What if you translate and nobody gets it? As mentioned in previous posts, that’s what most worries me about the translation we do in life sciences. As low as health literacy is among English speakers (more than 77 million U.S. adults have basic or below basic health literacy skills), it’s even worse in other languages. A few days ago, Google kicked off Health Speaks, an effort to recruit amateur volunteers to translate health content into Arabic, Hindi and Swahili for posting on Wikipedia.
“Accurate, accessible health information has the power to save lives. However, millions of people around the world face a simple yet vexing barrier to getting quality health information: language. Health Speaks is an initiative to help communities overcome this obstacle by translating high-quality health information into their local languages.
“Combining the power of local expertise with efficient online tools like the Google Translator Toolkit, Health Speaks aims to efficiently increase the amount of quality health information available online in local languages.”
This is a community based, crowd-sourcing initiative, which means that no one gets paid, although Google.org will make donations to local health care organizations to the tune of $.03 per word for all translations completed in the first 60 days of the program. (I should disclose here that we are a Google language services provider, but not at $.03 per word!)
Jennifer Haroon, manager of the effort, says, “We will undoubtedly learn from these three pilots and iterate on our approach as we learn how best to engage volunteers and provide tools that allow for easy and accurate translation. We hope to one day expand the Health Speaks initiative to include high-quality health content from other publishers and other languages that suffer from a lack of health information online.”
Here’s where you can go to sign up if you wish to volunteer. As of the writing of this post, about 30,000 words have been translated and published in Arabic, and maybe a thousand or so in the other languages. I’m not sure if that is pointing towards success or not, but it will be interesting to track their progress.
With 90% of Web content written in only 12 languages, millions of speakers of other languages without the same Web footprint are left in the dark information-wise. But availability of information on the Web is useless if it goes unread, and Arabic, Hindi and Kiswahili are all plagued with high illiteracy rates, particularly among women, where half cannot read. So a glass half empty or half full? I just got back from the International Literacy Conference at the UN today, so this is on my mind. There is a lot of work to be done.