By: Engy Mohamed
In light of recent events regarding the devastating Muslim ban, a group of former students at MIT (Massachusettes Institute of Technology) have decided to be the change, developing a messaging app called “Tarjimly” that allows people to get in contact with refugees through Facebook Messenger.
The purpose of the app is to enable people who can speak multiple languages to translate text for refugees who need help. Although Tarjimly does not have an official collaboration with Facebook Messenger yet, they are currently using the Facebook Messenger bot platform to implement the idea.
We got in contact with one of the developers, Atif Javed, who gave us some insight into how the app came to be, “We started working on the app about 2 months ago, we all work full-time jobs so we used our free time to develop it,” Javed explained.
It is true that numerous refugees often find difficulty communicating with the locals in countries where they ought to make their safe landing. For that reason, Tarjimly aims to connect refugees with translators from all around the world, in real-time, allowing refugees or immigrants to communicate with locals more effectively.
Tarjimly can safely be considered the most efficient translation app yet as it is integrated within the Facebook Messenger app, which most people already have on their cellphones. The only step required thus becomes the signing up process and the completion of a demo.
Those who sign up to become translators almost immediately receive a Facebook message from the Tarjimly bot that requires the completion of a translation demo to automatically test how well they can perform. Applicants are therefore sent a text which they are asked to translate, and by doing so, they await their first real request from an immigrant/refugee which Tarjimly connects them with.
The sign-up process requires that potential translators choose the languages in which they are most fluent (at least at a colloquial level) and their country of origin. Language choices on Tarjimly include Arabic, English, Farsi, French, Turkish, Urdu, Pashto, and German. More languages are expected to be added soon.
However, we realized that the screening process was not as thorough as one would imagine it to be, which is why we talked to Javed about what determines whether a given translator/volunteer is qualified for the job or not, “so this is a very hard problem for any platform, it’s one of the biggest reasons crowdsourcing translators has failed in the past. However, we’re going to be leveraging feedback and machine learning tools to help us improve that quality process over time. In fact, FB might be launching some AI tools for developers to use in the near future.”
This means that upon the commencement of the service, translators will be rated by refugees and immigrants after the conversation is over, allowing Tarjimly to vet the translation quality and obtain some feedback.
“In the same way you can trust your Uber driver from star ratings, we can rank the quality of translators by feedback from sessions. Also, the plan is to kind of “score” how translators perform on the demo, so we know which translators are better to reach first than others,” Javed elaborates. “A beauty of this is routing. Once we’ve ranked our translators, we can use it as another metric when selecting which translators to ping first, on top of things like location and availability and maybe even gender preference.”
We were also curious as to how Tarjimly reaches out to refugees, and we were surprised to know that many of the translators themselves help the developers get in contact with refugees around the world, “those who work with refugees will share knowledge of the app with them and get them to start using it when they need to. The refugees just need to message us at fb.com/tarjimlytranslate and they’ll be matched with a translator immediately through the same chat box.”
Real requests are expected to be available by Monday, 6th of February.
Tarjimly has also made sure to address the issue of privacy and make it clear that only the first name of the translator is shared, and that only the translator himself can choose to share further information or abstain from doing so.
Should anything happen that causes either the translator or the refugee to experience any frustration, either party can abruptly end the conversation and request to be instantly connected to someone else.
It is important to note that Tarjimly derives much of its appeal from the fact that anyone could sign up to become a translator and make a change from within the confines of his or her home.
As for the type of content translators should expect to receive, Javed explains that “the use cases could be as simple as going to the grocery store or as important as legal/medical attention they can’t communicate to doctors/nurses/lawyers.”
To think about it, we all probably spend so much of our time texting people about things that probably don’t matter, but to know that it is in our hands to help a refugee buy grocery or medicine, speak with a doctor, an aid worker or a legal representative is a very powerful thought.