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Assessing the language issue for the WSF 2005 in Porto Alegre
(Date: 30 April 2004)
Assessing the language issue for the WSF 2005 in Porto Alegre
Generalities and report organization
Based on our experiences there are many aspects that we need to assess. All of these have political aspects, not just practical ones. As far as “reality” is concerned, many different solutions can be proposed within a given concrete budget framework and within a given set of different physical constraints. What we will stress, therefore, are different sets of political decisions to be made in order to provide the right solutions matching the right set of constraints.
Our experience tells us there are many aspects to assess when addressing translation within a Social Forum. All of these have political aspects, not just practical ones. The European social forum in Paris as well as the latest World Social Forum in Mumbai have both made it clear that translation is not a mere logistical or technical issue. It is an essential part of the process itself. It helps building the Forum in an open and inclusive way. The feasibility is not so much a matter of financial means, but a matter of political will. Indeed, by restricting the number of languages allowed to take part into the venue, we’re restricting the number of cultures represented. Restricting the number of languages compels the participants to master one of the mainstream languages of the venue, thus shaping and molding their very presence and political activity. Allowing more languages to be represented within the Forum makes it so that more people can take part in the event. Still, not every single language can be translated, and the WSF still faces a political choice on the number of languages. However, it can also make the choice to open up to more languages.
So, what we’d like to assess is that more than 4 languages are possible for the World Social Forum - within the same budget constraint as before and relying totally on voluntary work.
Therefore here are first clear decisions to be made to end this first period by June at the latest in order to be able to work in the best possible way:
100% voluntary work as far as interpreting and translating are concerned. This has to be clear by the end of this first period (before then end of May – beginning of June). Then a call for volunteers can be issued. As far as Babels is concerned the issue is not to provide 500 interpreters in 12 languages (this can be done, was done and is feasible) but to have 80% of all the volunteers coming from the “region” (Latin, Central and North America). At this stage, our contacts and existing coordinations in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and in the US prove to be positive depending of course on the fact that we agree on this.
A methodology to select languages for the event have to be set openly and clearly (we are presenting one in this proposal) by the end of this first period, in order for all concerned organizations, networks to be able to participate into with reasonable time.
That “translation” will be a single budget involving all related issues (from equipment to interpreters) and that persons in charge of this will be clearly identified in order to build a group involving all people of other workgroups in order to share the decision making process. Our experience proves one simple point: the sooner we reach a decision, the better. Most of the problems that occurred in previous Social Forums came mostly because this issue was not tackled openly from the beginning of the process. (therefore by the end of this first period – see above –)
We will divide this proposal in several parts trying to evaluate the general situation. At the end of each point we will stress our proposal:
Due to the short deadline to work on this proposal, the report will deal solely with general feasibility. We will need to work on a more concrete and precise proposal for a later date according to discussions that will be happening in the meantime.
Please note. This report will be dealing solely with the WSF as such and proposals made as well as decisions proposed are solely for the WSF. In previous WSF they were many “related events” such as the World Parliamentarian Forum, the World Union Forum, the Local Authority Forum and so on. These related events will have to be dealt with separately and with a different methodology.
The number of languages
The issue of numbers is clearly an endless discussion. The first constraint to have all in mind is that all languages are not possible while all languages should have room. Languages are directly related to many aspects of political life. Bear in mind that the same idea in a "foreign language" and in your "mother tongue" will never sound the same or relate to the same political and social contexts: one word or one concept may not have the same meaning and impact from one language to another, from one culture to another. We will need to set principles to work on this constraint.
We proposed in the IC in Mumbai the following ones.
The WSF4 in India proved that including more languages has positive impact on the size of delegations (for instance there was a clear causality effect on the presence of Korean and Japanese languages and the fact that delegations doubled between what was announced in the Chennai preparatory meeting and the actual WSF). The question of languages is directly linked with political decisions and discussions. These decisions are a way also for organizations to participate more closely in the process.
In order to make it real in a general way and within a global constraint, the following is a principle to deal with specific languages for specific events within the WSF 4-day period: Languages should be dealt with event by event and therefore beside one or two languages present all the time in all the translated events, all languages will make room at some time for other languages to step in.
