Innovative translation program picks up prestigious national award
Written by Tom Marshall
Guadalajara Reporter, Saturday, 25 April 2009 GUADALAJARA
It's estimated that two billion people in the world have some knowledge of English but only a quarter of this number speak it as their mother tongue.
Marcelo Funes-Gallanzi (right) and Carlos Vasquez of the Guadalajara-based AVNTK company receive the ADIAT prize for technological innovation in Cancun on April 16.
This inevitably creates problems of understanding between the two sets of speakers. After witnessing communications issues at an aircraft show in Great Britain, Marcelo Funes-Gallanzi came up with the idea of creating an online translation service that reduces Standard English into a basic form that is more easily understood.
"There are 24 ways of saying street in English, like lane or cul-de-sac," says Funes-Gallanzi, who was raised in England and holds an Italian and British passport. "Simplish (the name of the website) uses 1,000 words to explain even complicated texts."
"For example, in our program a word like fusion would become 'come together' and although the fully simplified text might be four times as long as the original, it is much easier to understand."
Although it all sounds rather complicated, the logic is sound and the fact Funes-Gallanzi's Guadalajara-based company, AVNTK, won the ADIAT prize for technological innovation --- a national award that no business from Jalisco had ever won before --- shows the scientific community recognizes the work he and his ten employees are doing.
Already Simplish has Japanese electronics company Hitachi on its roster of clients and Funes-Gallanzi hopes to start conquering the Asian market this year by opening offices in either Singapore, Macao or Hong Kong.
"Two-thirds of the world is Asian and their languages have no common roots with Greek or Latin," explains the Argentinean-born Funes-Gallanzi. "Therefore if they know 1,000 or 1,500 words in English that is it. They can look up the ones they don't know but the explanation will be given in Standard English. The Simplish program can reduce 30,000 words and explain the whole text using only 1,000 words."
Although Funes-Gallanzi admits some semantic information may be lost via the translation, he fully believes in the project. His only problem, he says, is how to access the huge potential of the Asian market.
"We don't know how to promote ourselves in the Far East. That's why we are looking for business partners who can help us explore the ideas we have for the model. We've applied four times for funding from the Mexican government but it feels like if a scientist evaluates our product they don't realize the commercial potential and if a businessman assesses it then they won't understand how it is scientifically possibly. That has been our experience."
In the short term, Funes-Gallanzi is looking to hire native English speakers to help expand the database of Simplish or for affiliates to exploit the commercial opportunities that he has planned. One such idea is to use the system for automated voice calls, in order to reduce complications between those who speak English as their mother tongue and those that don't.
The website is www.simplish.org and Funes-Gallanzi can be reached via the site's contact form.