowed TWB to significantly increase language capacity and guarantee translation quality in one of the organization’s most requested language pairs (French to English). You would be hard-pressed to find a group of more deserving and yet modest individuals with such impressive achievements to their names. Having put into words countless life-changing messages, and contributed to the stories of thousands of people in crisis and need, it is inevitable that these women have some tales of their own to tell.

They are Empowerment Award-winning translators, but they are also so much more.

The team is made up of four witty volunteers, translators-interpreters, writers and mothers, each with their own quirks and attributes. Gladis describes herself as a hunger-relief activist and amateur rosarian who likes to explore nuances and innovate solutions; Ode is a teacher and communicator at heart; Barbara has a fondness for early music and tall ships events; Suzanne appreciates her family time and has a keen interest in the music of words and music itself.

translator Gladis
Gladis Audi

 With so many roles, it is a wonder these women smashed the one-million-word mark, but their motivations have been clear from the start.

All four translators acknowledge that their work with TWB allows them to contribute to social change and global awareness. For Gladis, “Spreading knowledge by breaking language barriers is very significant in itself.” Their motivations stem from a desire to feel “closer to people in distress, people living in countries shattered by wars, poverty, climate disasters or disease outbreaks,” says Ode. This work is her way to “express solidarity with them.”

The team tells the most moving anecdotes.

When asked to recount a significant project with TWB, Suzanne proudly remembered a time in which she mentored translation students in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was impressed by the students’ efforts. They did their work with “little computing hardware, connectivity problems, [while living with the threat of] armed conflict,” but they “kept at it and delivered pretty good translations.”

 translator Ode
Ode Laforge

Ode has a favorite memory that is close to her heart. “How could I ever forget this little book I translated for children in Africa, in which the main character, a little girl living with HIV, was talking about her everyday life?” Ode asks, as she reflects on the human connection that volunteering can foster. “She managed to lead a relatively happy life, taking the drugs she needed, eating healthy food prepared by her loving grandma, avoiding everything that could negatively interfere with her health, fighting difficult moments to stay healthy, playing with other children, and expressing her wish to become a scientist when she grew up, to find a cure for this terrible disease. Despite the seriousness of the topic, this little story was heartwarming and optimistic, but I was deeply moved while translating it.”

Not only has their support left a mark on the lives of thousands, but volunteering for TWB has made a difference to them, too.

This volunteer experience provided the backdrop for a new friendship, which began on the translation platform, between Ode and another TWB volunteer translator, Nadia Gabriel. She describes how they built a friendship “exchanging views on how to best render a tricky sentence or a difficult passage.” Since then, they have met in person and have kept in touch ever since. Ode is so grateful that her work with TWB has given her the opportunity to get to know such lovely friends. 

Finally, these productive translators shared some words of advice.

Gladis advocates balance and encourages aspiring volunteer translators to “work extra hard, have lots of fun, believe in yourself and in the team. A little can go a long way.”

Barbara Pissane translator
Barbara Pissane

For Barbara, it is all about the work ethic of keeping going and finding your work gratifying, You will be proud of the help you give to people and you will grow more confident. Moreover, you will have the opportunity to work with people who are always extremely committed!”

Suzanne recognizes the difficulty of finding the balance when translating as a volunteer and doing it for a living. Her advice is never to feel guilty for not doing enough, and never stay away indefinitely. “Come again, however (in)frequently you can! There’s an analogy to make with blood donations: You don’t and can’t do that very often, but every little drop (well, pouch, whatever) helps make a difference.”

Would you like to share in these life-changing experiences as a TWB volunteer translator? Apply now to get translating.

Written by Danielle Moore, Digital Communications Intern for TWB, with interview responses by Gladis Audi, Ode Laforge, Barbara Pissane and Suzanne Assénat, TWB Volunteer Translators

A Recap of GALA’s Boston Conference

Latha Sukumar, Executive Director of MCIS and TWB donor, left, with Eric DeLuca, TWB
Latha Sukumar, Executive Director of MCIS, left, with Eric DeLuca, TWB

The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) 2018 conference has come to a close. Those of us who managed to make it to and from Boston – despite the two feet of snow – were rewarded with a vibrant and exciting conference. As the Monitoring, Evaluating & Learning Manager for Translators without Borders, this was a chance for me to share our story with a community that understands the importance of having access to information in a language and format that can be understood.

