translatethe.news: Translating international news


I spent the second half of 2016 travelling around the Black Sea region in Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, among others. Obviously, there is a lot going on in these areas, and it was interesting to experience some of this from the inside. In particular, I found it interesting to notice that the things I heard people talking about, and the things I learned (through a language barrier) from the media were somehow different from what I heard in Western media.

For example, I had a conversation about Erdoğan with a Turkish man called Erman. Around this time, many Gülenists were being purged and a lot of Gülen’s property was being confiscated. I told Erman I was surprised that everyone simply accepted this - there had not been a formal justice process, there seemed to be very little proof linking Gülen to the coup, and Erdoğan and Gülen had a very bad relationship, suggesting an additional conflict of interests. Erman said (paraphrasing): “Exactly! How can it be that you know this stuff, but my fellow countrymen don’t seem to realize this?” In fact, all I had done was read two or three articles from The Guardian about the current situation.

I then realized that while Erman was fluent in English, most Turks are not - so even if they wanted to, they would not be able to read the same two or three articles from The Guardian. Similar situations occurred later during my travels as well, also in the opposite direction - things were explained to me in a way I would not find in Western media. Feeling these language barrier effects made me think about what could be done to break these barriers down.

Birth of the concept

A possible solution I came up with is a web-based platform where people can translatethe.news together (yep, that’s the URL). If you take the websites lang-8.com and duolingo.com, and mix in the worldnews subreddit, you’d have a pretty good idea of the concept. The idea is to harness language skills from people with different proficiency levels so that multiple people can contribute to the same article. In return, people can receive feedback on their translations, they gain some provable translation experience, and they get a warm fuzzy feeling for contributing to more democratic media.

There is a current implementation at translatethe.news, but I want to stress that it’s in an infant stage. There is basic functionality that allows users to post articles, to post translations, and to edit other people’s translations. A first translation can be auto-generated with Microsoft Translate (which unlike Google Translate can be used for free on websites), this machine translation can then be improved by humans.

Quick tour

The usage is quite simple, really. As an anonymous user, you select a language to see translations. The idea is that there should not be any copy-pasted content in the original language available on the website for visitors - that’s not what it’s for. Verbatim copying source articles also obviously violates copyright.

If you register and then log in, you can see and add source articles and you can add and edit translations. Because there are many different languages, and people are unlikely to understand all of them, it is necessary to choose a subset of languages in your user profile between which you would be willing to contribute translations. “Languages you would like to read in” determines in which languages you see translations (under View translations), “Languages you would like to translate from” determines the set of languages for which you see source articles (under Translate articles). If you have added source articles to the site you can find them under My articles.

At the bottom of an Article page you find links to translate to different target languages. Choose a language and go to the form, if you then choose Pre-fill with Bing translate it will use Microsoft’s machine translation service for a first version.

Call for contributions

As you already read, the website is currently in an infant stage. This is intentional - I have many ideas for developing it further, but I don’t want to blindly add more features. I want to know which features people would actually consider useful and then focus my time effectively.

In principle, I expect to keep on doing the development work alone (although help is welcome). However, I’m really looking for people to collaborate on the project. Of course, if it is to succeed, work will need to start on generating content. Additionally, the current interface and design are quite basic, and I would like to make the website a bit more inviting. Since I don’t really have design/UI skills, help on that front would be extremely welcome.

For feedback, questions, or if you would like to contribute, please contact me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)!


Sam van Herwaarden studied some engineering and some informatics, but he is mostly a wanderer, reluctant to settle down on one place or topic. He likes thinking about ways to improve the world, but is increasingly finding out that observation and thought alone are not enough.


Image: FontFont.