2020 has been the year to bring upon the world the age of transformation and change. The core values, habits, and norms that humanity has confidently built over the centuries have been shaken up to their core.
Now that social distancing is at the heart of our daily lives globally, lifestyles have become more dependent on technology and digital platforms. With coronavirus keeping people off the streets, customers out of shops, and cash out of registers, many small and mid-sized businesses are hanging on by a thread. But some are completely transforming themselves to thrive amid the crisis.
The new coronavirus economy demands businesses and individual professionals to go more digital than ever before. According to the analysis titled The Covid-19 Crisis: Accentuating the Need to Bridge Digital Divides by UNCTAD, the global crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed us further into a new world, and changes in our behavior are likely to have lasting effects when the economy starts to pick up again. But not everyone is ready to embrace a more digitized existence. The fast-paced shift towards digitalization is likely to strengthen the market positions of a few mega-digital platforms, the analysis finds.
What does this mean for the language industry? Language will certainly be a key player for businesses that would like to serve a broader online clientele. Up until the coronavirus economy, many services were provided online in a few select and widely spoken languages. Now that the online audience has grown immensely all over the globe, businesses that are looking to grow will need to present themselves in digitally less-represented languages and locales.
Digitalization requires not only a greater degree of inclusivity but also speed and abundance of content as it’s easier to consume online. Therefore, businesses need more technology and automation to cater to such expectations. To be able to automate their localization workflows as much as possible, they will, undoubtedly, need a great amount of language data in low-resource language pairs.
“This situation will now be amplified as more people come, or are forced online due to the coronavirus crisis,” said Torbjörn Fredriksson, UNCTAD’s digital economy head. “Those that do not have access are at risk of being left further behind as digital transformation accelerates, especially those in least developed countries.”
So, the analysis leaves us with two issues to resolve from a language perspective:
- A great need for language data in long-tail languages so that businesses can survive and attract new markets
- Help people in less developed countries have access to information and employment opportunities in their own languages
“If left unaddressed, the yawning gap between under-connected and hyper-digitalized countries will widen, thereby exacerbating existing inequalities,” says UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director, Shamika Sirimanne.
Foreseeing the deepening digital gap long before the crisis hit, TAUS has started a project called the TAUS Human Language Project (HLP) with the aim of providing a solution to the above-mentioned problems. TAUS HLP focuses on human-generated, high-quality, low-resource language data creation. By employing community ambassadors and people from various backgrounds who speak both the given low-resource language such as Hindi, Lao, Bengali, Kurmanji, Pashto, Sorani, Assamese, Burmese and so on, and English, TAUS helps the minority communities in less developed countries. The community makes a living while contributing to the digital existence and survival of their native tongues. The bilingual data generated by the communities is then used by MT developers to train their engines and provide their services in those low-resource languages.
Recently, some members of the TAUS HLP workers community for Lao shared their feedback regarding how this opportunity helped them earn extra income and in some cases, helped them stay afloat during the crisis:
Palakone said “I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. The COVID19 crisis has caused me to lose a lot of income, but TAUS HLP gave me an opportunity”. Bobby, a flight attendant whose work got suspended during the crisis also shared “it's really been such a pleasure to collaborate with all of you. I can’t describe how delighted I am for having this wonderful opportunity for myself and I strongly believe for the others as well, especially during this crisis.” Jay says “Thank you very much for the HLP Project during this hard time that we are facing, while many countries are under lockdown, and some of us lost our regular jobs. I’d like to thank TAUS for giving us a great opportunity”. Other workers share that they feel accomplished for being able to contribute to a greater good for their native tongues by using their language skills.
At TAUS, we feel humbled and honored to know that with the Human Language Project we have created an opportunity for many under-advantaged and mostly minority communities in Asia and the Middle East during a time of global crisis. These workers are indeed helping bridge the digital divide for their wider communities with the data the community has created.