Citizen translators, new web portal help improve public communications in S'pore

Dr Yahaya Sanusi says his translation work is one way to stay connected to his roots, language and culture. PHOTO: COURTESY OF DR YAHAYA SANUSI

SINGAPORE - A growing pool of citizen translators is helping to raise the translation standards of public communications in the Republic.

And to further support accuracy in translation, the Government will be officially launching the SG Translate Together web portal at the end of next month, said Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How on his Facebook page on Thursday (May 5).

Mr Tan, who is chairman of the National Translation Committee, added that a key feature in the upcoming web portal will allow users to generate translations suited to the local context using the Government-customised Machine Translation engine.

The citizen translators' project was launched in January last year as part of the Government's efforts to raise the overall translation and language standards in Singapore. As at April 14 - about 14 months since the launch - there are more than 1,180 translators, comprising 1,037 Chinese, 77 Malay, and 73 Tamil-speakers.

More than 360 of them have been awarded with e-certificates of participation for their contributions. They are the first batch of translators under the recognition and training framework launched in November last year to have participated in at least three translation activities during the year.

These include providing feedback to refine translations in public communications, reporting translation errors, or attending dialogues or engagement sessions.

Citizen translators who get involved in least five activities during the year can receive e-vouchers. They can also apply for training subsidies to attend translation courses or obtain translation-related certification.

One of the citizen translators is Dr Yahaya Sanusi, who has been living overseas since 1980, mostly in Germany. His translation work is one way to stay connected to his roots, language and culture, he told The Straits Times.

The 62-year-old naval architect and offshore engineer has provided feedback for English-Malay translations in the Singpass digital IC brochure and Singpass app, among others.

"There is a Malay saying: 'Seperti sirih pulang ke gagang' (the betel leaf returns to the stalk), which describes a person returning to his origin," he said.

Dr Yahaya added that one of the biggest challenges was finding the correct translation for new terms. Using foreign words could also affect the spelling and pronunciation of the terms.

"For example, the Malay language is greatly influenced by Arabic culture. People are used to the Arabic spelling but may not realise that they are wrong in proper Malay," he said, adding that good knowledge of the culture is important to get the right message across.

Retiree Teh Boon Tong, who is in his 50s, said his English-Chinese translation work can be challenging as there may be several similar words with a slightly different nuance. He consults dictionaries and does online research to make sure his translation is accurate.

He added that translators also need to be aware of the target readership to ensure the message can be correctly conveyed and easily understood. He suggested that small group discussions among citizen translators could benefit the translation and speed up the process.

Mr Mahesh Kumar Ramamurthy, a 52-year-old senior business analyst who does English-Tamil translations, said he often corrects contextually wrong word choices and simplifies complex sentences for easy and better understanding.

Mr Mahesh Kumar Ramamurthy saw it as an excellent opportunity to help improve poor translations in public places. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MR MAHESH KUMAR RAMAMURTHY

He hopes more people become aware of the citizen translators project and skilled people join.

"I get a sense of satisfaction, as I am playing a vital part in the Government's attempts to communicate better with society," he said.

"I am able to help get the message across to everyone, in their language, without any distortion or ambiguity."

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