Translators without Borders is initiating a free mentoring program for translators in emerging languages in Africa such as Swahili, Kikuyu and Kikamba.
This will help develop local capacity for translating at precisely the time that it is needed most. 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 on the Net, and also for the increasing economic opportunities that come in the wake of Internet connectivity.
Two factors are going to make the Internet more accessible than ever to Africans. 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. For this I have my hopes on Google’s low orbit satellites, due to come on stream during the year as part of their O3B (Other 3 Billion) program.
I can’t overstate the importance of this, as with every increase in internet access there is an accompanying increase in a country’s GDP. The Internet is a pathway to wealth for emerging economies.
The other major advance is the new generation of low-cost internet-enabled devices. India has just produced a $35 tablet computer, and with the lucrative market that Africa represents, I’m sure that more products like this will be on their way.
Already Africans impatient for the benefits of the Internet are leading the world with what you can do on a cellphone. M-Pesa 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? Of course they will continue to generate their own local content, as they are doing now, but in terms of the masses of information that’s already available on the Net, they will never be able to catch up in their own languages if they have to generate all that content from scratch.
I’m talking here of essential medical, educational, scientific and technical information that’s already out there – but, since it’s in English, only available to the most educated.
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.
In my experience running a translation company, people with language skills who are both smart and good writers make the best translators. (Don’t ask me why ‘smart’ matters. It’s just something I’ve noticed, that good translators tend to have high IQs.) Subject matter expertise is the next most important thing. So Africans have all that and more.
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 ProZ.com and our superb Board of Directors, we are building a program of training translators in local languages. Beyond the usual training that any new translator would receive, there’s a peculiarity of the African context that we have to work with. Many words may not already have equivalents in African languages, concepts like ‘cloud computing’, ‘crowd sourcing’ 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, Translators without Borders 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!)
With a large body of translators in key African languages, TWB can get to work helping African NGO bridge the knowledge gap.
Please contact me if you would like to be part of this exciting initiative.