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Unbabel contributes to the EU-funded INTERACT crisis translation project

What if you found yourself in the middle of a crisis – and the only information available to you was in a language you couldn’t understand?

It’s a desperate thought, and yet one which is all too common. Natural disasters don’t respect borders. And we live in a globalised world where we travel, trade and make our homes in many other countries. In fact, practically every crisis will be affected by a language barrier.

Resolving language problems would, of course, also help the many cross-border rescue, charity and welfare organisations who come together, often at short notice, to provide assistance.

Solving this challenge is the purpose of INTERACT, the International Network on Crisis Translation; a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, which brings together academics in the social sciences, technologists, industry and humanitarian first-responders. Its goal is to research and improve translation in crisis scenarios, and so enable crisis-affected people to make rapid, informed decisions when it matters most.

courtesy of our partner Translators Without Borders

Unbabel is delighted to be one of the project consortium’s partners, in the company of experts from across the relevant sectors and disciplines. Academic partners include Dublin City University, University College London, Arizona State University, and the University of Auckland. Further expert contributors incude Microsoft Research, Translators Without Borders, and Cochrane, the world authority on the quality of medical research.

As the project develops, three Unbabel members and experienced researchers, Dr. João Graça (Unbabel’s CTO), Dr. André Martins (Unbabel’s Head of Research), and Dr. Helena Moniz (Unbabel’s Head of Quality) will be collaborating and sharing their insights with other representatives from Network partners.

“It’s probably the most challenging project in terms of communication processes I’ve ever been involved with,” Moniz says. “We must dare to rethink the potential communication processes, and what translation means in such scenarios…and how we may, as common citizens and researchers, contribute to that.”

Because human translators are often unreachable during the logistic complications of a crisis, machine translation can allow for faster, more widespread comprehension of an emergency in real time.

“We’ve heard stories that are difficult to confine in words––stories in which the paralinguistics of emotion and human fragility challenge the translator beyond the linguistic code itself––beyond the frontier of words,” Moniz says. “Health-related content is particularly hard to translate, [but] the partners have experience and data on this topic, and have already translated during an Ebola crisis situation.”

The INTERACT project focuses on four core areas:

  • Policy: contributing to crisis translation policy recommendations for national, EU and international agencies.
  • Training: to increase cross-sector awareness of the importance of translation in crises
  • Simplification: making health-related content more comprehensible and culturally appropriate across borders.
  • Machine Translation: developing MT processes and engines for health-related communications in crisis contexts.

The overarching objective is to contribute to the creation of rapid, high quality and scalable translation mechanisms, so that those who need help can get it reliably, even during the most complex and unpredictable crisis situations.

You can follow INTERACT’s progress on Twitter.

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