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Babelverse: Using the phone for real-time Japanese translation for crisis workers

Posted on March 18, 2011 by Adam Kalsey

When web developers Mayel de Borniol and Josef Dunne saw the catastrophe in Japan, they new how they could help. They’d spend the last few months creating Babelverse (@babelverse on Twitter), a live human translation service. And even though the company wasn’t quite ready to launch, they spent the whole night pushing to get the product out the door.

The result is an application that connects volunteer Japanese interpreters with aid teams, support groups, and the media. Interpreters can register to help and when someone needs translation services, they can simply call a local phone number in Japan, the US, UK, Australia, or Switzerland to be connected to a live translator. People can also call in with Skype, or from right inside their browser, thanks to their integration with Phono. While Babelverse’s ultimate goal is to create a real-time translation marketplace, they’re offering their service for free during the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Babelverse uses Tropo for all their voice services, so we asked Josef and Mayel to tell us a little more about the project.

Where’d the idea for Babelverse come from?

Josef and Mayel both moved from their native countries (The UK and France) to Greece, they only spoke a little Greek, and had come up against a language barrier, they needed a solution, that’s how the idea of Babelverse was born, machine translation is not ideal, sometimes you need quick access to a human interpreter, Babelverse aims to provide this.

Can you tell us how Babelverse is going?

In its first 48 hours of operation, more than 100 bilingual people have volunteered their time (4 hours each on average, totalling more than 16 days of online time).

What led you to choose Tropo?

After trying several platforms both self and cloud hosted, Tropo seemed to offer the right balance of features and extensibility.

What’s been the best part of working with Tropo so far?

A nice surprise, is that Tropo provided a local number in Japan, and that Tropo right away offered to waive all costs to aid with the operation in Japan.

How long has Babelverse taken to create so far?

We’ve been developing Babelverse, a human interpretation service for a few months, but in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Babelverse has set up (during a 12 hour all night coding marathon) a dedicated and completely free service, meant to break down language barriers between aid teams, NGOs, media and locals.

What are your future plans for Babelverse?

Reach millions of users all over the world, making on-demand interpretation in any language easily accessible, available to everyone, anytime, everywhere, and on any device.

How can people help? Especially people who don’t speak Japanese?

Everyone can do their bit, by spreading the word, (some of their friends, or friends of friends, surely speak Japanese). People that speak multiple languages sign up at as they may be able to help out in other situations.

One Response

  1. […] want to take the opportunity to thank VoIP provider Tropo for sponsoring the cost of our local Japanese phone number as well as the NGO Translators Without […]

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