The Importance of Translation

Awarded on 23 Jan 2013


Information and Communication Technology

Grant amount £9,673.11

Illiteracy is a huge problem in development, but even where people are literate there’s no guarantee that they are literate in English. The 54 states of Africa are home to more than 2,000 languages split across six major language families. Despite this, development agencies, NGOs and governments frequently lack the resources or skills to be able to translate development material into languages other than English, French and maybe Arabic. At the same time, the internet has given rise to a huge expansion in the amount of information available to citizens, professionals and others. Consider Wikipedia with its millions of articles on everything from Benin to Big Brother and the Preemraff Lysekil oil refinery to Pseudo-Kufic (thanks to Wikipedia’s Random Page function). Indeed, with its global reach and its Zero agreements (which give free access to Wikipedia content to tens of millions across Africa and the Middle East), Wikipedia offers a fantastic platform to get locally-relevant content into the hands of people who need it most.

For all of the above, we’re delighted to have awarded Translators Without Borders (TWB) a grant of $14,500 towards the costs of their 80 x 100 Project. The aim of the project is to make the most popular Wikipedia medical articles (on issues like HIV and polio) available in as many languages as possible. First, existing English language medical content is proofed and improved by Wikipedia’s medical team. Then, after publication in a peer-review journal, the content is translated into simplified English. At the same time, this content will be translated into multiple languages mainly by TWB’s vast community of volunteer translators. Some languages, however, cannot sustain a volunteer community of translators. And that’s how Indigo became involved. TWB has recently opened a translator training centre in Nairobi and the job of translating this English content into Swahili will be done by the translators at the centre. 12 translators will work on the translations, while simultaneously gaining access to computing facilities, memory translation software and other resources and skills that will improve their employability. The finished translations are then proofed and uploaded onto the Swahili version of Wikipedia, which currently has approximately 25,000 articles. Once on Wikipedia, the content will then be marketed to NGOs, community health workers and others.

As a former translator, it’s always exciting to hear about a project of this kind. And hopefully, by combining the reach of Wikipedia with the expertise of Kenyan translators the project will put valuable content into the hands of those who need it most. I’ll look forward to monitoring the project over the coming months, but we’d all like to wish the translators in Nairobi the very best of luck. Of course, I really should have written this is Swahili…