#LanguageMatters. So Does Technology.

Health workers

Improving access to information in the right languages for the world’s poorest, most vulnerable individuals is the core mission of Translators without Borders (TWB). Often, however, there are too few translators or interpreters available, especially during times of crisis when impacted populations and humanitarian responders do not speak the same language.

To alleviate the dearth of translators and interpreters, TWB invests in the skills of our 26,000 strong community of language professionals. We also invest in state-of-the-art tools and technology that enable us to serve many kinds of humanitarian needs.

Translators Guinea Language Technology.
TWB-trained translators in Guinea.

The right combination of skills and technology helps our translators deliver high-quality, accurate information to partner organizations such as Doctors without Borders and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, often under chaotic, time-sensitive conditions. Our volunteers work to industry standards, building marketable skills that may lead to paying jobs.

Over the long-term, the data we’re creating will play a key role in bringing more underserved languages online and into the digital age.

The Translation Platform

TWB’s investment in a modern tool set centers around the Kató platform, which scales to support thousands of remote volunteers around the world working in more than 250 language pairs. Kató enables language professionals to work on their own devices and their established workflows while utilizing language technology – such as neural network algorithms for natural language translation. We also use translation memories, accessible to all of our volunteers, allowing us to reuse previously translated words and phrases. Recycling these translations means that our volunteers don’t have to re-translate the same words many times over. Reuse ensures efficiency but also consistency and quality over time.

Our always-available platform means our translators can deliver high-quality, accurate translations at a faster pace while also maintaining the flexibility that they need. That means our partner aid agencies can quickly deliver medicine and food, provide shelter or relay quality life-saving information in the languages needed. And it allows us to scale when necessary, working with more team members through the same platform. For example, in Bangladesh, our work for the Rohingya refugee crisis has grown in the past four months to support 11 humanitarian agencies. Our teams have translated vitally important content such as hygiene and sanitation outreach materials as part of a massive cholera prevention campaign. The content generated from the ongoing translation is being used to build a Bangla translation memory which fits with our strategic focus on underserved languages.

Kenya Hospital Language Technology
Kenya, Kisumu District Hospital.

The Future

We are developing language data that our tech partners may use in the future to help create new machine translation engines. An example of this in practice is our partnership with Microsoft which led to the company’s development of machine translation for Kiswahili. The machine is now supporting more than 100M native speakers worldwide. TWB hopes to extend that work to other key marginalized languages in 2018.

The use of language technology allows TWB to enhance the human effort, even in marginalized languages, to ultimately provide more for our partners and most importantly, people in vulnerable situations.  

Researched and written by Vijayalaxmi Hegde, volunteer writer and Diane Wagner, TWB Ambassador.


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