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Josef Dunne and Mayel de Borniol have a grand vision. They want to make the language barrier a thing of the past — and they are enlisting the crowd to help them reach their goal.
Dunne and de Borniol are co-founders of the start-up Babelverse. It is a platform that allows users to request on-demand interpretation of live or past events. Instead of relying on glitchy and unreliable software to do the job, Babelverse is recruiting thousands of members to provide instant interpretation into a variety of languages. While many services provide interpretation or translation after an event has taken place — the difference between the two is that interpretation covers spoken or sign language, while translation refers to written language — Babelverse would use its pool of trainees, experienced users and professionals to conduct the interpretation in real-time.
Currently, Dunne and de Borniol are focusing on interpretation of events and conferences. The duo has already provided interpretation on several important occasions. During the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster, for example, over 100 volunteers tuned into the service and provided interpretation from Japanese to English and vice-versa, helping rescue groups organize and coordinate their actions in a more efficient way. The volunteers spent, on average, four hours listening to and interpreting discussions among rescuers.
During President Obama’s State of the Union address, Dunne and de Borniol again set up a stream for interpretation, figuring that the U.S. President’s words would be of interest not only to Americans, but to millions of others across the world. Around 300 users helped make Obama’s speech comprehensible to speakers of Spanish, Hindi, French, Mandarin Chinese, Greek, Bahasa Indonesian, Portuguese and other languages. On average, each language had two live interpreters, giving listeners the option to switch between and rate each stream.
Indeed, feedback is an important component of the platform. When a member signs up as a trainee, he or she will be given basic ‘training’ videos to interpret. Experienced and professional interpreters — those who work in the field or have professional accreditation, for example — rate the newbies’ work. As they interpret more and receive more constructive criticism, the trainees will begin to hone their skill. Once the members receive a favorable enough rating, they become experienced users, eligible to earn money for their interpretations.
The per-minute rates for interpretation are not yet available on Babelverse’s website, but Dunne and de Borniol have said that interpreters will take 70% of whatever customers pay for the job. To avoid a “reverse auction,” in which interpreters would try to win out jobs by setting the lowest price possible — and likely offer the lowest quality — Dunne and de Borniol will set the prices on their own, taking into account various factors. Professional interpreters will be available at a premium price.
For those looking to try their hand at interpreting, Babelverse aims to create a convenient and flexible platform. Aside from selecting the languages, dialects, and accents they are familiar with, members would be able to choose the days and times during which they are available, and change their hours on the fly. When a call comes in that an interpreter cannot answer, he or she will have the option of turning it down.
Despite the financial payoff and the flexibility, finding interpreters still figures to be one of the tallest hurdles facing Dunne and de Borniol. To help alleviate this problem, the pair is toying with the idea of ‘ambassadors’ — members who help recruit and manage the community of interpreters in a given region that shares a language.
Down the road, Babelverse aims to offer interpretation not only for events and conferences, but also for everyday use in the office, while traveling, or any other situation. Check out the video below to see one of the potential uses of such a platform.