The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about Crowd Translation

February 11, 2014

Crowd translation is an approach to translating texts that harnesses the speed of multiple individuals working on a text concurrently. There are many different flavors of this approach, and consequently also many different perceived advantages and disadvantages. Let’s examine the differences between crowd translation and traditional translations, and also shed light on the specific approach to crowd translation used at Unbabel.

The Rise Of The Translation Industry

As the web is helping make the world smaller, the needs for translation services has risen dramatically. The translation industry was valued at 34 billion US dollar per year in 2013, and has been growing at 20% per year over the past 4 years.

Web companies compete in a global market and neglecting to expand into international markets can lead to copycats and competitive challenges down the road. Consequently companies need to provide localised versions of their services and interact with their customers in the local languages via email, on blogs, forums, wikis. But internationalisation can be a costly and lengthy process, especially if the only options are to hire employees who speak several languages or paying $0.10 or $0.20 cents per translated word — translating this blog post alone would have cost between $35 and $72.

The translation industry is ripe for disruption and numerous innovative translation models, one of which is crowd translation, are now challenging the traditional translation approach.

What Is Crowd Translation?

Crowd translation allows large projects to be broken down into smaller segments and distributed to a large group of people who produce the translation. It has been used by large web companies such as Facebook and Twitter and is many times equated with Community Translation, i.e. translation done by the users of a web product. In opposition, traditional translation services refers to professional, certified translators, who work individually on each project.

  • Speed: The most fundamental difference between crowd translation and the old translation method is that the latter is considerably slower. This is because the time to complete the job is directly related to the number of people working on it. Crowd translation enables more people to work on your project concurrently, and as a result translations are completed more quickly.
  • Cost Effectiveness: Crowd-sourced translation services harness bilingual individuals, many times un-vetted. This makes crowd translations considerably less expensive than traditional translation services that employ professional translators only.

Criticism of Crowd Translation

  • Quality: Crowd translation is often considered the best option for projects where timing is more important than quality. The involvement of a large number of people, not all professionals, poses additional challenges to the quality assurance process.
  • Consistency: When crowd translation is the only step in the project workflow, there is potential for inconsistencies between the different bilinguals who are translating.
  • Management:  Involving a crowd means managing a crowd, hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have doubts, need help and have different availabilities, personal goals and motivations. Specific tools are key to ensuring success.

How we deal with Crowd Translation at Unbabel

Unbabel selects bilingual individuals by a 2 step testing process. Initially each user is given five translation tasks used for evaluation of the user’s ability in his or her selected language, which is followed by a period of evaluation and feedback provided by the community itself. The continuous feedback loop allows the crowd to learn and assures only the best users access paid translation tasks — currently only a little over 10% of the Unbabel total users has access to paid tasks.

Two-step Translation Workflow: The Best of Both Worlds

Step 1: Machine Translation Unbabel uses a machine translation to get an initial version of the text in the target language, which reduces the amount of human effort required for the translation.

Step 2: Crowd Translation Unbabel gives the machine translation to several “editors” who submit changes sequentially. Each editor corrects ambiguous words, grammar, and makes the text sound natural. Having more that one person work on each piece of text dramatically increases the final quality.

By starting with machine translation, we significantly reduce the duration of the translation process. Using multiple vetted editors that edit until the translation is complete, enables us to deliver crowd translation you can trust.

Translating from English to Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Turkish just got easier!

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