Indian Parliament Moves Towards Real-Time Two-Way Interpretation in 22 Languages

India Parliament Translation

India, a country known for its linguistic diversity, is making progress in the field of language services. Recent advancements in machine translation (MT) and interpretation are set to enhance communication and accessibility across the country’s vast linguistic landscape.

On June 28, 2023, the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India’s parliament) secretariat proposed a plan to implement real-time two-way interpretation facilities in all 22 scheduled languages, as announced in Hindustan Times.

This move, as highlighted by Om Birla, a senior Lok Sabha official, will not only promote Indian languages in Parliament but also make proceedings more convenient for Members of Parliament (MPs).

The existing system in Parliament often necessitates prior notice for members intending to speak in languages other than Hindi and English. However, the new plan aims to overcome this hurdle by offering real-time interpretation services during important proceedings — such as budget announcements, debates on bills, or discussions on the President’s speech. This inclusive service will be available to all MPs in the chamber, as well as to visitors and journalists in the gallery, ensuring that parliamentary discourse reaches a wider audience.

The benefits of this proposal extend beyond mere convenience and inclusivity. Members, particularly from states like South India, often prefer speaking in their own language to establish a better connection with their constituents. P. Sreedharan, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, emphasizes that this preference arises not from a lack of proficiency in Hindi or English but from the deep-rooted emotional bond formed when politicians communicate in their native languages. 

While the benefits of real-time interpretation are evident, finding skilled interpreters has historically proven to be a challenge. The former top bureaucrat of the Lok Sabha recalls the rigorous process of conducting multiple auditions to select suitable interpreters during his tenure. However, with 43 officers already selected for the interpreters pool, and testing of interpretation facilities underway in the new Parliament building, it is evident that the Lok Sabha is committed to overcoming this obstacle and ensuring the smooth implementation of this transformative initiative.

On a different yet related note, India made steps towards “high-quality and accessible” MT models as well. On June 17, 2023, IndicTrans2, an MT model capable of supporting all 22 scheduled Indian languages, was announced with the aim of ensuring “wide, easy, and open access to good MT systems for all 22 scheduled Indian languages.”