The Linguist

The Linguist 53,1

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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16 The Linguist FEBRUARY/MARCH FEATURES 'People have ideas that translation is old- fashioned or boring. I think Duolingo debunks those ideas.' Crowd-sourced translations via users of a free site for language-learners: win-win or lose-lose, asks Theo Merz t he business plan seems so simple it is hard to believe nobody thought of it earlier. Duolingo, an online language- learning programme, allows people to take courses for free because they translate content from the web as they progress, which the company is then paid for. the company says its courses are based on '100 percent scientific data', and could influence not only the way we translate but how we learn languages. But critics in the industry point to shortcomings in Duolingo's programmes and say using unvetted, anonymous individuals to translate articles will inevitably lead to a sub- standard final product. Whether we like it or not, with 15 million registered users – and 60,000-70,000 new ones joining every day – Duolingo is now a major presence in online language learning. And, as of october, it has contracts to translate articles for two of the biggest media outlets in America: cNN and the viral news website BuzzFeed is one of the most viewed and shared news sites on the Anglophone net, with 85 million visitors in August 2013 alone. however, until recently, it had been restricted to an English-speaking audience. Now it has Spanish, French and Brazilian portuguese versions because native speakers using Duolingo to learn English are translating BuzzFeed articles as part of their course. content is quickly rendered in the languages through crowd translation, with dozens of the site's users working on a single piece, taking individual sentences and rating each other's work. Duolingo then uses an algorithm to choose the best translation, and a native-speaker editor on the BuzzFeed side checks the piece before it goes live. the articles themselves may not be groundbreaking – the web could have got by without 'this Man's chatroulette Recreation of "Wrecking Ball" is pure Genius' being turned into the slightly blunter 'Un homme parodie Miley Cyrus sur Chatroulette' – but the translation model is. According to co-Founder Luis von Ahn, Duolingo is in discussion with four or five other US media outlets. the company, which runs out of pittsburgh and has 27 employees, costs US$500,000 a month to run, but its owners say that with these new media partnerships it will be turning a profit this year. Users are currently producing 60 articles a day for BuzzFeed and 10 for cNN, and Von Ahn says the community has the capacity to translate many more. he will not comment on how much the new partners pay per word for the translations, saying only that it is cheaper than using a top-end professional. the site, which was only established in June 2012, is part of a wider move towards crowd translation, as discussed by Nataly kelly in 'power of the crowd' (TL52,5, p.14). And while the interface might seem similar to Rosetta Stone and other language-learning programs, Duolingo has an obvious advantage over paid-for courses among an internet audience that has grown up expecting media to come free at the point of use. Von Ahn, who set up the company with Severin hacker, a former student of his at carnegie Mellon University in pennsylvania, has form when it comes to harnessing the power of the crowd. having invented captcha – the distorted words you have to make out on online forms to prove you're not a robot – he realised that hundreds of thousands of hours were being wasted every day deciphering meaningless phrases. So, instead of using randomly-generated content, he updated the system to take sentences from books and newspapers waiting to be digitised, employing an unwitting online audience to perform a necessary function. Earning your keep on Duolingo is equally painless. After selecting one of the six languages offered – English, Spanish, French, portuguese, German and italian (though Duolingo: all the buzz © iStockphoto

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