A Proposal for the Translation of RubyKaigi

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

RubyKaigi and more recently Sapporo Ruby Kaigi have been providing realtime translation services. The way this has worked is that volunteers listen to the speakers presentation, and simultaneously translate it to an IRC channel that is broadcast next to the main screen, like the photo below.

RubyKaigi 2011

At RubyKaigi 2011, I tried to help, but my Japanese skills were not up to the task. When I was asked to help doing the same thing for Sapporo Ruby Kaigi, I initially refused, but after some persuasion, I agreed to do “backup” translation. However, when the conference actually started, I realized that if I didn’t step up, many of the Japanese presentations would go untranslated. So I ended up doing a lot more translation then I anticipated. For less technical presentations, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and as the event went on, some of the audience also helped out with translation (my thanks especially to @sora_h and @lchin).

During and after the conference, I was grateful for all the thanks I received for my translations. Having bilingual RubyKaigi are very important to encourage the exchange of ideas. However, the process we are using to do simultaneous translation needs to be improved as it suffers from many issues:

  • Too few translators
  • No opportunity to understand the presentation material before hand
  • Often hard to quickly come up with a translation
  • Typing is slower than speaking, so even in the best case, content goes untranslated

On Saturday morning, before Ryunosuke Sato’s presentation, I had the opportunity to review his slides. Because the slides were only in Japanese, but were quite verbose, I decided to translate them. Then as he did the presentation, I pasted the translations into IRC, occasionally quickly adding something on the spot when he strayed from them. This process worked a lot better for me, and got me thinking about how if we did more preparation in advance, we could make it easier at the conference itself.

The Proposed New Process

  1. After the schedule is published, a translator will choose a couple of presentations that match their interests and abilities.
  2. The translator schedules a Skype call with the speaker before the conference (say a week in advance)
  3. The speaker does the presentation over Skype (screen sharing could be useful here), and the translator makes translation notes
  4. At RubyKaigi itself, the translator broadcasts translation based on previous notes (exact method still undecided)

This process would require more effort per presentation (I estimate 2-4 hours per 30 minute presentation), but would then be less demanding on the day of the conference itself. Because of the extra time, translators could produce higher quality translations, and people who might not have the ability to do something in realtime could still help out. Because the job of translating would become easier, we could recruit more translators. This would allow us to divide up the work better, meaning that translators would have less responsibility during the conference. The idea would require the cooperation of the speakers, but the one speaker I did talk to about it was enthusiastic about it.

This is just a skeleton of the process, and I think there is still room for more improvement, but I wanted to get my thoughts out while Sapporo Ruby Kaigi is still fresh in everyone’s mind. I’m happy if you have any thoughts or suggestions on the idea.

More about the author

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

Paul is a Canadian software developer who has been living in Japan since 2006. Since 2011 he’s been helping other developers start and grow their careers in Japan through TokyoDev.

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