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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 innovator, 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,” adds Emmanuel Gabriel, founder of Germany-based OpenBinacle, the creator of OBTranslate, which was launched this month (1 May). “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 says.

“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,” adds 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 aid effective translation within a short time.
“The segments can be recalled later on and thus the translator ensures that the terminology and writing style of the original is followed,” explains Pangeanic. “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.”

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

Gabriel says that because of some technical issues that have to be resolved first, 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 explains.

OpenBinacle has received infrastructure worth US$100,000 from a French cloud computing company called OVH, Amazon and Google, and are exploring funding opportunities to refine OBTranslate, he adds. Gabriel urges African policymakers and the private sector to consider investing in OBTranslate because it could contribute positively to improving Africa’s economy and job creation efforts.

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

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