Example: If we agree that French will be present in 60% of the events in Porto Alegre, this means also that 40% of the events will have one other language than French.
Languages are in direct link with mobilization in regions and with a political message the WSF would like to send. In the previous WSF in POA there were 4 official languages: Portuguese, Spanish, English and French. In Mumbai there were 14 official languages, 8 of which corresponded to the linguistic reality of India, 7 of them corresponding to political and practical decisions: English, Spanish and French, but also Japanese, Korean, Bahasa and Thai.
Therefore we propose that the number of languages for the WSF5 rises from the usual 4 to around 12.
The type of languages
For the event
We would like to introduce the notion of official languages. A WSF official language is a language available at least in one room, at least one time a day each day of the 4 day event. It means also interpreters (2 as a minimum therefore) that are included in the global WSF team of volunteer interpreters, therefore sharing the part of the global budget with all the other interpreters to insure their physical presence during the event.
We would like to emphasize the need of a written translation team during the event. The discussions held during the two last ICs in India and in Italia about the different incidents which occurred during the WSF4 clearly demonstrate the need for the Organizing Committee to be able to communicate in several written languages in order to allow journalists but also organizations and networks participating to the WSF to read the statements made or press releases made during the WSF by the Organizing Committee. We can imagine fortunately that we will never be again in this type of critical situation. There are needs nevertheless linked with the work during the WSF for networks, organizations and so on to produce statements in diverse languages, and probably some others. The size of the written translation team depends on the analysis of the needs, but we feel that one team should be available within the WSF premises and directly linked with the Organizing Committee during the event in order to be able to produce written documents in all the “working languages” at a minimum (see below).
For the process
We would like to introduce two notions: working languages and communication languages.
Working languages. Clearly it is not possible to translate everything in all languages during the process. Written translations take time. One document translated in 12 languages mean 12 documents to be written. Therefore we would like to propose to reduce the number of working languages during the process in order to be able to provide to a maximum of organizations the ability to participate.
Any organization should be able to find the “fixed form entries” in all the WSF official languages (the names of the fields to fill, the close list of keywords and other items). Nevertheless they should, for the “variable form entries” (mainly the title and description of the proposed theme or activity, the name of the organization), have to give a translation in at least one of the working languages (the two if possible) if they are writing their proposals in one of the “WSF official language” that are not the working languages.
What can be a realistic proposal is that the language of the country where the event is taking place should be a working language allowing people directly involved in facilitating the process to be able to write simply and easily and produce information facilitating the process. In the case of the WSF5: Portuguese. (It should be up to the actual Organizing Secretariat to give their opinion concerning this matter and say if Portuguese or not should be added to the working languages)
What seems afterwards to be a reality is that English and Spanish are clearly the only languages that are reaching out to a maximum number of people. They are, for instance, the only two languages used in the internal IC mailing-list and probably for good and natural reasons. Therefore we propose that English and Spanish will be the only two working languages.
It is also possible to help to any organizations that do not have the habit of international work and/or do not have access for diverse reasons to write in these languages, to translate their proposals from their language (whether and official WSF one or not: for example French, German, Russian, Greek, Japanese, and so on) into the working languages.
Communication languages. There are clearly documents that can (and should) be in more languages than the working languages. For instance the methodology for the WSF program can be in many more languages because it is making it easier for organizations to communicate within their region, country and network. These languages should be linked with the “Expansion commission” or the “Communication commission” work as well as with the other commissions and should be used aiming at simplifying the mobilization work in diverse regions. The choice of which documents fall into this field can be set very simply by the WSF Organizing Secretariat. There is no reason to be shy about this as many languages can easily be used for documents produced in order to publicize the next WSF.
For the website
The ongoing work of translating documents for the WSF website thanks to Transtrad can continue as before. Thanks to the concept of “communication languages” we can even imagine that some of the documents could be in many more languages than the actual ones. Transtrad is now in relation with the Brazilian secretariat which is sending documents to be translated from any of the actual four languages (EN, ES, FR, PT) to all the other four. The actual process is taking time (around 10 days) in order to provide translations including proof-reading of documents of an average length of four pages. The “working languages” are a proposal for the process (see the program methodology for the WSF2005) in order to cope with the necessity of rapidity of exchanges between organizations. The main constraint to deal with is “time”.
