Translators without Borders Scales Program to Develop Machine Translation for Marginalized Languages

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Cisco funding increases focus on developing language technology to improve two-way communication

DANBURY, Conn., USA – 26 April, 2019. Translators without Borders (TWB) has received funding from the Cisco Foundation, the corporate social responsibility partner of the global technology leader, to scale up Gamayun, the language equality initiative. The initiative uses advanced language technology to increase language equality and improve two-way communication in marginalized languages.

“People who speak marginalized languages lack access to critical and life-saving information,” explains Grace Tang, TWB’s Gamayun Program Manager. “Furthermore, organizations often can’t efficiently process and respond to feedback from people who speak these languages. Gamayun will integrate with many different humanitarian and development tools, enabling speakers of marginalized languages to access information freely through both voice and text. More importantly, they will be able to proactively communicate their needs, in their own language.”

The Cisco Foundation’s support allows TWB to start developing and testing two more pilot projects in 2019—each with a new use case and language. The initiative focuses on building text and voice datasets for marginalized languages, and then creating language technology using those datasets. These two projects will lay the foundation for a scalable model—one that will develop this technology for 10 marginalized languages over the next five years.

“Cisco Foundation supports early-stage, technology-driven initiatives that have the potential to scale and replicate, with a focus on underserved populations,” says Erin Connor, Cisco Foundation. “We believe that TWB’s Gamayun initiative presents an exciting opportunity to apply machine learning translation technology to marginalized languages, ultimately enabling better communication and humanitarian services to crisis-affected communities.”

This follows a successful pilot project where TWB developed a Levantine Arabic machine translation tool for the World Food Programme. TWB and technology partners PNGK and Prompsit built a custom machine-translation tool in just six weeks, incorporating domain-specific terminology and colloquialisms from social media. The results were promising, showing improved performance from domain-specific training, demonstrating that a tool like this could help speakers of marginalized languages communicate more effectively.

TWB is calling on additional supporters to contribute language data, develop technology, identify use cases, and fund the initiative. To learn more, contact Grace Tang, TWB Gamayun Program Manager, at


About Translators without Borders

Translators without Borders (TWB) envisions a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. The US-based non-profit provides people access to vital knowledge in their language by connecting non-profit organizations with a community of language professionals, building local language solutions and raising awareness of the power of language. Originally founded in 1993 in France (as Traducteurs sans Frontières), TWB translates millions of words of life-saving and life-changing information a year.

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