This year’s GALA conference highlighted current trends in the localization and language industry so that we can better understand the technologies and business practices shaping our future. Attending sessions and interacting with stakeholders encouraged us in a few ways. Machines are not going to replace humans in the majority of translation work anytime soon; the industry has to continue to embrace this technology in order to remain innovative. Multimedia language services, such as voice-overs and subtitling, are continuing to grow rapidly as content-creators are increasingly favoring video formats.

What became clear is that there is a lot of work to do before we see widespread support for under-resourced languages. Continue reading “A Recap of GALA’s Boston Conference”

Bot Towan! #InterpretersMatter

Today was a bit grueling. We went to interview people who have newly arrived at Balukhali makeshift camp about cyclones and cyclone preparations. We did that, and in the process confirmed what I already knew: specific skills are needed to act as a translator or interpreter in a crisis. After today, I am more convinced than ever that language services - translating, interpreting, simplification and training - are an essential part of this crisis response. TWB has a vital role to play here

TWB's first Rohingya interpreter

Our very first semi-trained Rohingya interpreter accompanied me and the two co-leads of the Communicating with Communities Working Group (CWC WG) to run a focus group discussion with ‘model mothers’ (women trained by UNICEF to help people in the community with basic needs), and to interview various members of the community – young, old, and leaders. The day was hot and long, but manageable. What was difficult was talking about cyclones to traumatized people, many of whom told of horrible stories and cried as they recalled what they left behind. The threat of cyclone damage is very real in the camps, especially with the makeshift shelters, but on a sunny day with no wind, it felt trite when set against the horror of gunshot wounds, burnt homes and lost family.

Rohingya interpreter at work on Cox's Bazar
TWB's first Rohingya interpreter interpreting at a focus group discussion with ‘model mothers.’

Yet Rafique, the first Rohingya interpreter who has received some training, handled it all very well. Rafique is a long-term resident of Cox’s Bazar. He is Rohingya by birth, born in Myanmar, and very committed to helping the new arrivals. For years he has run the Rohingya Youth Association, an unofficial group in Cox’s Bazar that teaches long-term Rohingya camp residents some basic skills, especially reading and writing English and Bangla (the children in the camps are not officially allowed to go to school). A number of the kids whom he and his team have taught have gone on to universities around the world, and many of them will help us with our language work from afar.

Training Rohingya interpreters in Cox's Bazar

Rohingya is Rafique’s mother tongue. He had done some ad hoc interpreting for various journalists in town, but he had never been trained. Like many unskilled interpreters, he made classic mistakes. He summarized a person’s long explanation in just a few words, and he very often editorialized what the person said – adding his own explanation. He also would not always properly understand what the English person asked him to do, nodding that he understood when he actually was not quite sure.

Training interpreters like Rafique is one of Translators without Borders’ major goals in Cox’s Bazar. While locals will say that the new arrivals understand Chittagong, the local Bangla dialect, just fine, we keep finding that that is not the case, especially in areas of health. Today we found that is also not the case in simple explanations about cyclones.

Prior to going to the field, I worked with Rafique over several evenings, giving him basic training on how to interpret. We worked with videos of new arrivals talking about their harrowing trips to Bangladesh. He practiced interpreting their explanations, working on the full meaning, but only the meaning – not his additional thoughts. We also discussed the ethics of interpreting and did some basic work on how to operate in a humanitarian context, including how to speak directly to the person being interviewed and how to work with the international staff.