Special calls for volunteers can be imagined in order to ease the work of certain thematic groups envisioned by the program methodology.
The rooms and the equipments
There are several issues regarding the rooms and no concrete proposal can be made at this stage. However, a general principle of availing translation facilities in maximum possible rooms should be followed.
Access to equipped rooms should be discussed openly along with the WSF program methodology. When proposing an activity by the end period of the new method used for the program (August) organizations have to propose what languages they would like for the audience. And probably by the end of December they should have information about equipments available for rooms.
Nomad is a new tool experimented during the Mumbai WSF with two distinct aspects. The first one is around the digitalization of the voice signals (the speakers’ and the interpreters’) using computers and free-software tools. The second one is the distribution of this signal within the room or/and outside the room with different emitting and receiving solutions. In WSF 2004 the nomad system could not be effectively merged with FM based translation system for various logistical issues. A concerted effort should be made to merge the two systems. While digitalization of sound opens up several possibilities like archiving, web-casting etc, the distribution of translation within rooms should be made more effective with the use of FM technology, at least for majority languages.
Nomad is not a technical service within Babels and/or for events. But in the way of free-software communities, it is a project for collaborative work that can achieve its goals if and only if local actors are directly involved into it. Therefore before any proposal to be made, it is essential for the Nomad project to work with local teams.
Nomad is a tool box. In the Mumbai version, Nomad was built as a plenary interpreting system. This political choice should be reconsidered with the POA WSF organizers. Moreover, we should be able to propose multiple solutions corresponding to the realities, from numeric to analogical ones, and able to match all different debates situation within the WSF.
Nomad gives five opportunities.
Several possibilities exist to broadcast the translation to the audience in a room (radio wave – FM and so on -, wires, and so on). This issue has to be discussed with the Brazilian and Porto Alegre organizing committee. After the Mumbai WSF we have designed a micro-mini transmitters with a range of 20 to 25 meter radius which can be installed in less than an hour time in smaller rooms. The important point is that no organization participating in WSF should be denied access to translation system for the lack of equipments. The cost of small capacity FM equipments is absolutely negligible.
A pre-“pre-budget”: Assessing the feasibility of the proposal.
In the circumstances we are in at this time, it is difficult to build a real budget. Nevertheless some indicating figures or scales can be given.
The “Translation” budget in previous events was 1/5 of the total budget of the event. In the ESFs but also in the Mumbai WSF this 1/5 took total different realities: 900 000 euros for the Paris ESF and less than 200 000 dollars for the Mumbai WSF. The real “reality” is a clear message from the SF processes, thus clear and meaningful political decisions (see the introduction of this report)
What have to be included in the “costs” for volunteer interpreters:
Calling for volunteers it is not a matter of “costs” but of “investments”.
Building a WSF team of volunteers it is calling for people to participate to the process and dynamic, it is not hiring people.
For the equipment it is even more difficult to evaluate costs. Here are nevertheless several points that will have a cost.
Number of booths within each room (there can be regular booths or table-booths). 4 booths mean 5 languages in the room.
Preparing for the WSF will have also a cost as the actors involved in “Translation” will have to meet physically two or three times before the event. These actors will probably be in several parts of Brazil, in Argentina and maybe few others elsewhere. Nevertheless even if it is 10 roundtrip tickets to wherever meetings will be held, it is still a cost to take in account.
A possible scenario to assess the feasibility
We would like to stress one more time, that there are at this stage too much variables to be able to make a concrete proposal with real figures attached to it. We need to go step by step. In order to evaluate the situation we can nevertheless state that it is feasible to provide “Translation” if calling for volunteers to undertake this responsibility. The situation is not about so much the practical feasibility than political choices to be made, and for some of them rather shortly (see the introduction). We can nevertheless state that whatever the budget the quality of Translation for the process and during the event will be higher than if, for the same cost, to externalize this task by hiring people: more languages will be accommodated in more rooms (or events) as well as a higher dedication to the meaning of the event will happen.
To follow discussions on this topic: see the Babels forum.
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