Wikipedia is about content knowledge sharing, and about doing this in a specific way using commonly accepted practices, namely neutrality, verifiability and recognizing the unique challenges of writing about living people. These are all content goals that each Wikipedia project should hold in high esteem as we try to build a source of knowledge that can be accessible to everyone in the world, no matter what language they speak.
The problem is that sometimes, knowledge is trapped behind certain linguistic barriers, and these barriers can be an impediment to sharing knowledge and communicating. At the same time, there are other barriers, namely volunteer time and interests. As a result, sometimes an article on one language Wikipedia may be better than the article on another. Spanish language articles about Spanish language subjects may be more nuanced and better than their English or Italian or Japanese language counterparts because the subject specialists are writing about it in that language, people who speak that language are interested in contributing to their language version of Wikipedia, and there is more of an immediate need to write about that topic in that language.
How can Wikipedia and the movement take advantage of this, while minimizing the need for volunteer hours to go into otherwise tedious translation work? Through the use of a translation tool, and this has been worked on for some time.
That topic attracting interests of Spanish speakers using Spanish language sources may not have an immediately obvious need to exist in another language, but it can. If you’re from Lithuania, Spanish politicians do matter because they serve in the European Parliament. If you’re from Thailand and can read only Thai, it may be useful to know what Polish speedway looks like as it can be useful in crafting a domestic competition. These links assist in knowledge formation, which in turn can be utilized by people in decision-making processes. Helping decision-makers by providing them with the best available content, content not necessarily otherwise available in their native language, is a huge gift in terms of the importance of freely sharing knowledge.
Wikipedia is written by a community of learners, and there are members of the community who are involved with the project also seeking to improve their language learning skills. By creating a tool that allows easy sharing of knowledge from language to language, close to word for word or concept for concept, Wikipedia can assist in teaching people important language skills. Doing this from a free knowledge perspective is important. Already, there are commercial properties doing some form of this and re-using our content for commercial use for this exact purpose. We were not created for this purpose. We were not created as a way to teach people languages, but it is arguably one of the many things that we have become. I know of others who frequently use Wikipedia in this fashion. Those interlanguage wikilinks have been great, especially when it comes to learning technical jargon in a language. But translating is hard, long work. It could use some help. As it was very eloquently put:
Creating a new Wikipedia page based on an existing one from a different language normally requires the use of automatic translation services, dictionaries, reformatting text, tweaking links and references, and a lot of tab switching. Content translation will allow you to create an initial version of a Wikipedia page based on an existing version from a different language.
So in this context, it’s exciting to see the work of the Language Engineering team with the new content translation tool. During Wikimania 2014 at London I was able to see how the tool works, and it was very promising in its Beta status. The quality of the translation (so far, Spanish to Catalan) is high, and you can also add images (captions are also translated) and references easily. It has dictionary support. The tool can translate either specific sections or an entire article, you can add, correct or remove content while at it, and instead of putting the finished result on the Mainspace, it moves it to a User subpage, so the user has to check that everything is correct before moving it to the Mainspace (and so take responsibility for it -I like keeping people in the loop, particularily in the cases of, say, wikicontests, where I expect such a tool would be most heavily used). It also takes care of attribution quite nicely at the same time. You can see some examples of published pages here. The tool also includes a Translation Centre, which serves as a Dashboard where the user can keep track of the translations he or she has done so far, which I find very useful.
You can help test the content translation tool. Just follow these instructions, regardless of the language you usually edit in. The tool has some known issues (support of templates, that universal pain…), but if you are a regular translator, you can probably see its immense potential for all language Wikipedias (and maybe one day, for sister projects too?).