Translators Without Borders

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"TWB" redirects here. For the airport serving Toowoomba, Australia, assigned the IATA code TWB, see Toowoomba Airport.
Translators without Borders
Translators without Borders.png
Founded 1993 (as Traducteurs Sans Frontières) (1993 (as Traducteurs Sans Frontières))
Founder Lori Thicke
Ros Smith-Thomas
Type Non-profit
Focus Humanitarian
Origins Paris, France
Area served
Method Translations
Key people
Lori Thicke (president)
Rebecca Petras (Program Director)

Translators without Borders is a non-profit association[1] set up to provide pro bono translation services for humanitarian non-profits. It was established in 2010 as a sister organization of Traducteurs Sans Frontières, founded in 1993 by Lexcelera (formerly Eurotexte). As of 2012 it had about 1600 vetted volunteer translators.[2] Translators without Borders assists the transfer of knowledge from one language to another by instituting and managing a community of non-profits who need translations and professional, vetted, volunteer translators.[3]

The organization works for pro-bono non-governmental organizations and social enterprises that need information translated. Some of those groups are Doctors Without Borders, Medecins du Monde, UNICEF, Oxfam, Handicap International. Some examples of information translated by Translators without Borders includes translated reports, interviews, and briefings from conflict-torn areas around the world, such as Burundi, Sudan, and Afghanistan. The organization translates millions of words per year.[4] According to their website, Translators without Borders has donated over 13 million translated words to charities, which is equivalent to over $2 million released for NGOs.

Translators without Borders is based in Connecticut and its president is Lori Thicke. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in the U.S

Methods used to gather translators[edit]

Translators without Borders Workspace[edit] created an automated translation center for Translators without Borders in May 2011. This translation center is called the Translators without Borders Workspace. Approved non-profits post translation projects and TWB volunteer project managers send out alerts to the translators. Since translations are provided by a large group of volunteers, Translators without Borders is able to keep its costs down.

This method has greatly increased the productivity of Translators without Borders. When projects were handled manually, TWB translated 29 projects, with 37,000 words of text, in seven language pairs, for nine different organizations. In January 2012, seven months after the Translators without Borders Workspace was completed, they translated 183 projects, with 280,000 words, in 25 language pairs, for 24 organizations.[5] This remains the monthly average for Translators without Borders.


People who volunteer to be translators via the application on the Translators without Borders website must be either professional translators with a minimum of experience qualification of 4 years of professional translation experience or with 2 years of professional translation experience and have a university degree in translation or a related subject.[6] Their application is fast-tracked if they are American Translators Association (ATA) certified, a Lionbridge translator or a Certified PRO. These fast-track applicants are given credentials to join the Translators without Borders Workspace. These volunteers are notified within thirty days of their application’s submission if they are qualified.


Words of Relief project[edit]

The Spider Network volunteers for the Words of Relief project
A video which communicates the effectiveness of translation in increasing communications with communities, and highlights the critical importance of local language communications in health, education and crisis situations.
Infograph showing the impact of translation

Words of Relief (WoR) is a translation crisis relief network intended to improve Communications with Communities (CwC) activities when the crisis response aid workers and affected populations do not speak the same language. Words of Relief aims at eliminating linguistic barriers[7] that can impede vital response and relief efforts during and after a crisis by doing the following:[8]

  • Translating key crisis and disaster messages into major world languages and disseminating openly before crises occur.
  • Building a spider network of diaspora translators who can translate from world languages into regional languages and who are trained to assist right away.
  • Creating a crowd sourced, online (and mobile) application that connects the translation team with aid workers and data aggregators who need immediate help (entitled the Words of Relief Digital Exchange - WoRDE).

Words of Relief was piloted from January, 2014 to May, 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya and concentrated on Swahili and Somali. Approximately 475,000 words of crisis relief content from various sources including the Infoasaid Message Library were translated.

Words of Relief is supported by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), a program managed by ELRHA. The Words of Relief Digital Exchange is funded by Microsoft’s Technology for Good.[9]

Information in the Right Language[edit]

An Impact Study was conducted to measure the comprehensibility of English information posters compared with translated Swahili posters and have seen that there is a very clear difference in the levels of comprehension, in favour of the translated Swahili poster. Initially, only eight per cent of respondents answered simple questions about the disease correctly. When respondents were given simple information about the disease in English, correct answers rose to 16%. But when given this information in Swahili, respondents got 92% of the questions correct. See infograph on the right for more details.

