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Brain with automatic translation form and welcome in several languages.

E.A. Draffan

How we added Pashto and other Languages to Global Symbols

We are still feeling so grateful for our Churchill Fellowship Action funding because it gave us time to work on Board Builder and our Global Symbols' systems for a much wider audience, around the time of the first outbreak of COVID-19. We concentrated on adult support where communication needs were challenging with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and found other difficulties when English was not a person's first language. We made free sample communication boards but needed to improve the ability to translate symbole sets as well as our website and applications. Now we can proudly share the recent updated Churchill Fellow logo, as well as share some tips we learnt along the way!
Churchill fellow

Many of us working in this area know that automated translations can result in some very odd results and in our case, with symbol labels it is even more of a challenge, with no context, as we mentioned in our Global Symbols June blog.

However, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) using machine learning, the systems are improving and we have dared to make full use of them in the hope that friends and colleagues can support us in correcting mistakes where they are seen, in particular with our latest venture into Pashto.

After a request on Facebook from a speech and Language Therapist on AAC for the SLP for a Pashto speaker for a group of Afghanistan refugees we asked Steve Lee if we could do an instant automated translation into Pashto of the Mulberry sysmbols and hope to add more translations in the coming weeks to the Otsimo Turkish versions and our Mulberry Plus COVID related symbols that we are still updating. The automated translation comes thanks to Microsoft Asure but when it comes to the website and Board Builder translation, there were all sorts of pitfalls! Confused

Tips Learnt the hard way!

  • Using automatated translations for right to left written languages is not always easy and Pashto like Arabic, comes with several diacritics that can be missed out, changing the meaning as well as the positive effects of text to speech.

  • All the strings that make up the navigational elements on a website or application, such as Board Builder, have several characters that are not recognised by the automated translation systems. There are wiggly brackets, % marks and dashes, words in capital letters (not seen in many Asian, Arabic, Pasto, Hebrew and Hindi alphabets) and other symbols, that have to stay in English. These parts of the strings also have to remain with the original left to right direction!

  • Weblate, allows you to see the problems that arise and often warns you if an issue occurs. But, there are times when it can help to copy and paste some results into Google Translate to check the outcome. However, there can also be very different results and you have to depend on the extra dictionary support or the Weblate 100% offering! These are essential moments for human help!

  • If you want to keep words in an original language and you do not understand the script or alphabet of the new target language, you may need to use another method to work out which words need to remain in perhaps English and not changed to Pashto. You cannot edit the original strings in Weblate as that would damage the code. So once again you can use Google Translate, put speech marks or inverted commas around the words that need to stay for example in Latin script, such as "Global Symbols" and then you can see where the words are in the target language.

  • Beware any spaces that creep in as these will affect results.

  • Finally on a Windows PC, if you are working with right to left translations (on a left to right keyboard set up) the delete and backspace keys work in reverse!

Some Western European languages have been added to Global Symbols and whilst working with UNICEF on a "Giving every child a voice with AAC technology" project we have had some amazing help with translations. So now we have several Eastern European languages that have already been checked and there are symbol set additions with Croatian, Serbian and Bulgarian labels. The free Global Symbols AAC training series is also available in these languages and can be set up to work in any language on request.

We hope this will help everyone and please do contact us if we have not covered a language that you feel can be supported by some human help with the translation.