SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) hopes to engage more citizen translators to translate materials and spot errors, and expand the Government's "collective capability for getting translation right", said Senior Minister of State Sim Ann on Friday (Jan 15).
The volume of translated text being put out by the Government has increased, she said, noting that an average of more than 300,000 words are outsourced to be translated each month.
"That's a few full-length novels right there.
"And we want to make sure that, despite the high volume and also, the very fast paced environment that we work in, we want to get translation right," said Ms Sim, speaking to media at a briefing on Friday.
Recently, the organisers of the 2020 National Day Parade apologised for errors in the Tamil text that was broadcast live on Television.
During the evening show, a line of song lyrics with a Tamil phrase that was supposed to read "My Singapore" had strokes and letters in the wrong places, which made the words unintelligible.
The Tamil words for "friends" and "siblings" were also misspelled.
Referring to a line of animated Tamil song lyrics that was displayed on the LED screens as part of a performance, the chairman of the NDP2020 Executive Committee said the animation effects resulted in one line having misaligned characters.
The committee had engaged Tamil translators to ensure the accuracy of the Tamil song lyrics, and the Tamil translations of the films and performances in other languages, he added.
Adding that many public sector officers could be involved in putting out translations or work that need to be translated, Ms Sim said: "The business of good translation needs to be the business of many and not just the business of few."
The ministry advocates for more awareness among Government officers on the importance of good translation and potential pitfalls to avoid, added Ms Sim.
"We are instituting, we hope, in a wide range of public officers, the awareness that it's really everyone's job to check. And this is not something which you could outsource and forget, because we do own the communication material, so we have to make sure that we go the extra mile and put extra pairs of eyes on this task."
The ministry started recruiting volunteer citizen translators in July 2020. It currently works with 88 of them - 53 for Mandarin, 22 for the Malay language and 13 for the Tamil language, she added.
"I believe that there can be more and I hope to be able to meet more," she said.
The use of AI translation engine SG Translate now helps public officers get a good first-cut translation in English, Mandarin, Malay or Tamil.
"But this would then need to be vetted and refined by human translators or by human officers. This is very very helpful for us when we have to put out large volumes of translated material in a very short timeframe."
The Ministry has seen the importance of translating significant volumes of text and information at speed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and without SG Translate, putting out the Gov.sg WhatsApp messages in four languages would not be possible, "certainly not within this kind of timeframe", said Ms Sim.
"I think we're really just at the beginning of stretching ourselves in terms of being able to put out information in four languages but in a very timely manner."
To engage with possible volunteers, the ministry will be organising two Zoom engagement sessions on Jan 22 and Jan 26 for the Chinese-speaking, and Malay and Tamil-speaking communities respectively.
Ms Sim will be present at both sessions, and Members of Parliament Rahayu Mahzam and Vikram Nair will also attend the second one.
Those who are interested can sign up at go.gov.sg/ctsession.