'No outside food' and 'CDC vouchers' - new Web portal translates uniquely Singaporean terms

MCI assistant manager Foo Yong Xiang (left) with veteran translator and educator Low Meow Siang using the new SG Translate Together Web portal. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Uniquely Singaporean terms such as Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers and Central Provident Fund can now be easily translated from English to Chinese, Malay and Tamil and vice versa with the help of a new SG Translate Together (SGTT) Web portal.

The portal was launched on Monday (June 27) by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

Developed in collaboration with the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), the SGTT Web portal features localised translations and acts as a one-stop repository of translation resources.

Members of the public can contribute their translations and take on translation tasks on the Web portal by registering with their Singpass.

The suggested improvements or edits to existing translations will be used to refine translations by SG Translate, the engine that powers SGTT.

The SG Translate engine was rolled out for use by government agencies in 2019 and has since generated more than 300,000 translations.

When materials such as Gov.sg WhatsApp messages need to be translated, the content is put into the engine to generate a first-cut draft translation.

The drafts are then reviewed by human translators. This shortens the translation time, ensuring information is disseminated in a timely manner.

Mr Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and chairman of the National Translation Committee, hopes the Web portal will not just give accurate translations, but also build a community of passionate individuals who are interested in language and translation.

He added that translation bridges communication gaps between people who speak different languages, and strengthens mutual understanding in Singapore's multiracial and multilingual society. He said this was important, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"There was a pressing need for information such as guidelines on safe management measures and advisories on vaccination to be quickly shared with everyone in Singapore, especially seniors," he said.

"We had to translate these... into our mother tongues accurately and in a way that Singaporeans could understand. This required an understanding of the local cultural context and nuances in the use of the language."

Even Singlish or colloquial terms here, such as "No outside food" signs seen at restaurants and food centres, can be translated, Mr Tan said.

While Google translate is useful, it is "built for the world", while the SGTT is a tool made in Singapore for Singaporeans, he added.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How speaking at the launch event on June 27, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

To enhance translation standards, the National Translation Committee was formed in 2014 to oversee plans to enhance government translation capabilities.

Its members include those from the media, academia, the translation industry, as well as government representatives.

MCI also crowdsources feedback from 1,200 citizen translators on government translation materials.

These volunteers act as extra pairs of eyes in the community to spot, surface and correct translations, such as on posters at lift lobbies or banners in neighbourhoods.

Citizen translators can take up translation tasks put up by government agencies or submit suggested edits to translations through the portal. Their submissions will train the SG Translate engine to improve its accuracy.

Mr Tan said MCI will continue to improve the Web portal and its user experience.

It has enhanced the user interface for mobile phone users and introduced a function for users to give feedback on the performance of the SG Translate engine.

Members of the public are welcome to give their suggestions on how to improve it.

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