The Linguist

The Linguist 52,5

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Page 13 of 35

FEATURES Power of the crowd Community translation: friend, foe or no big deal, asks Nataly Kelly he freelance translator community became enraged when, in 2007, Facebook began using members of its community to translate its platform into other languages. The complaints primarily consisted of exclamations such as 'How dare a for-profit company try to get translation for free!', 'Professional translators are being shortchanged!' and 'They can't ensure quality if they use the unwashed masses.' Many translators began to quiver. If Facebook does this, they wondered, what will stop every company from following the same trend? Such reactions were not necessarily warranted back then – and they are even less so today. So what is the true nature of the relatively new industry phenomenon of crowd-sourcing? Many companies don't originally set out thinking, 'Let's see if we can get our community to translate for us.' In a lot of cases, it is the community that comes together and decides that they want to volunteer. Often, this starts out as a simple message from a user on a forum: 'I'd love to use this website/product/ tool in Russian. I can help with the translation. Who do I contact?' Then, other people begin to join in, usually because they are fans of what the company is offering. In other words, many of these initiatives start not because of some devious plot conceived by a bunch of executives in a boardroom, but because regular, everyday people want to use the products and services in their native language, so that their friends and family can enjoy them. One prime example of this is The Economist. Every two weeks, a group of translators produces a full Chinese version of the magazine. They publish it online – for free T 14 The Linguist – for millions of Chinese readers to enjoy. The Economist did not create this initiative; it came from their loyal readers, who wanted more people to be able to enjoy the articles. One could argue that, in the case of The Economist, the magazine is taking a risk by not shutting the translation initiative down, since a group of fans is publishing all of its content for free in Chinese. On the other hand, the effort serves as free publicity and could create a ready-made audience, should the magazine decide to launch a print version in China – something it is unlikely to invest in until it can ensure demand. In the meantime, and as the magazine industry increasingly moves toward digital content, the volunteer (and online-only) effort continues. While The Economist has a hands-off approach to its volunteer community, other companies decide to make it easy for volunteers to do translations directly in their online environments. Facebook came up with its own solution, which allowed its huge community to cast votes for the best translations. This enabled the company to ensure that a single translator was not deciding how millions of people would say 'write on your wall' in their native language. Instead, the community of users had a say in how they wanted to see phrases translated. There are also communities set up with the explicit aim of offering free translations. Taghreedat is a network of more than 9,200 volunteer translators with a mission to unlock content for the Arabic-speaking world, especially in the areas of education and social media. It has so far approached organisations such as Google, Twitter, TED talks, Wikipedia and Khan Academy. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER MISSION POSSIBLE Taghreedat co-founders Sami Mubarak (right) and Mina Takla (2nd right) working with volunteers from their translation network No such thing as free translation? What is interesting is that even when organisations receive translation services for free, it does not necessarily mean that the effort is without financial repercussions. In reality, any organisation that uses community translation has to invest money before they can make use of that translation. In the case of Arabic, engineering work often has to take place to enable the display of right-to-left script. Facebook devoted many hours of their software developers' time to creating a custom translation platform with a built-in voting mechanism. That didn't come cheap. Facebook even spent money to patent their community translation initiative so that it could not be used outside the social network. Companies that do not have the staff resources often end up buying technology to enable their communities to be involved in the translation. In addition, they usually have to pay a community manager to manage the translation memory and glossaries, and to make sure that enough volunteers are involved to ensure some level of quality. Some organisations have realised that it would have been less expensive to pay for professional translation, yet many say they would have gone ahead regardless of the cost because of the benefits of getting the community involved, such as helping to guide the voice of their brand in other languages and countries. Indeed, often the translators become the best recruiters in a

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