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A digital platform called OBTranslate that aims to translate more than 2,000 African languages to enable rural dwellers to gain easy access to global markets has been launched.

According to its creator, 63 per cent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to global markets because of language barriers.  

“Over 52 native languages in Africa have undergone language death and have no native speakers,” said Emmanuel Gabriel, founder of Germany-based OpenBinacle, the creator of OBTranslate, which was launched this month. “OBTranslate can close communication gaps on the continent.”

“In the next five years, we hope to acquire thousands or millions of users to take up translation tasks on OBTranslate.”

Emmanuel Gabriel, OpenBinacle

The innovation resulted from an earlier messaging app that was built in 2017 to allow interaction in real-time translation of 26 African languages, but led to inaccurate outputs, Gabriel admitted.

“We were very frustrated about the messaging app, and as a result we didn’t want to come into the market with a bad product,” added Gabriel. “We decided to embark on building our own computer-assisted translation and machine learning platform and this gave birth to OBTranslate.”

According to Pangeanic, a global translation company based in Spain, a computer-assisted translation tool converts texts into smaller and translatable segments to facilitate quick and accurate translation.

“The segments can be recalled later on and thus the translator ensures that the terminology and writing style of the original is followed,” Pangeanic explains on its website. “It also provides savings when the material that needs translation is similar to previously translated material – you only pay for part of the sentence that has changed.”

Gabriel added: “We created OBTranslate with an innovative business model to guarantee that the tool is sustainable to pay everyone whose translations are very accurate. In the next five years, we hope to acquire thousands or millions of users to take up translation tasks on OBTranslate.”

Gabriel believes the platform could make a positive contribution to Africa’s economy and job creation efforts. However, because some technical issues still have to be resolved, the team has not yet enabled real-time translation by public users.

“We are working hard to ensure that when people present training materials in African languages … they don’t necessarily tell the machines what to look for. The system [should] find patterns themselves such as contextual clues around the source sentence,” he explained. OpenBinacle has received infrastructure worth US$100,000 from French cloud computing company OVH, as well as Amazon and Google, and are exploring funding opportunities to refine OBTranslate, Gabriel added.

Bukunmi Seweje, director of operations at Compucode Limited, Nigeria, believes that   OBTranslate could enable seamless business relationships in Africa.

But to make the innovation more user-friendly and accessible, Seweje said it should be integrated into existing communication platforms such as WhatsApp.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk and edited for clarity.

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