Compiled by Rajen Varada, Resource Person and Gitanjali Sah, Research Associate, 27 August 2008:The query requested advice on possible ways to extend the membership of Solution Exchange (SE) to include more players in the development sector, especially regional language practitioners and for information on Machine Language Translation options. Members responded by giving examples of different translation applications available including Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and suggestions for extending SE’s reach.
Respondents recommended diverse Machine Language Translation tools, along with free and open source software like Saraswati, which is available in Hindi, Kannada and Tamil fonts. The Department of Official Language has also developed the software called Mantra that translates from English to Hindi.
In addition, members mentioned the India Development Gateway portal that provides the option of accessing the website in six Indian languages and the developers, Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), have offered to collaborate to link with Solution Exchange for machine assisted translation projects.
Discussing the view that Indian Language (IL) Machine Translators have not matured technically enough to be able to operate flawlessly without human mediation, discussants suggested machine assisted translation as a viable and effective choice. Machine Translators work through “language pairs,” the most common being English to a specific IL; for instance English to Hindi, English to Telugu, or English to Tamil. IL-to-IL pair translation systems also exist. However, almost all of these options have their limitations. They depend on the narrowing of domains (and vocabulary) to improve accuracy to acceptable levels and reduce the amount of fine-tuning required. Members cited the example of “Google Translate,” which allows for English to Hindi translation, but often produces grammatically incorrect translations.
Discussants added that although Machine Language Translations have reached some level of maturity in translating European languages, there is still a lot of development work needed for it to be effective for Indian languages. Thus, they recommended international experts and academics advice on the topic of local language translations.
To help address the limitations of Machine Assisted Translations, members recommended building a network of voluntary interpreters across the country, like the international network of volunteer interpreters and translators “Babels.” Other ideas included using unemployed college graduates as translators in different states and building alliances with local language journalists who could translate relevant parts into the local language.
Respondents also suggested SE could extend its reach to grassroots practitioners through regional non-governmental organizations. NGOs could translate relevant topics/discussions into the local language for the communities they with work and disseminate the final product (the Consolidated Reply) through newsletters. Another recommendation was to create “Solution Exchange call centres,” which would function as a query response service in regional languages. Some members also mentioned the possibility of tying up with Translation Bureaus, cited the example of E-TV bureau.
Members felt that it was important to move beyond the Internet as the only way of communicating on Solution Exchange. SE needs to reach out to people who do not have access to Internet by utilizing other modes of communication such as the radio, television or postal networks. Discussants suggested creating live phone-in TV programmes with the query poser and Community moderator receive responses from community members. This discussion could be extended further through e-mail, SMS and postal letters. Another idea was to use video conferencing technology to broadcast SE discussions, transcribe them, and then upload them on sites like U-Tube. Additional suggestions included broadcasting programmes on radio stations, publishing a monthly or fortnightly Solution Exchange publication in different languages, and exploring the possibilities of linking with the Government of India’s Common Service Centre (CSC) programme to make use of available infrastructure.
Finally, some respondents highlighted that operating in regional spaces will likely bring out different structural issues, for instance, the need to build trust-based relationships before being able to start “sharing knowledge.”
Overall, members agreed that extending the reach of Solution Exchange to Indian languages is necessary in order to provide a platform for regional development practitioners to share their experiences and problems and supported employing a “bottoms up” approach of accessing information in local languages and translating it into English. However, they concluded by stressing that efforts to extend SE’s reach must not only address translation concerns, but also the strategic, managerial and operational issues related to running a Solution Exchange Community of Practice and in taking it to regional languages. There was unanimous feedback from all members that engaging with grassroots practitioners left out due to language barriers would enrich the Solution exchange discussions. The technical and logistic hurdles which were very appropriately highlighted but with a overall encouraging direction that local language engagement of Solution Exchange should be attempted either by surmounting the technical issues or by finding alternate solutions using all and any media possible to communicate with local language knowledge practitioners.