New developments at TWB

The need for translation in Africa is acute, especially for health care information. A shortage of doctors and nurses means that health care, particularly in the rural areas, is delivered by community health workers. They tend not to speak English well, yet their manuals and training are exclusively in English. The former executive director of UNICEF once said that 80% of the children who die every day in Africa are dying for lack of knowledge.

Hence, Translators without Borders (TWB) is initiating a free mentoring program for translators in emerging African languages such as Swahili, Kikuyu and Kikamba. As Africans go online in greater numbers than ever before, there will be a huge need for translation, both for providing a bridge to knowledge that already exists and also for the increasing economic opportunities that come in the wake of internet connectivity.

The internet will be more accessible than ever to Africans, for two reasons. One is competition in infrastructure, which is beginning to drive down the price of internet connectivity as well as bring more access to rural communities. The other major advance is the new generation of low-cost internet-enabled devices. India, for example, has produced a $35 tablet computer. Already Africans impatient for the benefits of the internet are leading the world with what you can do on a cellphone. M-Pesa, for example, is a widespread service in Kenya for banking by mobile phone.

But once Africans get logged onto the net in large numbers, what content are they going to find there? Translation is critical to democratic access to knowledge. But the translation industry in Africa, lacking a strong economic need for its services, is just in its infancy in most of the 100 languages identified by Google as being essential to reach the largest numbers of people. Yet talented, educated people abound who would make wonderful translators.

That’s why TWB’s mission to build a world where knowledge has no borders needs to start by capacity building in Africa.Along with, TWB is building a program to train these translators. Beyond the usual training that any new translator would receive, many terms may not have equivalents in African languages — cloud computing, crowdsourcing and so on. So part of our Emerging Language Mentoring program has to involve creating work groups where translators in the same language pairs can discuss how to handle new terminology.

Of course, computers and affordable internet access are the two biggest obstacles to a strong, homegrown translation industry. Here again, TWB will work to find a solution by cooperating with a network of new digital centers that are being set up in areas around Africa and also by inviting microcredit institutions to help individual translators buy computers. We’ll also accept laptop donations!