The HealthPhone project[edit]

Translators without Borders' most prominent project with health videos is with the Mother and Child Health and Education Trust in India. HealthPhone, which was founded and created by Nand Wadhwani, creates health videos that are preloaded to phones throughout India and beyond.[10] The videos cover a variety of health issues, such as breastfeeding, malnutrition, post-natal and newborn care, and more.[11]

Through translators, videos are subtitled so that people throughout India (and in Africa) who do not speak or read the source language can learn from the videos. So far videos have been subtitled into about 10 Indic languages, Swahili and Spanish.

The ACCEPT project[edit]

In January 2012, Translators without Borders (partnered with the University of Geneva, Acrolinx, the University of Edinburgh and Symantec) launched the international research project ACCEPT. ACCEPT is an acronym meaning Automated Community Content Editing Portal. This project’s goal is to enable machine translation for the emerging community content standard.[12] Lexcelera is also participating in this project.[13] The project will run for thirty-six months.

Training center in Kenya[edit]

Millions of Kenyans speak Swahili, the lingua franca of Eastern Africa.[14] This project focuses on healthcare information translated into Swahili.[15] In April 2012, Translators without Borders opened their first Healthcare Translation Center in Nairobi. The center is hosted on the campus of the East Africa Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) organization.[16] In January 2013, the Healthcare Translation Center moved into the main building on campus.

The purpose of the Healthcare Translation Center is to intensively train local Kenyans to become professional translators. These translators assist in the process of getting healthcare information out in Swahili. These translators are recruited to the training center due to backgrounds in language or in health.

As of the beginning of 2013, the team consists of thirteen fully trained translators/editors. Translators without Borders is evaluating their training model to determine if it can be used in more places.

Wikipedia: WikiProject Medicine 80x80 Translation Project[edit]

In 2011, Translators without Borders began a collaborative effort to translate key medical articles on English Wikipedia into other languages.[17] The WikiProject Medicine Translation Task Force first improves the 80 medical articles deemed most essential to WP:GA or WP:FA status.[18] When the articles are improved, they are translated into simplified English by Content Rules (the simplified English is provided on the Wikipedia simplified English site) and a goal of more than 80 languages. Eventually, the articles will be translated into all of the 285 languages that Wikipedia exists in. This process is expected to take several years.

All content is available through mobile networks and some content without data charges through the Wikipedia mobile partners Telnor, Orange and STC in Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. Many of the articles are available in spoken Wikipedia. Some of these articles are also pending publication in open access general medical journals.


Translators without Borders is managed by a board of directors and an executive committee made up of board members. Day-to-day operations are managed by a program director, hired in August 2012.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Translators without borders expands management structure, holds first board meeting", Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), June 2010
  2. ^ Kelly, Nataly (12 March 2011). "Translators without Borders Prepares to Bridge the Last Language Mile". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  3. ^ TRANSLATING FOR HUMANITY - NCTA's Translorial Online Edition
  4. ^ Multilingual Computing and Technology, volume 12 issue 8
  5. ^ Petras, Rebecca (2012-11-30). "Translation | Harvard International Review". Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  6. ^ "Translator Application Form". Translators without Borders. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  7. ^ "Ebola Outbreak: TWB providing translation in local languages". Digital Humanitarian Network. Retrieved 10 August 2015. 
  8. ^ "". Nadia Berger & Grace Tang. Retrieved 4 August 2015.  External link in |title= (help)
  9. ^ "Translators without Borders Receives Funding for Crisis Relief Network". Translators without Borders. Rebecca Petras. 
  10. ^ Rising Voices » Languages: Translating Health Content Without Borders
  11. ^ "The Health Phone Project: Saving lives through subtitling| The Health Phone Project: Saving lives through subtitling". Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  12. ^ UNIGE - ACCEPT - Project description
  13. ^ "Lexcelera announces award of a research grant in language technology from the European Commission". 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  14. ^ About Swahili (Kiswahili) - Origins, Who Speaks Swahili; Online Courses; Swahili Language Schools; Swahili Dictionaries
  15. ^ Translators Bridge Communication in Kenya Healthcare
  16. ^ MultiLingual - September 2012
  17. ^ Tran, Mark (11 April 2012). "Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  18. ^ Wikipedia project takes on global healthcare information gap — Wikimedia blog
  19. ^

External links[edit]

Mentions by the press[edit]