I also worked with the two international team members about the interpreter relationship. While humanitarians who work in the field intuitively know that the interpreter is a vital link that has the power to help the situation greatly, they are often under a lot of stress, working long hours, and possibly unaware of how to ‘get the most’ out of the interpreter relationship and role. This particular situation was a good place to start because the two CWC WG co-leaders are communicators themselves, so they were engaged and willing to learn, focusing on changing their instructions to accommodate the interpreter, asking him to work with the interviewee to give information in small chunks, and encouraging him to sit at the same level as the interviewee to build trust and engagement. The final preparation included giving Rafique all of the field questions in English and Bangla before the interviews. It is surprising how often those working with interpreters do not educate them beforehand on what they will be talking about. Rafique reviewed all of the questions ahead of time so he could practice in his head how to interpret to the interviewee and then could focus during the interview on providing the information back to the interviewer.

Rafique did a fabulous job. He worked really hard all day, as a team with the interviewers. There was very little misunderstanding, and when once or twice Rafique started to add information, I reminded him that that was no longer ‘interpreting’. He quickly corrected himself.

Why words matter

The real reward came toward the end of the day. Sitting around on a mat with the model mothers, we began discussing the Rohingya words for ‘cyclone.’ In helping the CWC WG evaluate best communications about cyclones, I want to make sure that communications are truly understood by the new arrivals, especially those who are illiterate (9 out of 10 of the model mothers were illiterate and did not understand basic Bangla or Burmese). In the back of my mind, I kept thinking about the miscommunications in the Philippines prior to Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The English language radio stations reported a ‘big wave’ coming; to the Tagalog listeners, this did not seem threatening because it was not called ‘typhoon’ – as a result, many did not leave their homes and were lost once the storm hit.

Rafique asked the model mothers what a ‘big storm with wind and lots of rain’ would be in Rohingya, and they sang out, simultaneously, ‘BOT TOWAN!’, while a very large, stormy cyclone would be ‘boyar awla towan,’ and a lesser storm would be ‘towan.’ In Bangla, a cyclone is ‘tofan,’ which is not far from ‘towan.’ But a very large stormy cyclone is ‘boro dhoroner tofan’, which is significantly different.

Even more importantly, in Bangla, the word ‘Jhor’ denotes a storm with wind and is often used for a cyclone. In Rohingya, ‘jhor’ only means rain without being a real storm and without wind. Similar to the Philippines in 2013, that simple misunderstanding, if broadcast from Bangla weather and warning systems, could be the difference of life and death, especially in camps where word of mouth is the main mode of communication, and winds will blow off roofs and drop shallow-rooted trees.

Words matter. I am very proud of Rafique – it was particularly gratifying when the model mothers, through the one woman who could speak some English, told me that he was the best interpreter with whom they had worked. I think it had a lot to do with him being Rohingya and really listening to how they communicate. I am looking forward to more trainings in the coming days.


Follow the TWB team's journey as they respond to the Rohingya refugee crisis - TWB's most challenging response yet.

Rebecca PetrasBy Rebecca Petras, TWB's Deputy Director and Head of Innovation

Taking action in the Rohingya crisis: TWB’s biggest language challenge yet

It is somewhere between 9pm and midnight, depending on where exactly my flight is right now. My rubber boots, rain gear, and TWB T-shirts are stowed in the hold; I am enjoying my second film. In a few short hours, we will arrive in Bangladesh, and the work will begin.

39,000 feet above the Earth, language is not an issue. International flight attendants and travelers basically speak the same language. We all understand ‘chicken with rice’ or ‘coffee or tea’ in the few international languages needed…English, German, French, maybe some occasional Arabic. And it is easy, seat back, chatting with seat mates with wildly different backgrounds, to feel comforted by the connection those few common languages bring us.

It is exactly that feeling – that connection and comfort – that language often gives us. I have lived for years in places where the native tongue was not my own: I know the sense of warmth when someone makes the effort to speak my language. Nelson Mandela had it right when he commented on the power of language: “Speak to a man in his language, and it goes to his heart.”

When in crisis, language does even more...

It helps on a very fundamental level, giving people in crisis the basic information they need to be safe, warm and fed. Yet millions of people, especially those who are refugees in foreign lands, must cross a language barrier every time they need basic information. They rely on others for the information they need, hoping that it is accurate and true, because they simply do not understand the language of those trying to help, or they are illiterate and cannot read whatever directive is provided.

