Community-Sourced Translation Glossary for International Development Work

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Sch of Area Stud, Hist, Politics & Lit


The international development community has expressed a collective commitment to promote the participation of marginalised peoples in development initiatives, as illustrated by the pledge of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to 'leave no one behind'. In their publicity materials, NGOs usually claim to deliver development projects with close consultation of communities that receive their aid. However, the Listening Zones of NGOs (LZ) AHRC-funded research project found that NGO fieldworkers often do not speak the local language. Fieldworkers complained about lack of guidance on how to translate words accurately, and discuss taboo topics in a culturally appropriate way. They claimed that translation difficulties often lead to project failure. When asked what is needed to help improve the quality of communication, they appealed for a translation glossary specifically designed for development work. Commercial dictionaries are of little assistance because they often do not contain translations for complex development jargon. The LZ project concluded with a recommendation that glossaries should be developed and shared as a common resource. This proposal offers an innovative way to implement that recommendation, which embraces the ethos of grassroots participation.

The FoF project will create a two-way Chichewa-English glossary for the use of stakeholders in the Malawi development sector, one of the poorest countries in the world and a LZ country case study. The key innovation of this project is that the glossary will be generated using participatory methods in six workshops in Malawi of c.40 people total. Workshop participants will represent potential users of the glossary, including local people, national/international NGOs and translators/interpreters. They will create translations for Chichewa terms that are crucial to local understandings of development, and translations for English terms that are commonly used in development work. The content of the glossary will be determined by workshop participants, and informed by an online survey of potential users and content analysis of development policy documents. Communities will give feedback on the draft glossary before it is published on a specially created website. The project output that creates the most value for development stakeholders is an online training manual on the methods used to create the glossary for those interested in replicating the process in other languages. The manual will be available in Chichewa, English, Spanish and Russian, in order to reach an international audience and the language groups of the participants of the LZ project. The website will also include training videos in these languages. A Facebook group will be created so that people who have used the glossary/manual can exchange knowledge and develop a community of practice. The outputs will be widely promoted to development actors who have an interest in ensuring that poor communication does not obstruct the achievement of the intended social and economic benefits of development work (e.g. international donors, third sector). They will be encouraged to use the resources and pursue similar initiatives, thus ensuring that the impact of the project is far-reaching and long-term.

At the end of the project, fieldworkers will have the practical tools that they have stated that they require to build better relationships with communities. Communities will be empowered to share ideas about development as relevant to their culture, which will strengthen their capacity to articulate their needs to NGOs and participate in decision-making about development initiatives. Moreover, the online resources will share knowledge that will build the language capacity of development stakeholders within and outside of Malawi. This will promote the longer-term sustainability of the project after the end of the funding period.


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