Information is an unlimited resource and the knowledge isn’t lost if it’s shared with other people. Today, we have the Internet and information is constantly flowing, but there are still language barriers causing real and sometimes hazardous problems.
It is true that we don’t need all the information around us. The language barrier becomes a problem only when the needed information is crucial but not available in a language that the person would understand. Then he just has to cope with the situation without that piece of information. He might succeed or fail depending on the situation but the main dilemma is: do people really have to invent the wheel again and again? Or should the existing information on wheel-making be available in every language so that the energy could be used to invent something new?
Sadly, the information which would make the greatest impact is not complex or difficult to access. It’s just written in wrong languages. For example, the poorest regions on Earth would need basic health, nutrition and cultivation information to improve their living standards. Likewise, the environment and nature would benefit if people understood how to use and store different chemicals and toxics. Some of these language barriers are breaking though. There are non-profit organizations, like Translators without Borders, which is doing a great job for making information available for those who need it the most.
Today only a small fraction of all the material is being translated. Due to the limited time resources (a day will always have only 24 hours) the professional translators won’t ever be able to translate all that is needed. The enormous use volume of Google Translate is one proof of this: in 2012 Google translated in one day as much as all the translators translate together in a year. Without having the statistics, it is reasonable to assume that most of this material which goes through Google must be quite general information, like web content, emails, newsletters, documents and so on. Many also use it as a dictionary.
In addition to written information, language barriers are present on all sorts of daily communication. It is impossible to hire interpreters for every international conversation. For example Microsoft has presented a solution which combines speech recognition and machine translation for automating translation of spoken languages. While none of these automatic translation tools are flawless yet, all the energy that is spent on developing them proofs that it must be the right direction in the search for solutions to break down the language barriers. After all, language technologies have one clear advantage as compared to humans: they are scalable and thus affordable for the masses.
No matter which method (machine, human or both) is utilized to make the translation work, the need for quick and reliable translation will keep growing. The Internet has equalized the ability to access information all around the globe. Breaking down the language barriers is the next step.
This is a guest post by Multilizer; a technology company specialized in developing professional localization and translation tools for both individuals and companies. Each month over 120 million words are translated (manually and automatically) with Multilizer products in more than 150 countries. Multilizer writes actively about translation industry and localization technologies in the Multilizer Translation Blog.