How often I wonder how I would handle such a situation. I know that when I get important information in the language of the country where I currently live, the time to understand and then respond is at least doubled – the effort required is so much more. And that is when I’m sitting at my desk, well fed and not fearful for my life or that of my children.

The clear inequity of information that holds billions of people back is what motivates me. It is why I work hard with my colleagues every day to build an organization that uses language to jump over barriers. And it is what has motivated me to go to Bangladesh to set up language provision for the aid organizations trying to help the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who have arrived in the past six weeks.

Tomorrow I will be in Cox’s Bazar, a place I didn’t know existed until a few short weeks ago. I have a singular goal: To use language to bring a bit of comfort and help to those who have suffered too much already.

Language matters: I hope you will share this journey with me.


why TWB is responding to the Rohingya refugee crisis

Over 700,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh (in and around the beach town of Cox’s Bazar) in the past two months, many of them entire families - families broken by violence. This is a complex political and humanitarian crisis, and one of the most difficult language contexts TWB has ever experienced.

The Rohingya population is highly vulnerable, having fled conflict and living in extremely difficult conditions. When we launched this response remotely in September, the goal was to find Rohingya translators to translate urgent materials that would help give practical but vital information to the thousands of refugees flooding across the border into a land where they did not speak the language. However, it became immediately apparent that there was very little translation capacity in Rohingya and, furthermore, that we would need to get audio and spoken Rohingya support because very few people write this language, and illiteracy levels are high. It was also too challenging to try to do this work remotely. Yet no situation we have encountered is more in need of our resources.

So we took a chance without solid funding and decided to activate Plan B, sending Rebecca to Bangladesh to try to get something set up to respond to the Rohingya refugee crisis. She will be in the country for four weeks, bringing together a community of translators and figuring out how best to enable them to provide the language link between responders and vulnerable people. She will also be working with aid organizations to ensure that language solutions are funded.  She will be joined by Eric DeLuca, TWB's Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager, who will conduct a comprehension study in some of the numerous camps, to assess the best ways to communicate with those who are affected by this crisis.

We will be following the team as they document their journey in Cox’s Bazar to set up this response for Communicating with Communities, and we'll be providing regular updates on how they are progressing over the coming weeks.

Rebecca PetrasRebecca Petras, TWB Deputy Director and Head of Innovation

When crisis hits – communication is key

Deployed for the first time in 2015 to respond to the refugee crisis in Greece, the Translators without Borders Arabic Rapid Response Team (RRT) counts over 80 volunteers. From their homes around the world, equipped with an internet connection and a Skype account, the will to help others and language skills, these volunteers bring vital information to thousands of refugees and migrants in Greece, in a language they understand.

‘If people cannot understand each other, there will be a barrier that not only makes it difficult to communicate but also makes it difficult to trust each other’

Muhannad Al-Bayk, a graduate of and now teacher at the University of Aleppo, joined the Arabic RRT in early 2017. Since then, he has been lending his valuable translation skills to TWB partners such as RefuComm, Internews, and the British Red Cross, while juggling his studies and teaching responsibilities.

Having volunteered over 50 translation hours as part of TWB’s response to the refugee crisis in Greece, we were keen to catch up with Muhannad to find out why he decided to join TWB and what motivates him to be involved in this response. Muhannad starts by telling us, ‘I wanted to find a way to give to others who hadn’t been as lucky in life as I have. While researching how to help, I stumbled upon TWB which seemed like a perfect match for my skill set.’

Muhannad’s tasks as an Arabic RRT translator are varied. In addition to translating and editing files using TWB’s translation platform Kató, he also helps develop glossaries, format documents, and other technical tasks. His translation content has also been quite diverse – from translating articles for “News that Moves,” an online information source for refugees and migrants in Greece, to flyers to direct people affected by the Grenfell fires in London, to a helpline. Muhannad believes that these projects are truly helpful ‘because they are timely for the target audience. Being able to read about things as they happen helps people understand what is going on and makes them feel less lost and more involved in their situation.’

‘Working as a volunteer has been an invaluable experience. I’m constantly tackling new issues and learning new things. Meeting a lovely new group of professional people is a bonus. It also taught me to be more committed to timelines, since RRT work relies on fast turnaround times.’

