The obvious questions is: What is crowdsourcing? Here is the Wikipedia definition:
“Crowdsourcing starts with decentralization, by sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to a group of people or community (crowd) through an open call.”
The Duolingo project aims through a new business model to offer free language lessons in exchange for translating the Web. Yes, anyone that wants to learn a language can sign up for free. Then, based on a language skill evaluation, people will be assigned translation tasks matching their language skill level. As people progress with the help of language lessons they will be assigned increasing complicated material to translate.
The folks at Duolingo claim their system produces accurate translations. Take a look at the results below.
Indeed, the difference between the Duolingo translation and the professional translation is so insignificant in this news article translation it could almost be attributed to translation style difference (between 2 professional translators).
So, who’s the brains behind Duolingo? Actually, although you probably don’t know him, you‘ve almost certainly run into his work on the web. Luis von Ahn is the creator of CAPTCHA, those security widgets where you read text on an image and then enter it in a text box to prove you are human. Mr von Ahn believes that, since translation by a specific group of individuals, namely professional translators, is too expensive, crowdsourcing using the Duolongo business model of free language lessons in exchange for free translation is an elegant solution to unlocking the vast knowledge locked up in 8 billion webpages, 50% of which is in English.
Is this doable, you ask? After all, 8 billion pages is, well, 8 billion pages. Mr von Ahn believes with 1,000,000 users it will take just 80 hours to translate the entire English edition of Wikipedia. As of this writing there are already 100, 000 users signed up. Indeed, if you think about it, it is simply a numbers game with solid organization. Kind of like a 30-story building built in 15 days, really.
The concept is unique. And it does not get more altruistic than unlocking the vast majority of the humankind’s knowledge for the vast majority of the planets inhabitants, for free. However, of all the press material available, and admittedly there is not much at this stage, I see no critical thinking with regard to this concept. One of the first questions that popped into my head was: Has anyone at Duolingo worked in a professional translation services company for any meaningful amount of time in order to understand what really goes into (web) translation?
But, more about that, and other questions, in a future post. Let me leave you with a question of my own. Is the Duolingo approach really a viable alternative to professional translation?
About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, the owner Japan Translation Services Tokyo Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Service
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