Crowdsourcing: Using Language Students to Translate the Internet

By Veronique Greenwood | April 13, 2011 2:05 pm

reCAPTCHA
With Luis von Ahn’s reCAPTCHA, users help
correct distorted words in digitized books.

What’s the News: Nothing…yet! But word is that Luis von Ahn–the Carnegie Mellon professor behind the clever projects reCAPTCHA and ESP Game–is bringing his crowdsourcing know-how to bear on the problem of web translation. With Duolingo, a project his lab has been working on for the last year and a half, people learning new languages will serve as translators. How well will that work? It remains to be seen, but according to von Ahn, a private beta version should be launching in several weeks.

How the Heck: Getting good translations online is difficult; it generally requires a human being, and certainly isn’t free. von Ahn described his plan for making decent, free web translations possible to TechCrunch:

“The solution was to transform language translation into something that millions of people WANT to do, and that helps with the problem of lack of bilinguals: language education. It is estimated that there are over 1 billion people learning a foreign language. So, the site that we’ve been working on, Duolingo, will be a 100% free language learning site in which people learn by helping to translate the Web. That is, they learn by doing.

“We’re now mostly testing the site, and it really works — it teaches users a foreign language very well, and the combined translations that we get in return are as accurate as those from professional language translators,” he says. (via TechCrunch)

What’s the Context:

  • reCAPTCHA and ESP Game (now called Google Image Labeler) use crowdsourcing on problems that machine learning just can’t solve:
  • With reCAPTCHA, the distorted words you have to identify before making an online purchase, posting a comment, and so on are drawn from digitized books. Computer algorithms trying to correct glitches in the scanned text can’t tell what the words are, but humans can. So with each purchase, you’re helping books go online.
  • In ESP Game, users are presented with images to tag as part of a game. The result: when you search for images online, the results correspond to what you’re looking for.

The Future Holds: A private beta version, for starters: You can sign up to be notified on Duolingo’s progress here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology
  • Lorena

    the problem with recaptcha is that I dont know if I have to include everything I see, such as commas, brackets and odd symbols…. technically they are not words, so I just don’t type them……..

  • Katja

    wikiTranslate is already up and running. It looks like many of the translators are native speakers.

  • http://termwiki.com Anna

    TermWiki.com is already up too and does this and more… and its free.

  • http://termwiki.com Derek

    Check out the Language Race on Termwiki http://termwiki.com/TWSpecial:The_Language_Race
    There is an actual race to get the most terms translated. All translations are provided for free by the community of users. No cost.

  • http://www.shearerpainting.com john shearer

    What a creative solution to a problem; would a student learning a language be able to get through say…a technical science translation?

  • http://www.shearerpainting.com House Painter

    What a creative solution to a problem; would a student learning a language be able to get through say…a technical science translation?

  • Veronique Greenwood

    @Katja, Anna, Derek, WikiTranslate relies on the kindness of strangers, so that’s pretty different from Duolingo’s intention to link two needs together, forming a kind of linguistic perpetual motion machine.

    But the Language Race on TermWiki is definitely a propos.

  • Jared

    The quality of the foreign language translation service plays an important role for communication to be effective. Certain guidelines must be taken into account before you employ these services for personal or business purposes

  • http://www.eskenazy-translations.de Typo3 Übersetzung

    Just waiting to see how facebook uses crowdsourcing. Its a great use of common technology in translations.

  • http://www.seoyourwebsite.org/howtoaddgoogleanalytics/ Google Analytics

    Luis von Ahn, is another one of those sharp Carnegie Mellon guys ahead of the curve..The problem with using non native speaking translators will be navigating the slang in American English..translation issues arise with British English conversion imagine what might happen for non technical journals…but really I am an arm chair QB with my 2 cents. Maybe in 15 years smart machines will be able to do it.

  • http://www.profi-fachuebersetzungen.de Übersetzung

    WikiTranslate relies on the kindness of strangers, so that’s pretty different from Duolingo’s intention to link two needs together, forming a kind of linguistic perpetual motion machine.

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