The Future of Web Translation: Haters Gonna Hate

Just lurrve this TEDxCMU talk by Luis von Ahn of CMU called Duolingo: The Next Chapter in Human Computation. It’s all about smart people working together to solve worldwide information problems.

You know those annoying reCaptcha word combinations that you have to enter on some sites to verify that you’re a real person? Did you realize that they were part of a crowdsourced solution to digitize millions of words, for example twenty years of the New York Times? Again, CMU folks behind that one. Check out the video.

Luis goes on to tell us about Duolingo, a crowdsourced solution to translate the interweb’s information that solves those problems of motivating people to contribute translations freely and the lack of bilinguals. How? By leveraging the millions of people who want to learn another language. The solution is not only smart from a translation perspective, but much fairer in terms of language education too. Not everyone can afford those expensive languagelearning solutions.

Example of Duolingo-based translation shown by Luis von Ahn in the TEDxCMU video
Example of Duolingo-based translation shown by Luis von Ahn in the TEDxCMU video

Of course, Duolingo is now sure to attract the same decontextualized criticisms that Google Translate, Facebook crowdsourcing translation, and the rest of the community-based or ‘free’ approaches, attract from the ‘professional’ quarter. However, as Renato Beninatto points out, the battle is already won and nobody will be out of a job. So fess up folks while the rest of us call out such criticisms what they really are: a sales pitch for paid translation linked to fears about as credible as ye olde claims that the introduction of steam locomotives would turn cows milk sour (hat tip for analogy: @renatobeninatto), while being dismissive of those who desire to actually help the world to exchange information and communicate freely in any language they like (I don’t care if someone then wants to sell ads off the freely translated content).

The site hasn’t gone live yet, but you can sign up for a beta preview. If you’re interested.


Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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