Tag Archives: language barrier

Approaches to Bridging the Multilateral Digital Divide

In class we discussed the various dimensions of the digital divide. It is not only defined as the vast differences in technological development between developed and developing countries. Many of us experience the digital divide when interacting with older family members, people who speak another language, or those from different levels of education. Personally, I’ve grown up with the digital divide. My parents grew up in a small town in Poland and moved to the States in their twenties. They never used computers in Poland and once they moved here, they only bought one because my elementary school education required it. Eventually, their jobs required it too, and consequently, my responsibilities began to add up. As a junior high tween, I was the most “tech savvy” in the house. When my dad needed to type up a contract for work, I typed up and formatted a word document that would have taken him hours. I can type fast, copy and paste and use the internet quickly, so they think I’m a genius.

In my experience with my parents, language is the most difficult barrier to cross, second to intrinsic obstacles like a lack of motivation, distrust of the technology and stubbornness. The primary language of the web is English. So how can we get more of the populations of developing nations (especially those non English-speaking) to trust new technologies, to realize that it’s helpful and essential to their economy and livelihoods? The Guardian posted an article today about how more creative measures are being taken in Africa to bridge the digital gap, like the use of “digital intermediaries,” a concept that makes a lot of sense to me. These intermediaries are local people, who help their communities “overcome barriers of illiteracy, innumeracy, and language to effectively reach the poor who are otherwise invisible and disconnected.” Read the full story here: Access to information: bridging the digital divide in Africa 


Automated Texting Services for Low-Resource Languages

Following our class period with Robert Munro, I found myself browsing through his Twitter and found an article describing his PhD topic in an August 9th Tweet. Within the article, he elaborates on some of the concepts discussed in class; as he explains, so many of the 5,000+ languages of the world are being written for the first time ever with the proliferation of mobile telephony, but the technology to process these languages cannot keep up. Compounding the problem, these phone users are of varied literacy levels, making for spelling inconsistencies among users. However, he concludes that automated information systems can pull out words that are least likely to vary in spelling (ie people, places, organizations) and examine subword variation by identifying affixes within words as well as accounting for phonological or orthographic variation (ie recognize vs. recognise). The article goes on to provide more technical prescriptions for automated text response services, and he even links to another article in a separate Tweet, which describes Powerset, a natural language search system that ultimately failed, but utilized a few valuable processes.

Ultimately, Dr. Munro implies that the capacity for automated text services in “low-resource languages” is well within reach, particularly because the messages are generally just one to two sentences. Because spelling variations are predictable, they can be modeled, and hopefully reliably answered by automated systems. However, the use of these systems will not be realized until they become more reliable and efficient than human responders, which, as he explained in class, can be extremely effective.

Startup Companies in India Breaking the Language Barrier

In class we have been talking about the design of user interfaces in ICT4D projects; when creating a new ICT, or adapting an existing product to meet the needs of a population in a developing area, there are a number of challenges facing those actually designing the user interface. One such challenge is the language barrier – much of today’s technology requires an understanding of English, not to mention familiarity with technological jargon and even just digital technology itself.

With 1.2 billion people, there are over 1,500 languages spoken in India, 30 of which are spoken by more than a million people! Hindi is India’s official language, though English has come to dominate business in urban areas. With the number of Indians connecting to the internet rising quickly, the issue of ICT’s and the language barrier is becoming extremely important. An article written by Jubin Mehta on Your Story India looks into different local companies that are helping to break down the language barrier by creating innovative technological programs and products in native Indian languages.

Some of companies featured are:

Hazel Media: Hazel Media is a technology and research company that focus on vernacular language interaction on mass-market mobile devices. Their MobQuery platform technology can be used to conduct digital surveys in rural areas.

Reverie Language Technologies: With the goal to “make language irrelevant in digital text communication,” Reverie helps manufacturers, application developers, and content providers reach new users through localization of content and by allowing people to read and type in numerous languages.

Madrat Games: This company was the first to develop word game in Hindi. Madrat’s Wordmatki is a popular facebook game for women over 35. It also produces iPad apps in Hindi that improve learning for autistic children.

