Saturday, August 7, 2010

Crowdsourcing Coming to Terms with Death

A lot of news about translation comes out of China these days; and at the professional and academic levels, the journal Babel of the International Federation of Translators rarely lacks a Chinese contributor. “When China awakes, the world will tremble,” said Napoleon. This post relays a report from that awoken country.

I’ve run other posts about crowdsourcing for translation; the last was on December 19. The purpose of this one is to show that crowdsourcing is not limited to video games, software localisation or social networking. It can also tackle more intellectually difficult discourse.
Chen Xiaoran is finally beginning to understand the complexities of Death.
Not his own, but the philosophy course in Yale University's open program.
Chen, a Chinese college student, at first was baffled by the jeans and sneakers-clad professor who sat cross-legged on his desk for the lectures, which are posted on-line.
"I liked the relaxed style of the class," says Chen. "We don't see much of that on our campus."
It's a rare opportunity for China's Internet users to see how a Yale professor inspires his students to think, to question, and to argue.
But without subtitles, understanding would be difficult, if not impossible.
"I'd been longing to listen to Death for a long time and I tried for two classes, but couldn't understand due to my poor English comprehension," says Chen. "But now with Chinese subtitles, it's much easier."
The subtitles of Yale's on-line open courses are translated into Chinese by non-profit translation workshop Yye Ts, which is opening up courses of Ivy-league universities to ordinary Chinese.
Yye Ts was founded six years ago by a group of amateur translators, who started out translating foreign movies and TV series, but unlike other voluntary translation workshops in China, they moved into academia.
Liang Liang, the founder of Yye Ts, is a self-employed technician. He says he started the undertaking simply out of love of translation and the desire to introduce English-language films and TV shows to more Chinese.
His team of volunteers – mostly college and graduate students – all work with the same altruistic intentions, and the Yye Ts website generates enough advertising revenue to cover the overheads.
The academic translations began a month ago, the idea of a friend, and proved to be more difficult than anticipated.
"Subtitling college courses requires us to understand the specific academic field or we'll humiliate ourselves with the translation," he says.
"We select courses according to our translators' capacities and user demand. Once we decide to take on a new academic field, we recruit new translators accordingly," says Liang.
"We have to comply with historical facts and terminology. Some of the courses even require translators to know ancient Greek and Roman poems."
The translation of each course is a team effort. Four people each take 15 minutes of an hour-long class, but even then it can take each team member three days to complete.
The leader of the Death team, who goes by the nom-de-plume of Flying Phantom, says, "The most interesting part is discussion and rewording after the first drafts. We ask experts about what we're unsure of."
The workshop has so far subtitled 10 courses covering philosophy, finance and psychology, and the scripts are being downloaded 10,000 times each day.
Yye Ts has been divided into four teams: television, film, documentaries, and education.
Fang Si, supervisor of the education team, says her team is composed of 160 translators, mainly college and graduate students, with some doctoral students.
"We have very strict rules in taking on translators. Candidates have to pass two rounds of tests, which eliminate half of the applicants," says Fang.
The remaining translators are all majors in certain academic fields, and many have studied abroad.
Time-consuming as the work is, Fang Si is always enthusiastic. "By translating these courses, we can brush up our English skills and develop a better understanding of what we have learned."
The service has a growing number of appreciative followers
Rong Yujie, a graduate student of computer science, says access to first-class lectures in China is limited, but the online open courses allow him to expand his horizons.
Huang Qi, a senior manager of Shenzhen-based IT company Tencent Foundation, says, "I just want to learn English by watching these courses, and I think these are better materials than English TV shows or movies which contain too much slang."
Liang Liang plans for the group to take on more subtitles of open courses from world-class universities, and he predicts Yye Ts' rivals will be reading their future too in each new release.
The graph charts the rise in Yye Ts’s popularity in recent months.

Notice one unusual feature: the source is chosen in function of the translator and not vice vesa.

Tian Ying and Liu Xin, assisted by Wei Wei, Tang Shuxin and Qu Peiran (Xinhua, Beijing). Coming to terms with Death and other big issues on the Internet., July 16, 2010.
My emphasis - BH.