Is crowdsourcing translation a threat or an opportunity for the audiovisual market?


Crowdsourcing is a phenomenon that has recently gained increasing popularity on the Internet. As defined by the English Oxford Dictionary, crowdsourcing is the “practice of obtaining information or input into a task or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet”. It can be applied to different fields and one of them is that of translation.


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Nowadays there is a great presence of platforms where users have the opportunity to become part of a community and join the workflow of a specific organisation by translating contents in a number of different languages.

The most well-known translation platforms are related to subtitling and some examples are Amara for TED Talks and the new Hermes for Netflix. Through the subtitling of videos, these companies allow fans and viewers to get immediately involved and join the community.

In the case of TED Talks, since 2010 the organization invites its community of viewers to subtitle its contents, hence benefitting from crowdsourcing and enlarging their audience to a wider international community. In the last 5 years, the number of volunteers has increased and reached more than 40,000, in addition to those involved in TEDx Talks. Moreover, once the volunteers have gained enough experience in subtitling TED Talks may ask them to become Language Coordinators, who among other tasks mentor new volunteers, review content and check the quality of translations.

The American company Netflix, which previously used the Amara platform, has recently launched a new platform called Hermes to test volunteers who apply to become subtitlers. This method not only allows Netflix to select translators, but also to match volunteers to the contents for which they provide the best translations. The main company’s idea behind Hermes is to boost its international market. i.e. encouraging international subscribing, thanks to subtitling.

crowdsourcing2Even though this flexible approach may not be considered suitable for a company who relies on high quality translations, some platforms as Netflix, TED Talks and YouTube have improved their translated content by deciding, for example, to guarantee more proofreading of translations.

This strategy gives everyone the opportunity to translate while maintaining quality and efficiency even with tight deadlines, while creating a community where volunteers interact with each other and develop a feeling of ownership over their works. In fact, the volunteer’s motivation leads to more motivation when it comes to watching and sharing subtitled videos since the translation of a video in as many languages as possible removes linguistic and cultural barriers reaching fans all over the world.

Even though translation crowdsourcing platforms are gaining more and more popularity and ensure the translation of contents which not always have the possibility to be translated into languages of lesser diffusion, there is the idea that these platforms cannot guarantee good quality, since volunteer translators and proofreaders are often not linguistic professionals.

In fact, since crowdsourcing translation was established, professional translators have raised quite a number of issues that affect in the audiovisual translation market and translation quality itself.

First, translators highlight the fact that the enforcement of these crowdsourcing policies is a way to increase companies’ benefits for free and thus represents a threat to the audiovisual translation market. Second, professional translators underline that translation is devaluated since quality is not ensured and little credit is given to the people performing the translation. In fact, thanks to these media platforms, the visibility of translation and its importance have certainly risen but professional translators are wondering what will be the price to be paid, even in a short time, in terms of translators’ requirements and competence.

In this regard, another issue that needs to be taken into account concerns the impact these platforms could have on the future of translation itself, since professional translation is quite new and is still fighting for proper recognition as a profession that requires training and specialisation beyond language knowledge.

In this sense, viewers should bear in mind that despite crowdsourcing translation helps spread contents in different languages and build a community without barriers, we should not underestimate the risks associated to unprofessional translation and what could be lost, given the potential impact it can have on the quality and the increasing specialisation of audiovisual content itself.

Written by Serena Grementieri – Terminology trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, BA in Intercultural Linguistic Mediation and MA degree in Specialized Translation at the School of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Interpreting and Translation (ex-SSLMIT) of Forlì, University of Bologna.


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