Why language matters in a crisis

The dedicated volunteer wraps up our interview telling us, ‘It is hard to put one’s life in the hands of someone you do not even understand. Therefore, language is key during times of crisis. [Language] connects hearts and minds, it is the primary means of communication’.


Click here to read the stories of other TWB Rapid Response translators.

By Angela Eldering, TWB Volunteer 

 

World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development

At Translators without Borders (TWB), we believe that language is an important demonstration of culture. As an organization, we encourage and celebrate cultural diversity. In fact, the TWB team comes from 17 different countries and speaks a total of 24 languages.* That is an average of 3.5 languages per person!(3.5 each on average).

Diversity Day Diversity at TWB
The TWB team is scattered around the globe

About Diversity Day

After the adoption of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in November 2001, 21 May was proclaimed World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (also known as Diversity Day) by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Each year, on 21 May we endeavour to widen our understanding of the value of cultural diversity and to understand the role that it plays in peace, stability and development.

* Data collected internally in TWB between 03/02/2017 and 05/02/2017. Total number of participant: 24. 

The TWB translator community survey results are out!

Translators without Borders (TWB) recently carried out a survey of our translator community. The survey received 168 responses, and it gave some valuable insights into the experiences of volunteer translators and what motivates them as a community.

We have highlighted here five of the most interesting findings from the survey.

1. our translators are mostly motivated by helping others.

An overwhelming majority (97%) of translators said they volunteer because they like helping others and contributing to a good cause.

While career development, increased professional visibility, and interesting projects were also mentioned as some of the benefits of volunteering with TWB, our volunteer community is primarily driven by the desire to help people in need and work for humanitarian causes.

“Recognition is always nice. However, I really don’t need any more incentives. I’m motivated by something which has nothing to do with rewards.”

2. our translators are embracing technology.

Nearly 40% of respondents have had the opportunity to work on Kató, the new and improved  TWB translation platform that enables online collaboration and allows translators to use translation memory and glossary tools.

Most of our translators are familiar with Computer-Assisted Translation tools and use them in their work. This has produced some discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of translation technology.

According to our translators, the top advantages of doing work on an online platform are:

  • better quality and consistency
  • easier collaboration and sharing
  • the use of translation memory and glossaries
  • better translation workflow
survey of translator community
The advantages of Computer-Assisted Translation tools according to TWB volunteers

Some of the downsides include translators’ preference to use their own tools while working, specific technical requirements (such as using a particular browser for translation), and the need to have online connectivity to do work.

Generally TWB translators are open to trying new tools and approaches in their work and have also been very generous with providing suggestions and feedback on these tools.

3. our translators are open to collaboration on projects.

Translation is often seen as a solitary endeavor, although modern technology may be changing that. In fact, many of our volunteers expressed interest in online collaboration, citing the following reasons as the top advantages of working together as translators:

survey of translator community
The top advantages of online collaboration

4. TWB volunteers care DEEPLY about translation quality.

Many of the responses from our translators focused on ensuring good translation quality, whether through proofreading, feedback, or consistency checks.

This shows that our translators care a lot about the quality of their work and are proactively looking to improve it. In fact, over half of our translators said that receiving translation feedback and corrections from colleagues is important to them.

We recognize that comments from colleagues are particularly valuable to translators. Not only can this be a good source of specific, positive feedback (“Please keep doing what you’re doing, it’s great!”), but it also provides opportunities for growth and improvement (“Here is what you can do even better”).

We are looking for ways to provide regular feedback to our translators and will be sure to incorporate the suggestions of our volunteers about quality and collaboration into our new initiatives.

5. We heard your feedback!

Many of our translators said they appreciate recognition for their work, be it a word of thanks from the partners, visibility of how their translations are benefiting others, or, occasionally, acknowledgment in the form of recommendations or endorsements.

Recognizing this, we encourage our non-profit partners to leave feedback for translators as much as possible, and we are also looking for other ways to recognize the efforts of our volunteer translators, such as through translator appreciation initiatives and by featuring translators in our Volunteer Profiles on the TWB website.

