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Crowdsourcing translation?

Sameer Vasta's picture

As a global institution, it's no surprise that the World Bank has to create content that can be accessed by a diverse public around the world. Part of those efforts to be truly accessible is to create and translate content into different languages.

The multilingual team here at the Web Program Office does an amazing job of coordinating the Bank's language efforts — the Bank website is fully accessible in French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese, as well as other pockets of content available in various other languages — but a recent podcast got me thinking:

Is there value in crowdsourcing the Bank's translation?

flaggenmeer by pinke_olive

Of course, there would have to be coordination and oversight, but perhaps we could learn from the Open Translation Project launched by TED recently:

A year in the making, the TED Open Translation Project brings TEDTalks beyond the English-speaking world by offering subtitles, time-coded transcripts and the ability for any talk to be translated by volunteers worldwide. The project launched with 300 translations in 40 languages, and 200 volunteer translators.

A noble and perhaps groundbreaking effort: letting users themselves decide what content they want to have translated, and have other users do the translating for them, in a peer-reviewed, crowdsourced model.

Could this model work at the Bank? Is there opportunity for us to pilot a similar effort around our content on international development?

(For another example of crowdsourced translation, check out Global Voices. Photo of flags by pinke_olive.)


Submitted by cosmodc on
Would crowdsource translation be an option for all web products the Bank produces, including several hundred page technical reports? There may be nuances with dense operation/economic material that is not easily translatable by the masses. Otherwise I think this model could work at the Bank as long as the "request translation" feature is integrated in a simple and easily understood manner. A la Facebook, don't forget the Enlgish (Pirate) translation option. :)

CosmoDC, the one concern I have with crowdsourced translation is essentially the issue you bring up: a lot of the Bank's material is quite technical or contains content that isn't easily processed by everyday users of the Bank's website. Of course, that itself might be an issue we need to change to make our information more accessible, but it surely does make the concept of crowdsourced translation trickier.

@angellino on Twitter raised a good question: "How do translators make a living when you crowdsource?" My immediate response would be to say that they would act as community managers for the translation communities, but even that only means a small fraction of professional translators would be needed. Anyone else have ideas?

Sameer, You should look into the Worldwide Lexicon Project ( WWL is a collaborative translation memory that enables web publishers to crowdsource translations (the system is pretty flexible and can run as an open system like Wikipedia, or can be locked down so only trusted and/or paid translators can contribute). It is open source, so the software can be adapted to your specific needs pretty easily. See to see how it works in a wiki-like mode where anyone can edit and curate translations to a page (it use machine translation to get a quick but rough translation, and from there people can edit and score the translations). Works best in Safari, Chrome or Firefox 3.5 or later. You can find out about the project in general at Be sure to visit FLOSS Manuals to see an overview of the open source translation tools currently available, at Brian McConnell

Oh wow, thanks Brian. Some really neat suggestions and links there. I'll pass them along to the multilingual team here, and keep you posted as to our thoughts on this front.

Submitted by Josh G. on
There sure would be value in crowd-sourcing your translations. Really no downside, unless you don't have the community to support it.

Crowdsourcing works for TED because of the nature of the content i.e. it's really interesting high-quality content and thus an active community. What fascinating content does the World Bank offer?

You make a good point Daniel — the audience needs to be fully engaged with the content before crowdsourcing makes sense. I'd argue that there is a lot of content that the Bank produces that is engaging and of value, especially around data and results. Maybe the first thing that needs to be done is effectively curate the content?

Submitted by Anonymous on
If the content is interesting, translators will translate, but in addition to that, what is boring to some is a gold mine to others. If the content bears with it a huge personal interest, people are willing to plow through the most difficult or dry passages. It's the same with World Bank. It's an important organization for a lot of people, and for that reason, I believe translators will volunteer.

Submitted by Paul on
The Economist ( recently had a great piece about the topic. Particularly interesting model behind, where a community of thousands of qualified translators translate into 37 languages within hours. SpeakLike will even translate Twitter posts and has a new iphone app to translate images, cool stuff!

Submitted by Anonymous on
As we all know, crowdsourcing is a very topical issue, and a cheap (i.e. free) way for big companies to use their client base as a means of procuring translations, Facebook being the prime example. However, I'm surprised and shocked that the World Bank is even considering such a move without giving any thought to the quality aspect, and nobody seems to have raised it here yet. Just for the record, I am a freelance translator with many years' experience. Obviously, I am bound to defend my industry, but please consider this: like many professional translators, I spent several years at university, even taking two postgraduate degrees to prove I have what it takes to produce a good translation. I am a member of a professional association for translators and am obliged to abide by their code of conduct. I spend a lot of money every year on professional indemnity insurance, not to mention continuing professional development. More importantly than any of this, I double-check and triple-check every translation I produce to ensure that the quality of the translation is acceptable and that it meets the client's requirements and specification to the letter. How many unpaid croudsourcing volunteers do these things, and how can the World Bank (or anyone else for that matter) be sure that an unqualified volunteer will produce an accurate translation? I know that times are hard and we all need to save money where possible, but maybe we should also consider the consequences of shortcuts like this, because mistakes can and do creep in, sometimes with devastating results. What if a mistranslation led to a loan being refused?

Submitted by Chris on
My group has translators spread around the world that mostly work on country specific projects but may speak languages like spanish or arabic that are applicable to broad regions. Have any of you heard of a tool we can use to collaborate on translations inside an organization? Even opening up translations within an organization could allow for translation to continue 24/7 or to be picked up by another team when one is over taxed. This may also be applicable to what the world bank is doing.

Submitted by Camilo on
I'm currently fumbling with tools available to make online health information available in Spanish, without losing their scientific or divulgative value. As in the case of the more technical terms, many words require careful translation, since they might have very different meaning, and thus, very serious consequences, for different Spanish speaking cultures. Has anyone come across a useful tool or resource to overcome this difficulty? It would be most appreciated.

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