(Originally posted on the now archived Cities of Migration site)
The We Speak Translate project was a first of its kind collaboration between Google Translate and the ICA utilizing the Google Translate App for refugee resettlement and new immigrant inclusion in communities.
When language is a barrier to effective communication, translation and interpretation are essential. They bridge the space and time a newcomer needs as they move from low language skills to proficient language ability. They’re also expensive.
In Canada, the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) is partnering with Google to use the Google Translate app to build a simple, every day way to bridge the language gap. Through the use of translation technology, they also want to create a sense of welcome and belonging for newcomers.
According to ICA’s Community Integration Coordinator, Kate Longpre, using Google Translate was an obvious idea. She and her colleagues already use it to communicate with clients. It’s a familiar tool among newcomers. A translation app can clearly be useful in resettlement. Many do use Google Translate for just that reason. But, perhaps surprisingly, no one had reached out to Google to partner with them to re-frame Google Translate as a resettlement and integration tool. Until now.
ICA is working directly with Google Translate staff to provide training to community members, businesses and agencies, as well as newcomers themselves. The “We Speak Translate” project provides an accessible, no cost platform to enhance communication with newcomers as they improve their English skills.
Organizations that take the training receive a program decal to put up in their entrance way, indicating they are part of the program to promote diversity and communication across language barriers. The decal is a public symbol that tells newcomers they are welcome.
We Speak Translate promotional video
Bridging the communication gap
Google Translate won’t replace the standardized language training or interpretation services ICA offers. But, it’s a useful complement for newcomers to continue to learn and become confident with language outside the classroom. Language acquisition can take more time with some groups of newcomers. This tool will help bridge basic communication in the community.
Longpre recognizes that machine translation apps like Google Translate are not perfect tools. They don’t allow for completely accurate in-depth complex or highly technical translations. But, an app like Google Translate bridges the initial language barrier and can create a point of connection.
Longpre sees Google Translate as much more than a technology tool, “It becomes the moment in time when you connect with someone. The technology allows for that moment, rather than no connection. It’s where community building takes place.”
Newcomers will know that if they go to a participating business or organization, the people there are familiar with the app and want to welcome them.
Recent Syrian refugee to Victoria, Ibrahim Haj-Ibrahim, outlines how important this is: “It’s very important for people to know that somebody wants to speak to them. It will give me more confidence that people care to speak with strangers. When I see somebody has this logo, I will know that people want to speak with me.”
Improved communications is the first point of the We Speak Translate project. ICA will provide 45 minutes of training on Google Translate. They’ll create power users in the community, who have a commitment and interest to helping newcomers navigate their new city. Community engagement is equally important, says Longpre. The training will
also build awareness about resettlement, integration and inclusiveness among community members and local businesses.
Longpre says that people in the community are looking for ways to support and help newcomer integrate: “This is a very tangible initiative for any community member. They can wear a button on their coat that shows a newcomer that they’re are approachable, welcoming. It’s a tangible, no cost initiative for the community.” Anyone and everyone can become an integration actor.
Human service organizations as leading innovators
Building digital capacity in human service nonprofits can be challenging. Clients tend to be more tech savvy and demand technology-mediate services. Forward looking agencies are looking more closely at how they use technology as a tool in resettlement and integration.
Many organizations connect with local volunteers or civic tech groups in their communities to accomplish amazing things with technology, on a small scale. Longpre decided to go big. She reached out with her idea to use Google Translate both as an integration tool and a symbol for inclusive and diverse communities. Google liked the idea and the partnership was born.
Longpre says the “What’s In It For Me” is obvious for a resettlement organization. She says it’s also obvious for Google. Google’s ability to align a product with a broader mission, focused on integration and welcoming communities, is a tangible form of corporate social responsibility. We Speak Translate illustrates how their technology can have deeper impact.
Google is global. They have the capacity to scale We Speak Translate in a way that matches the scale of the global migration crisis. Google Translate as an integration tool can be replicated in any city, anywhere in the world. It has potential for all integration actors to create more welcoming communities.
We Speak Translate training workshop recording