Remote education has become a priority in the current environment. Countless applications have been developed or adapted in the last year to accommodate the ever-increasing demand for remote educational software. The majority, of course, are focused on facilitating monolingual education, where teachers and students share the same language. But what happens in situations where multiple languages are spoken or presented in an educational context? We’ll consider here how professional translation services and translation apps can contribute to enriched distance learning, helping to break down linguistic barriers.
The global language services industry is vast and growing fast. It is estimated that the worldwide market is worth more than fifty billion dollars and counting, growing perhaps as much as ten percent annually. Translation and interpretation are key components of the industry. Professional translation services include a wide range of translation types, the vast majority of which are well suited to remote delivery. Many sectors rely on the performance of online translation and interpretation, and remote education is a rapidly increasing slice of that pie.
The professional translation services category covers a broad range of offerings. It includes not just document translation and voice interpretation but also transcription, subtitling, dubbing, editing, and proofreading. Most of these segments also have substantial relevance to remote education. Documents must be translated, multilingual conversation must be interpreted, audio and video recordings must be transcribed, and videos often must be dubbed and/or subtitled. And everything written should be edited and proofed professionally.
Remote education and the new normal
Southeast Asia in particular, which has seen more than a million COVID-19 cases through 2020, was faced with the daunting challenge of developing language-specific remote learning progress to support learn-from-home programs. But ASEAN nation were not equally prepared to meet this challenge. While the developed technological infrastructure of Singapore gave it an advantage relative to neighboring countries, there has been tremendous activity on the island nation to adapt to remote education modalities, and the process is far from perfect or complete.
The situation in the broader region, with less developed infrastructure, is more challenging. As of May 2020, only ASEAN nations – Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei, reported an internet penetration rate of more than 80%. In addition, many students lack an adequate level of computers and smartphones, or lack the necessary software or sufficient bandwidth for video calls. Many in primary and secondary education, both students and teachers, lack the necessary skills. Local, regional and national governments were also caught unprepared for the massive shift to remote education and have been struggling to catch up with the surge in demand.
Methods of language learning
The COVID crisis produced a sudden wave of purchases of laptops and smartphones. But many countries in Southeast Asia, let alone localities, had ever prepared online education systems before 2020. So that year also saw a surge in training programs, also online, for administrators, technical staff and, not least, teachers. Happily, the urgent demand for remote education in the pandemic spurred a rapid ramp-up of infrastructure, programs, and training across the region.
Local examples or remote education in action
- Singapore rolled out the XSEED Education initiative to three thousands plus schools nationwide in combination with integrated teacher training and learning programs.
- Vietnam produced VNPT E-Learning, an innovative educational package with a strong training component.
- Indonesia deployed HarukaEDU in a partnership of universities and corporations.
To the north, China has been a trendsetter in government-corporate partnerships. Companies like tencent and Alibaba have adapted their commerce solutions to support remote education.
But most of these efforts understandably placed an emphasis on delivery of services in a single language. That created problems for multilingual educational environments, especially in countries where students speaking multiple languages or foreign language materials are used. Very few national programs have integrated robust multilingual remote education solutions.
Translating your teaching materials
It is likely that most remote education programs, not just in Southeast Asia but worldwide, do not now offer built-in multilingual support. As remote education technology develops and expands, that feature may be offered in the future. Technology integrations can provide the ability to translate materials “on the fly” without leaving the primary elearning software application in use.
Machine translation versus professional translation services
Based on an interview with Ofer Tirosh, CEO of the professional translation services Tomedes, even translation companies like his are just starting to develop various methods of integrating professional translation to remote learning, especially at the time when the pandemic hit. He comments:
“Translation and language professionals need to collaborate in order to develop new methods of remote learning in these tough times.”
There are other alternatives, such as machine translation but for the moment, according to Slator, “Translation technology isn’t perfect yet.”
One such alternative is the Google Translate API, an application programming interface that allows programmers to add translation features to their applications seamlessly. The API allows organizations to translate dynamically between languages using pre-trained or custom machine learning models. In addition to the core Translate API, there are two additional main components available: AutoML Translation, for linguistic modeling, and the Media Translation API, which facilitates automatic translation of audio and video sources from one language to the other, “on the fly.” These integrations, of course, require involvement of programmers familiar with the host software. More than a hundred languages are supported, including most languages in use in Southeast Asia.
Efficient course development
Once a course has been developed in a single language, it is a straightforward process to adapt the content to additional languages. This process, familiar across a range of industries, is known as localization. For the most part, this involves converting data and software in one language to many. In the remote education context, that is likely to involve two or three languages rather than the dozens which are frequently supported in other kinds of software.