#ot15: my open translation MOOC

OT12, the Open Translation MOOC took place nearly three years ago, but let’s give it a whirl anyway.

Open translation practices rely on crowdsourcing, and are used for translating open resources such as TED talks and Wikipedia articles, and also in global blogging and citizen media projects. There are many tools to help open translation practices, from Google Translate to online dictionaries and translation workflow tools.

Supported by my old friend the Higher Education Academy and run by the Open University, a number of post-MOOC resources are available:

The MOOC used the FLOSS manual Open translation tools as a reference book (see the introduction and why translate for starters), plus NPTEL’s Introduction to translation studies. Useful, both.

The main activities on the MOOC addressed subtitling videos and collaborative translation, looking in particular at quality assurance and workflow issues.

Subtitling videos: making video accessible

Issues related to captioning videos:

  • what to do when what you hear is grammatically incorrect – transcribe or correct? does the better quality of edited captions justify the time and resource needed to edit them? or is automatic captioning ‘good enough’? if so, for what and for whom?
  • acknowledging the translator – do you want your work recognised, or prefer to remain anonymous?
  • difficult to translate directly from a vid – a transcription by a native speaker is a better starting point (well yes)
  • machine translation – often laughably inaccurate, not good at accents, but better than nothing and will get better as the tech advances
  • if the quality of translation is not very high it may still be useful
  • closed captions make video/audio accessible and can also be used for SEO, learning a language, watching something with the sound off, etc


  • Google’s automatic captioning for YouTube (vid) – upload a text file with captions and Google takes care of the synchronisation; vid owners can produce transcriptions and also enable viewer-created translations; check options and settings under Subtitles/CC, autotranslations into a range of languages may be on offer
  • Amara – previously Universal Subtitles; an open source platform for subtitling video content from the web; used by Coursera and TED; how to vid
  • more software: Caption It Yourself (info from the US Association for the Deaf) | WinCAPS (priced)
  • VideoNote.es – video watching and notetaking on one screen, could easily be used for subtitling; tried out here

With Danish as a source language opportunities are pretty limited (who does eg The Legacy), although we are back to the issue of post-editing, non-native, etc. For more see MA Translation Studies News, and for a Danish perspective Kirsten Marie Øveraas’ series (De dårlige undertekster | De knap så dårlige | De gode). Subtitling companies include SDI Media Denmark, Subline/Prima Vista.

Update: “in today’s digital society, audio-visual productions have been given a prominent position as a site of contact between languages and cultures, providing a fertile ground for the blossoming of translational practices like subtitling…the disruptive (and transformative) impact that new emerging agents of translation, namely the citizens-turned-subtitlers, is having on the new model of public sphere mediatised by social networks” (source)

Collaborative translation

Sections of an OER on the practice of translation (useful!) were translated by participants, using Transifex (open? only 30 day free trial; vid) to manage workflow and crowdsourcing (similar to GatherContent, a content strategy workflow tool):

The Transifex localization platform makes it easy to collect, translate and deliver digital content, web and mobile apps in multiple languages.


  • autotranslate populates the translation field with a translation from Google Translate
  • suggestions, glossary: “in the context of crowd-sourced translations totally foreseeable decision-making should be part of a clear style guide distributed to all participants before they start work”
  • editing and proofreading – peer review, suggestion and voting facilities

See the FLOSS manual on community managementdictionaries and glossaries.


  • the Skopos theory states that you cannot translate a text without knowing the purpose, but for much of the information on the internet the original purpose is unknown; is it possible to deduce the purpose from the context?
  • Mary Snell-Hornby: “a good translator has to be not only bilingual but bi-cultural”; in an age of globalisation does it still hold true? is there a ‘world culture’ that renders culture awareness less relevant (the globish argument – how can you reflect cultural awareness if you don’t know what culture is the target audience)? or is cultural awareness even more important in a global context?

Open translation projects

Quality assurance

Quality control:

  • should there be a responsibility to ensure the minimum quality of translating and captioning? where does it lie?
  • should there be code of conduct for the people who undertake to translate Internet resources?
  • and what about legal protection?

According to European Standard EN 15038:2006 Translation services: service requirement translators should check their translation in terms of omissions and errors and ensure that specific specifications have been met. Translators cannot revise their own translation, meaning that revision has to be done by another person. Is this relevant and/or practical in the context of open translation, where translators often work as volunteers and may not be professionals?

A ‘good’ translation often depends on how ‘satisfied’ the client is. Can an open translation be measured as such, considering that there is no specific client?

Quality control procedures in on open translation sh/could include

  • a project plan and guide to the common approach (code of practice) shared with the team
  • defined roles and responsibilities
  • a style guide
  • contributor profiles
  • self-check tests and collaboration agreements
  • a forum for queries and sharing resources
  • acknowledge all contributions

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