Berlin, March 23, 2020
2.9 million people in Germany* have a different mother tongue and are not able to read or write proficiently in German. This includes immigrants, refugees, exchange students, spouses, and even entire families that don’t understand German. As a pioneer in the field of machine translation, lengoo wants to help these people remain well informed during times of crisis by means of a multilingual model.
Clueless in a crisis
Two factors are decisive for the outcome of a crisis. These are, above all else, time and communication.
In the current coronavirus crisis, the government, public institutions, businesses, and all persons must be informed abut important decisions and actions, and due care should be given to ensure that all those affected have understood the information.
The Federal Government and many official bodies in Germany, including public service media, currently appear overwhelmed when it comes to this critical aspect: communication.
For instance, the address by Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 22, 2020, announcing the new measures to combat CoViD-19, was available exclusively in German on her webpage www.bundeskanzlerin.de – even 36 hours after the announcement was broadcast.
In our business alone, more than 50% of employees are not native German speakers. Many of them haven’t been in Berlin for very long and have barely any knowledge of German. This is the case for nearly all companies that employ foreign workers.
In the current climate, these people are dramatically underinformed and are relying on others to relay important information to them. What’s also problematic is that they often don’t know whether a source is trustworthy or whether it’s fake news, and what steps they need to take to overcome this crisis.
The German state governments, administrative bodies, ministries, and authorities are focused on communicating new information in German. And that in itself is proving a challenge given the current high volume of information. Even the efforts of the WHO to enable quick access to information from reliable sources are limited to a few key Western languages.
Millions of people in Germany and around the world do not currently have access to important local information.
We find this unacceptable and have launched a project that aims to communicate important information more quickly to everyone in Germany going forward. Even to those that don’t speak German.
lengoo will train a multilingual machine translation model that can be used free of charge by the government, ministries, and crisis centers. To this end, we will be translating and publishing news and information in other languages over the coming days and weeks, and will train the model based on these data.
Free machine translations, geared especially towards crisis communication
As a language service provider, our work is focused on the specific training of machine translation models. Using a technology developed jointly with the European Union, we produce specialist translations using artificial intelligence. To do this, we use highly specific language data from our customers, large businesses in the industry and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as e-commerce and mechanical engineering, and train specific translation models that can autonomously translate technical texts into other languages.
The machine translations are then edited by specialist translators in a so-called Human-in-the-Loop process. This process enables translations to be produced three times faster than by specialist translators alone.
It is precisely this time advantage that can play a decisive role in a crisis. That’s why we would now like to give everyone free access to the machine translation models we have trained for the purpose of crisis communication.
CoViD-19 live blog with updates from Germany in English
In an initial step, we have started by translating all coronavirus news updates on the Tagesschau live blog from German into English in real time and publishing them on our blog.
We are also translating important announcements by Angela Merkel into English – the previously mentioned address on March 22, 2020, was available on our blog in less than two hours – and are currently working on ways to support cities and hospitals in Germany with translations. Since March 19, our team of data scientists, specialist translators, and content managers has been translating the most important news every day.
The translations we have produced for this blog, along with the revisions made by our specialist translators, form the basis for training the models. Human input means our system is constantly learning and thereby training the translation model.
English isn’t understood by all non-German speakers in Germany. And so, in a subsequent step, we would like to translate all content into Turkish, and prospectively into Russian and Arabic as well.
We need help to make this possible!
1 Share our live blog in English with all those who can’t speak German.
2 Are you a professional translator? Work with us on this project! We are urgently seeking volunteer translators, who can translate from German into Turkish, Russian, English, and Arabic.
3 Do you have a blog, a magazine, a youtube channel or other social media and want to support us?
Write to us at [email protected]
Everyone needs access to reliable information. In a crisis, the right information at the right time can save lives.
(* Source: Grotlüschen, Anke; Buddeberg, Klaus; Dutz, Gregor; Heilmann, Lisanne; Stammer, Christopher (2019): LEO 2018 – Leben mit geringer Literalität. Pressebroschüre, Hamburg. Retrieved from: http://blogs.epb.uni-hamburg.de/leo)