Despite the Internet’s transformative innovations, language remains an enormous barrier to cultural understanding. If we want to find out what’s happening in China, for example, we’d need different social media tools that help connect us to people who know China and who can explain what’s happening with some local context.
If we can break down language barriers, we can build cultural bridges among very disparate people. When we started Viki, our idea was to make language learning more fun by crowdsourcing translations for the subtitles of TV shows, movies and videos.
Our community works in over 160 languages around the world and goes to extraordinary lengths to get the translations right. Volunteers will find an emergency room nurse to work on a medical drama, or recruit a lawyer to get the terminology right for a legal show. They want to make sure that people watching understand the shows, feel the culture that comes with them, and that none of the nuance is lost.
I grew up in Egypt watching Bollywood movies with my Dad on Saturdays, and I had no idea what the actors were saying. It was great fun, but I was missing the substance. Now, I can understand these shows. With subtitles created by volunteers who care about the content and its subtext, I start to get the beauty of what the writers and directors have dreamt up.
By removing the wedge that has stood between great entertainment and its fans, we’re opening up the world to great content that was previously trapped by geographical boundaries. I can now watch Croatian films that have Malaysian subtitles, Korean dramas translated into Arabic, Indonesian horror films in French, or Filipino “teleseryes” in Portuguese. Once the subtitles go on the shows, the content starts to travel very far geographically, which benefits both the content owners and the fans – it opens up entirely new markets and allows fans to discover great shows and connect with other fans.
Recently, a group of technologists, scientists, journalists, doctors and students based in Moscow, Italy, Finland and Estonia contacted us. They speak a language called Udmurt, a Russian dialect spoken by only about 550,000 people. The language is not supported by the government, so there is less than two hours of programming a day and there are no books. We added support for the language at their request, and the group plans to use Viki as a platform to help keep the language alive by translating movies and shows into Udmurt.
Through one piece of global content at a time, we are helping make unexpected connections between people in very different parts of the world. By bridging the linguistic divide, I’d like to believe that we can remove the barriers to deeper multicultural understanding and broader global perspectives.
Author: Razmig Hovaghimian is chief executive officer of Viki, a Technology Pioneer company. This year’s Technology Pioneers are participating in the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China.
Image: People applaud as they watch television in Turkey REUTERS/Osman Orsal.