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[liberationtech] MEDIA: Haiti News & Language and Liberation

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Mon Feb 1 17:55:17 PST 2010

*How Crowdsourcing Is Helping in Haiti*
*New Scientist (01/27/10) Mullins, Justin*

The revolution in texting, social networking, and crowdsourcing has enabled
innovations such as the 4636 texting service, which is aiding the disaster
relief efforts in Haiti by recruiting scores of volunteers to help translate
messages that could mean the difference between life and death. Another
crowdsourcing initiative is CrisisCommons, which has organized thousands of
volunteers to enhance the map of Haiti available on the open source
OpenStreetMap site. Other projects CrisisCommons is spearheading include one
to build a Craigslist-style "we need, we have" Web site to connect people
offering resources to those that need them. The proliferation of mobile
communications infrastructure to the developing world has supported the
emergence of new tools for using text messaging, run by relatively small
organizations that can work fast using limited resources in difficult
conditions. This places them in a pivotal position as facilitators of
disaster relief. Individuals and organizations have been galvanized to
collaborate via social networking media by the realization that large-scale
activities can be coordinated through online networks.
View Full Article<>

*Haitians in Crisis: Developing Translation Tools*
*Carnegie Mellon News (01/27/10)*

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University's Language Technologies Institute
(LTI) have released spoken and textual data on Haitian Creole that will help
groups in their efforts to develop translation technologies for relief
workers in Haiti. Microsoft has already used the data to develop a Web-based
system for translating between English and Haitian Creole. LTI researchers
began to update their own translation system for Haitian Creole after the
Jan. 12 earthquake, but decided that releasing its data to the public would
lead to faster development of translation tools. The French nonprofit
Translators Without Borders is working on a medical triage dictionary for
doctors in Haiti. LTI's Robert Frederking says there are few translation
resources for Haitian Creole, which is based on the French language and
incorporates African syntax. "Nobody is going to make money on a Haitian
Creole translator," Frederking says. "But translation systems could be an
important tool, both for the relief workers now involved in emergency
response and in the long-term as rebuilding takes place."
View Full Article<>

*Other Language News:  The Web Way to Learn a Language*
*New York Times (1/28/10)*
The young woman seated next to us at the sushi bar exuded a vaguely exotic
air; her looks and style, we thought, made it likely that she was not
American born.

But then she spoke in perfect American English, even ending her declarative
sentences in that rising questioning lilt characteristic of many young

As it turns out, however, she wasn’t from these parts after all; she was
born in Iran and spoke only Farsi until her arrival here two years ago. What
classes, we wondered, had she attended to learn the language so well?

“I didn’t,” she said. “I used RosettaStone.”

Those yellow boxes sold at shopping-mall and airport kiosks may be the most
recognizable example of PC-based language learning, but it certainly isn’t
the only one.

With the growth of broadband connectivity and social networks, companies
have introduced a wide range of Internet-based language learning products,
both free and fee-based, that allow students to interact in real time with
instructors in other countries, gain access to their lesson plans wherever
they are in the world, and communicate with like-minded virtual pen pals who
are also trying to remember if bambino means baby.

Learning a language sometimes seems as difficult as dieting. The solution is
to figure out how to stay interested after the novelty wears off.

To counter boredom, online language programs have introduced crossword
puzzles, interactive videos and other games to reward users for making

Online courses are either fee-based, free or a combination. Starter kits of
fee-based programs may cost just a few hundred dollars, but the cost to
reach higher levels of comprehension and speaking can easily be $1,000.

While that may sound expensive, language company executives say it isn’t;
college courses often cost many thousands of dollars to reach the same

So, cost aside, how do you choose which program to use? The answer is that
one size doesn’t fit all.

“The quality of feedback is important,” according to Mike Levy, head of the
school of languages and linguistics at Griffith University in Brisbane,
Australia. “Sites with human contact work best,” he said. “This shows the
advantage of humans compared to computers. A computer is never as subtle or

PAY AND LEARN RosettaStone, the best-known language program, now offers
Totale, ( a $1,000 product that includes RosettaCourse, a
traditional lesson-based module; RosettaStudio, a place where a user can
talk to a native speaker via video chat; and RosettaWorld, an online
community where you can play language-related games.

“We offer modern-day pen pals facilitated with voice over I.P.,” said Tom
Adams, the company’s chief executive.

RosettaStone uses things like colorful flash cards to help students first
learn basic words, and then connect those words to concepts and sentences.
The idea, according to Mr. Adams, is for the user to let go of the adult
“technical questions and just get into a comfort zone, learning new sounds
and trying to make sense of them.”

One of RosettaStone’s main competitors, TellMeMore (,
believes it has an advantage because its software not only teaches words and
phrases, but includes a speech recognition component that analyses
pronunciation, presents a graph of speech, and suggests how to perfect it.
Other videos show students how to shape their mouths to create sounds
difficult for native English speakers, like the rolling R in Spanish.

With 10 levels of content, a 10,000-word glossary, videos of native speakers
and more than 40 practice activities, TellMeMore believes it has enough
material to keep a user motivated.

TellMeMore charges $390 for a year’s access to its resources for six
languages; those looking for a quick refresher can buy a $10 daily pass.
Weekly, monthly and half-year passes are also available.

The company’s product is currently available only on CD-ROM, but online
versions for both Mac and Windows that will include real-time coaching are
coming later this year.

FREE NOW, PAY LATER Livemocha (, a two-year-old Web start-up,
offers free basic lessons in 30 languages. Users can upgrade to advanced
courses with additional features on a monthly or six-month basis.

For $20 a month, students can submit up to eight voice recordings to a
native-speaking tutor, who will then review and make recommendations for
improvement within 24 hours. For $70 every six months, students can submit
up to two examples a lesson.

All students, whether using the pay or free model, can join social
networking groups and speak live (using VoIP) to people around the world who
are native speakers interested in learning English.

As with all social networking sites, this feature is open to misuse. Within
hours of signing up for Livemocha, I received a note from a young woman,
ostensibly from Poland, “wanting to meet me.”

The company says it has “the world’s largest community of people learning
languages,” with five million registered users in 200 countries.

Financed in part by the European
Babbel ( offers paid instruction (and a free trial lesson) in
English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish for $12 a month, or $6.62 a
month for a six-month commitment.

In addition to extended grammar and vocabulary, users can communicate with
others in their desired language via private or public chats, or arrange to
get in touch via voice.

FREE LANGUAGE LEARNING If money is truly an object, a variety of free
language learning is available from a number of sites.

The British Broadcasting Service ( offers varying levels
of instruction for 36 languages, with features including audio and video
playback and translation.

Looking to visit Deutschland? The German television network, Deutsche Welle,
can help you make yourself understood ( And for those who not
only want to learn another language but another alphabet as well, try, or

Apps for a smartphone No program would be complete without an accompanying
smartphone app, and many exist for the
other devices.

Several are simple providers of useful phrases, including the Lonely Planet
Phrasebooks ($10 for each of 18 languages), the Oxford Translator Travel Pro
($10 for each of five languages), and World Nomads (free; 23 languages). The
Ultralingua Translation Dictionary ($20 a language) offers simultaneous
translation of English and six languages.

Both RosettaStone and TellMeMore say that they are developing smartphone
apps as supplements to their online programs, but neither has announced a
release date.

Livemocha expects to have an app later this year for both the Android and
iPhone operating systems. The company plans on integrating text with a
native speaker pronouncing the language, and providing the option for voice
recording and live video feeds.
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