These kinds of companies can help to bridge the digital divide and make existing technology more usable by people in India. Their successes can serve as models for similar efforts around India and in other developing areas. Reverie’s founder,  Arvind Pani, said the following about his company’s achievements: The vision of breaking the language barrier is a mighty one that needs to address not just the diversity in languages, but also the diversity in literacy. We have a very long journey to cover before we can conclusively measure our success. However, in the short time period of our effort, we have been reasonably successful in breaking the technology barrier for text communication on digital platforms. We are now focused on proliferating our technologies through as many channels as possible to ensure they touch the masses.”

Personal experience about ICT development in China

When I was reading Measuring the Information Society (International Telecommunication Union) 2011, I found it interesting to see ICT Development Index of China is really low, which ranked 80 in 2010 and 75 in 2008. Compared to Hongkong (both 6 in 2010 and 2008) and Macao (21 in 2010 and 27 in 2008), its ranking made me relate this to my personal experience since I grew up in China and I did a lot of research before about China’s online censorship and other national policies that affect ICT development.

In 2008, Summer Olympics Games was held in Beijing. I was a volunteer. With much international attention and visitors, since then China has been strengthening it online censorship to ensure online speech won’t affect its political stability. If my memory works, Facebook is blocked since then. The population to access the Internet is growing so fast and the base is getting really huge in Asia, the Chinese government encounters the a various of problems and pressure. One side is the global free market, the other side is the political stability. The control of information flow has been brought on the table with more focus, which makes the Golden Shield Project a prior place. There is even a online “water army” or “five-cent party”(a group of people as private sectors to comment or delete inappropriate user content; five-cents refers to that each person get paid five cents every time they delete or report certain content) working for government.

Language barrier, as another factor, makes it hard for the international society to assess ICT development in China. With the development of ICT, the government’s public files and policies should be more accessible to the public. But the fact from my experience, a lot of local government websites have empty content for the weekly or monthly report even though there is a form for them.

Gesture Based Computing “On the Cheap”

A very common obstacle we have encountered in looking at ICT4D programs is a general misunderstanding of certain symbols and icons that might be used on certain technologies. Gesture based computing helps offer a solution to this problem, as gestures tend to be much more natural and to some degree universal. Gesture based computing can use basic webcams to pick up on gestures given by hands that have been in some way colored. Older models employed neon tape on figure tips, but an MIT student has designed a new method. Robert Wang, an MIT graduate student, and Jovan Popavic an associate professor are responsible for the newly designed system that promises a cheap alternative to most high cost designs.

Their model uses multi-colored lycra gloves and a basic computer webcam. Their system is able to translate hand gestures to a 3D image on the computer’s screen with almost no lag time. The lycra glove can be manufactured for about US$1, making it very viable for use in ICT4D projects. The only other necessary tool is a computer with a functioning webcam, which could present a valid obstacle to the systems use in ICT4D. Though Wang recognizes that the most practical use for the program is in gaming, he hopes that its use can slowly be expanded, especially in engineering and design centered jobs.

The 2011 Horizons report lists gesture based computing as a developing technology with good potential for further development. Though there doesn’t seem to be a very practical application for gesture based computing in ICT4D as of yet, I feel that this is something that should be developed further. Gesture based computing has the ability to help alleviate a lot of cultural and language barriers in ICT4D programs, and the affordability of this particular design makes it especially relevant to ICT4D.


“Video-Mediated Farmer-to-Farmer Learning for Sustainable Agriculture”

In October of 2011, the organization Agro-Insight conducted a study prompted by The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, & the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to identify the recipe for success in common or open exchange video platforms for farmers in developing countries. The study found that 8 in 10 respondents had, indeed, used the Internet to find and learn from agricultural videos. The 2 in 10 that had not done so struggled with A) successfully navigating the WWW, B) finding videos pertaining to relevant information, or B) finding videos in the appropriate language. Thus, 85% of the respondents asserted that accessibility of videos in local languages is “very important.” Beyond that, videos in local languages, but of poor quality, were not preferred to high quality videos made in foreign languages & translated into local languages. Farmers indicated the need for information regarding “crops and trees, water management, plant health, soil health, and farmers’ organizations.” If anything can be said for these results, it is that ICT4D must be pertinent to local needs and customs in order to be successful.