We will continue using the feedback from this survey as we develop our translator community initiatives. It is important to us that our translators feel engaged and appreciated, and that they see Translators without Borders as a source of meaningful, interesting work.

Please stay tuned for more updates about our volunteer translator community. If you are a translator, we would encourage you to join our TWB Translator Volunteers Facebook private group, and if you would like to give us specific feedback or ask a question, you can always write to [email protected]

Until next time!


Apply here to become a TWB volunteer

Marina KhoninaBy Marina Khonina, Translation Quality and Community Manager

 

MultiLingual – Getting Creative with CSR

“When all is said and done, and we look back at our lives, we can say ‘We did this.’”

Raising awareness is crucial for non-profit organizations seeking to inspire social conscious about important issues, and to encourage volunteering and sponsorship. Key to this inspiration is the impact of their digital presence, yet non-profits do not always have sufficient in-house technical expertise necessary to maximize the potential of digital marketing tools. Fortunately, Translators without Borders (TWB) has a powerful asset in this respect. Idaho-based MultiLingual Computing, Inc. not only hosts and supports the technical aspects of the TWB website, but it also manages TWB’s email accounts, a critical tool in the organization’s daily operations.

Donna Parrish
Donna Parrish

MultiLingual Computing is a leading information source for the localization, internationalization and translation industry, and an enthusiastic and like-minded supporter of TWB. Its print magazine, MultiLingual, reaches subscribers in 92 countries, and it also publishes a free, bi-weekly e-newsletter. Editor-in-chief and publisher Donna Parrish ensures that Translators without Borders is visible in both publications. Most recently, MultiLingual ran two complimentary full-page ads for TWB in the magazine, and an advert in the newsletter.

MultiLingual – TWB Gold Sponsor

MultiLingual’s contributions go even further. The company recently became a TWB Gold Sponsor, donating US$5,000 to strengthen the capacity and operations of the organization. Donna is also a member of the TWB board and brings 25 years of programming experience and an in-depth appreciation of the technical issues involved in dealing with different languages. Donna promotes TWB through her role as Principal of LocWorld, the leading conference for the global business of translation, localization, and global website management. Translators without Borders is invited to the conference each year, and a booth is provided – an invaluable donation that fosters TWB’s outreach and fundraising efforts.

Donna points out that fundraising for TWB and other good causes can also be a lot of fun:

For last year’s LocWorld conference in Dublin, KantanMT invited us to help organize a coastal treasure hunt and hike to raise funds for TWB. It was great fun made even more so with beautiful views, tasty snacks, and enjoyable camaraderie. Best of all, the event raised US$6,500 for TWB! Participants loved it and were rewarded for their efforts with a pub supper and traditional Irish music.

This year we’re holding the June 2017 conference in Barcelona, and of course, TWB will be there. Barcelona is always a draw for attendees from all over the world. We hope they learn many things, including how important the work of TWB is.”

Another creative fundraising idea from MultiLingual was during the holiday period last year. Magazine readers who donated US$100 or more to TWB were offered a free annual digital subscription!

Partners in Synergy

Multilingual Team

Social media is a valuable tool TWB uses to raise awareness of the importance of access to vital information in the right languages. Donna and her team at MultiLingual regularly engage with TWB on social media to help amplify those messages to reach a broader audience. Donna explains:

Translators without Borders is often seen as the non-profit arm of the localization industry, the moral compass. What it does for people in need with the support of its sponsors, elevates the industry and the translation profession. That is good for everyone in the industry.

Our partnership with TWB also benefits from the focus on reciprocity. While we support TWB in any way we can, TWB does its best to give visibility to MultiLingual whenever possible using its fast expanding social media presence and its website. This is the “give-back” to us, and we value it highly.

Our partnership with Translators without Borders dates back to 2010 when Lori Thicke asked me to join the board, which I did with pleasure. Why? Someone at MultiLingual put it succinctly: when all is said and done, and we look back at our lives, we can say ‘We did this.’”

Blog AuthorBy Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer writer