Every year in late January, the President of the United States gives a speech to both houses of Congress, reporting on the “state of the union” and what lies ahead in the coming year. Of course, it’s not just the United States Congress listening to the speech. Interested people from across the globe listen, too. This year, to make the speech more accessible, news organizations and others turned to crowdsourced translation.
First, translation startup Babelverse announced that they would use their real-time translation service to livestream President Obama’s speech into as many different languages as possible. They hope to eventually offer livestreams like this in all 6,976 languages. While that goal proved to be a tad ambitious, according to their blog they were able to stream the speech into at least 7 different languages (Spanish, Hindi, French, Mandarin Chinese, Greek, Bahasa Indonesian and Portuguese), with an average of 2 interpreters per language.
Meanwhile, PBS, America’s public broadcasting service, brought back last year’s popular partnership with Universal Subtitles to offer crowdsourced subtitles for the video of Obama’s speech. Anybody capable of interpreting can volunteer with Universal Subtitles, and volunteer translators review the translations to catch errors.
PBS NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan told Poynter.org that the project “gives viewers an opportunity to be part of spreading content to more people, and gives public media organizations a way to engage with their communities in a deep and ongoing way.”
Of course, even with a staff of volunteers, accuracy is always an issue. For now, at least, PBS is relying on its viewers’ better angels to keep its translations on target. As Sreenivasan put it:
“We have every intention to be as editorially accurate as possible. I don’t fundamentally believe that there are people out there who want to malign us by offering incorrect translations, but who knows? I think our intentions are noble, and I think the people who end up as volunteers for these kinds of things are generally more philanthropic and more volunteer-driven than the average viewer.”
The bottom line? Crowdsourced translation has a lot of potential for certain situations, but when getting it right the first time is what matters most, a reputable translation company is still the best way to go.