Language Translating Software

Flags from different countries

The global scope of the Haiti response has brought together people from around the world to Haiti.  Haitian Creole is the primary language in Haiti and is spoken by 12 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers).  French is the other major language in Haiti which is the ninth most spoken language in the world.  Responding agencies that need to interact with Haitians needs to speak either of these languages.  French is already common language handled by translation software.  The Haitian Creole language gap has lead to surge of translation software to convert from other languages to Haitian Creole.  While this can be helpful, it is not complete solution unto itself.  

The first issue comes in what needs to be translated.  Much of the initial information that came out from Haiti was through SMS texting.  Anyone who has sent or read text messages is aware that short hand is used when texting.  This can be difficult for native readers to understand.  A software program based on the “academic” language will not be able to convert this.  

The second issue comes in the literacy rate.  Just because people can speak the language doesn’t mean they can read the language.  A bit over half the Haitians can read and write (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html).  Taking useful information and providing it in the written native tongue doesn’t ensure understanding – especially in the half of the population that doesn’t read.  These translation programs need to be considered as just one of many tools in the responders’ tool kit.  And this doesn’t apply to just international disaster responses, but to anywhere where responders may not understand the local native language.  It all comes down to reaching disaster survivors in the way they are used to being reached.