UNESCO and partners launch a book translation campaign for early age reading amid the COVID-19 crisis

UNESCO recently launched the Translate a Story campaign to promote early age reading during the COVID-19 crisis. This collaboration between the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), UNESCO, ADEA, UNHCR, The Global Book Alliance and other partners aims to provide reading material to children in the language they speak at home.

UNESCO and partners are coordinating the translation of books in the most vulnerable countries that are undergoing COVID-19 school closures. The translated books are then published on the Global Digital Library where they can be accessed for reading on digital devices or in print format. The Library was launched to increase the availability of high quality early grade reading resources in underserved languages.

Learners in some countries face many challenges such as the absence or underfunding of literacy programmes, conflict, and crises which interfere with the production of appropriate reading materials for young learners. At times children are asked to use or learn a language at school that they do not speak at home, and often reading materials provided to primary students are in a language those children do not speak at home. Research has shown that in order to encourage a lifelong love of reading, children benefit from reading in the language they speak at home.

Over 1.5 billion children are now learning at home because their schools have been shut down due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This initiative is an effort to make high-quality supplementary reading materials available for children to learn at home in a language they speak and understand. By providing high-quality reading materials in all languages, including those that are traditionally underserved, all students are given a chance to continue their reading journeys at home.

The Global Digital Library already offers reading resources in 71 languages, and UNESCO is currently working with seven additional countries to translate more books and add more content. Those countries include Bangladesh (who started the translation of books into Bengali and five other ethnic languages), Cambodia (into Khmer), Kyrgyzstan (into Kyrgyz and Russian), Uzbekistan (already translated 130 books into Uzbek), Palestine (into Arabic), Qatar (into Arabic), and Tonga (into Tongan).

The translation process relies on the participation of volunteer translators mobilized by the Ministries of Education of each country with the support of UNESCO HQ and designated field offices.

“The process is fairly simple: someone translates, another person proofreads, and then we publish. The Ministry can choose to have their logo on the books, for instance in Rwanda [one of the pilot countries of the project with Kenya] and have a message that states that the book has been approved by the government”, explains Christer Gundersen, the Chief Technology Officer for The Global Digital Library.

To assist the teams of volunteer translators, the GLD team organizes dedicated three-hour national translation webinars or webinars for multiple countries that use the same language. If needed, the webinars can incorporate an additional virtual follow-up and Q&A session. The GDL team facilitates the webinars in close cooperation with UNESCO and other partners. During each webinar, translators interact via virtual platforms using online resources to start the actual translation exercises. The GDL team is available to answer any questions before, during or after the webinar.

Translators also have access to detailed guidelines and tutorials to help the translators through the process. The only requirements for the volunteers is to have a solid command of English and the language of translation and to have a stable internet connection to be able to access the Global Digital Library platform. Books are translated from English into other languages. The GDL platform currently facilitates translation into more than 320 languages, and the support team checks in advance if the platform supports the translation into a specific language.

“An effective translator will normally spend less than one hour per book. In some cases as little as thirty minutes. Because these are children books that are heavy on illustrations and have fairly short texts” points out Christer Gundersen.

Once the translation is complete, another volunteer proofreads the translation to ensure that each book has been reviewed by at least two translators.

Translated books are not automatically published for public use on the GDL itself, as there are dedicated quality assurance standards for anything that is published on the platform.

With relevant preparations and expertise made available from governmental agencies, translated books can be aligned with curriculum standards, so that the books can also quickly be approved for later use in the classroom.

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