Translators Without Borders

While I was researching during the week, I came across two different translation projects that fit into the traditional model of time donations in that they are for global causes, not for a software project. Both are aimed at translators wanting to do pro bono translations.

Translators Without Borders – a group I should have known existed, but haven’t seen before now. Has references for both NGOs needing translations and translators wanting to donate their time and skills.

As you would expect Médecins Sans Frontières (listed as Doctors Without Borders) and Reporters Without Borders are both listed amongst their partner NGOs.

From the NGOs FAQ:

If you are a humanitarian NGO without political affiliations and you need translations, TWB can help you!

TWB’s mission is to supply voluntary or low budget translation services to pro bono organisations…

Our dynamic network of volunteer translators currently has the capacity to translate up to 80,000 words per month for all the NGOs we work with. This means we can help you with most projects, even very big ones if the deadline is long enough! We also have translators specialised in many fields, including medical, legal and logistical. For the time being, our translating team specialises in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. The most common language combination is French to English, but we are able to offer other languages, so if you have an unusual request, please ask – you never know if we might have someone who can help!

The second project is somewhat more focused in it’s aims, and is backed by Google and the Google translation projects: Health Speaks.

Better health starts with better information!

Accurate, accessible health information has the power to save lives. However, millions of people around the world face a simple yet vexing barrier to getting quality health information: language. Health Speaks is an initiative to help communities overcome this obstacle by translating high-quality health information into their local languages.

A 2004 Lancet article by Godlee et al highlighted the lack of access to health information as a “major barrier to knowledge-based healthcare in developing countries.” Within their recommendations, the authors noted that “…among currently available technologies, only the Internet has the potential to deliver universal access to up-to-date healthcare information.”

We’re currently supporting pilot translation projects in Arabic, Hindi and Swahili.

The Health Speaks Get Involved has more information about what they are doing and how to get involved.

I am currently debating the merits of Health Speaks with a colleague who is concerned that it perpetuates the lack of real value that people give translators – I personally don’t think there is a causative effect in place – and that health translation and interpreting is a difficult and localised experience that requires skills and practice over and above merely being bilingual – which I agree with.  I argue that no one should take the internet’s word on anything, but in this case, sometimes a little bit of information is enough to have an effect on people’s lives – and that’s enough for me.

Both are worthy projects, I will be keeping my eye on developments with them both.

The awkward freedom of TAUS

TAUS (“a think tank for the translation industry, undertaking research for buyers and providers of translation services and technologies”) have an awkward relationship to freedom and as a result they make me feel uncomfortable – I don’t know if I can trust them, despite their interesting, regular blog posts and emails.

I recently received an email that made the claim

Sharing translation memories in an industry super cloud was a small revolution started by the TAUS Data Association in July 2008. Making this cloud really useful for translators, agencies and corporate buyers of translation was yet to be proven. This is what we are announcing today: retrieve matches from the world’s translation memories!


Place a sentence or phrase in the TAUS Search box and retrieve full or fuzzy matches in source language with their translations. See the publisher and the creator of the translation, share your comments if you like. And of course use the translation. This unique feature is freely available to everyone in the world. Try it yourself.

As you can see, the language is (and it always is) one of the freedoms that TAUS brings to translators. The problem I have is that, like so many of the ‘free’ services on the web, it’s only free in crippled form. Sure, I can go and find out what any particular phrase means, but that’s not much good if I’m translating – it’s time and energy intensive – I’d want it to work seamlessly with my TEnT/CAT. Anything that involves copy and pasting or switching applications is interrupting my work flow process(es).

Of course, you need to register and pay to use it in that manner – it’s only free to people that would use this tool once, or once a year, rather than on a weekly or daily basis.

Admitted this conflicts me. I like things to be free – you will see a lot of posts on about FLOSS, OmegaT, FlossManuals, etc. I prefer these products ethically (the freedom reflects my ethical view, a la the Debian Social Contract) as well as pragmatically (easier to get, easier to install, easier to get help, easier to troubleshoot).

Having said that, it was only recently (TODO:link coming) that I was recommending that translators concerned with the impact of technology on their livelihoods need to assess whether it’s the technology or the translation service companies pushing their wages down. Bespoke or boutique translation agencies are one way to do this. Which is another way of saying “unionise”.

TAUS is almost a union (*it does take corporations as members, which problematises this analogy), and it’s also an attempt, like Watercooler, at making money at a time when rates are rapidly falling. It wont necessarily make any money, but at least it’s an attempt at working out how to make money in the new order. It’s an essential exploratory/mapping exercise and one I’m glad is happening.

Despite this, I still think that it should all be free. In every sense, for everyone. I still think that translators can make a buck from their trade while providing an open tableau for people that want to translate, or a translation for free, to be able to get one.

Google adds Latin to it’s MT

acb alerts me to the fact that Google have added Latin to the list of languages available to translate between. As is his way, the analysis is that wonderful mix of smart and funny:

In other words, while Latin is a dead language, and few if any people are going to send emails (or nuntios electronicos, as the Romans would have called them), the translator is useful because of the vast number of books wholly or partly in Latin. And, while there is little new Latin text to train the engine on, there is a huge repository of existing Latin texts and translations, of varying antiquity, many of which Google have digitised. Which works quite adequately for translating the sorts of things likely to have been written in Latin.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for Google’s English-to-Latin translation; at the moment, for a lot of inputs, it seems to do little more than change the order of the words around, getting stumped on words like, say, “translate” and “Latin”.

A New Blog

Just what the world needs. Over the last 7 or 8 years I’ve been told a number of times that I should start a blog, but I’ve never really gotten one off the ground. There are a number of reasons for that, including basic laziness, but primarily I couldn’t differentiate the kind of stuff I would post from what thousands of others were posting on their blogs.

I think now that I can. Generally, this will be a clearing house of all of my interests. More specifically I will be focusing largely on Translation, internationalisation (i18n), and localisation (L10n).

I was a part of the Watercooler network on Ning but the recent decision by the admin to instigate a paywall didn’t sit easily for me. I liked Watercooler, and I have no ill will towards the community or the admins – I can totally understand their decision. I just couldn’t write for or be part of a gated community. If I was to write, which I had been doing more and more because of Watercooler, I would want everyone to have access to what I was writing, so I decided to start my own blog.

I hope you find it interesting enough to keep coming back. I hope I find it interesting enough to keep it going.