Thursday, April 17, 2014

Crowdsourcing: Translation Commons

Crowdsourcing is changing not only the way translations are done, but also the way people think about translating. When I broke away as a maverick translatologist 40 years ago, the notion that useful and usable translations could be done by bilinguals with no training was anathema to the community of Professional Translators and to their trainers in the translation schools. And the general public followed suit in principle if not in practice. I say “not in practice” because in reality there always were many translators who made money as professionals yet were not trained as Expert Translators.

Nowadays the crowdsourcing of translations, either through cooperatives or through agencies, is too prevalent to be ignored or to be dismissed as unacceptable. Even such a universally read source of information as Wikipedia couldn't function without it. Users do make mistakes and go to the wrong kind of translator, but hopefully they’re learning that each kind has its place. The crowdsourced translators usually lay no claim to being experts. Yet nor are they naïve Natural Translators. They are Native Translators, who have learnt by absorption; that is to say by reading or listening to other people’s translations. And they just assume they were born capable of doing it.

The latest example to reach me is Translation Commons. Irish. Let it speak for itself (but with my emphasis).
"A University of Limerick spin-off has gained 5,000 language volunteers world-wide for its Translation Commons platform.
"The Translation Commons matches non-profit translation projects and organisations with volunteer translators, delivering free translation services in to 120 non-profit organisations in 27 countries.
"The platform was launched less than a year ago by the Rosetta Foundation, a non-profit spin-off from the University of Limerick, that works to provide equal access to information and knowledge across the languages of the world.
"The Rosetta Foundation has worked with 88, the most common being English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Catalan, Polish and Arabic.
"Reinhard Schäler, CEO and foundertranslation of The Rosetta Foundation, said: 'Language volunteers have shown that there are no language barriers. The real barrier is access to costly language services which the Translation Commons have brought into the reach of communities that need them most.'
“'At the moment we have around five new volunteer registrations per day, and the most active community is the Spanish one with around 2,000 volunteers. Access to and sharing information in your own language is a fundamental universal human right – one that The Rosetta Foundation is committed to preserve and protect.'”

TechCentral Reporters. Translation Commons passes 5,000 volunteer mark., 2014. Click here.

Julie McDonough Donough. Wikipedia translation projects: Take 2. Some Thoughts on Translation Research and Teaching blog, 2014.

University of Limerick arms.

Personal Footnote
To those who know about my recent accident, the good news is my shoulder is healing well. But I’ll have to go through a period of rehab after Easter before I can write normally.


  1. Hi,

    Thanks so much for the article!!!!

    We really appreciante you wrote about The Rosetta Foundation and Trommons.

    Javier (PR and Social Media Manager of The Rosetta Foundation)

  2. Thank you. I'll follow your links.

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  5. Thank you very much for your comment, but I wonder whether you've grasped the purpose of this blog. It's not basically about technology, nor even about crowdsourcing as such, though it may stray into those areas. It's about UNTRAINED translators, those bilinguals whom I call NATURAL and NATIVE translators. If I've devoted this post to crowdsourcing, it's because many, probably most of the translators who participate in crowdsourcing haven't been through a training programme and have no translation qualifications. They've learnt the craft by seeng how others do it.

  6. There is lot of articles on the web about this. But I like yours more, although i found one that’s more descriptive.

    Translation Agency  

  7. Crowdsourcing transaltions can be managed easily with the help of the localization management app