Digital World: Winning hearts and minds

If you want your inspiring Israeli story to be seen and read without Hebrew being a barrier to the viewer, check out dotSUB.

Crowd 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Crowd 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Like you, I’m on some “distribution lists,” where someone has decided to send out more and less useful information to their e-mail pals. You know what I’m talking about: stories like the article about the woman who passed her road test after 950 tries, or the latest Obama joke. Democrats take note: Just a couple of years ago they were, interestingly enough, all Bush jokes.
Among those cute stories and political jokes, though, you often find more disturbing things; for example, videos translated from Arabic by organizations like MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), highlighting the latest outrageous statements by Islamic fanatics. Those videos are a window into the staple ideological fare of tens of millions of Muslims, and realizing that they probably represent the beliefs of nations and cultures throughout the Muslim world is, to say the least, scary.
We take it for granted that Israel always gets the short end of the stick in social media: that “they” hate us regardless of what we say; that our hasbara (pro- Israel public pronouncements) is second-rate anyway, etc. But interestingly, whenever MEMRI posts a video with translations on the bottom, allowing English speakers to understand what is really going on in the “mysterious Orient,” everyone suddenly understands the problem and danger: The talkbacks (sometimes thousands of them, when taken as a single unit) make it clear that lots of people, not just those who love Israel, are scared.
And Muslims who do not subscribe to the “Down with Israel/America” philosophy and tactics espoused by these imams suddenly appear, posting messages and counter-videos showing the rational side of Islam.
Why we don’t hear from them more often is a question we can’t deal with here, but suffice to say that when the fanatics decide to go after the “kaffir” (heretics against Islam) of the world, they usually start by “cleaning house”; i.e., going after the Muslims they aren’t fond of.
What works on the negative side – showing the true face of radical Islam – can work on the positive side as well, showing the positive side of Israel. While there are many pro-Israel videos on Youtube, there are so many positive, untold stories that have never been told – possibly because those telling them don’t know English, or don’t have the “connections” to get their story out to the Youtube world.
In a world of homogenized milk and homogenized fast food, language is the last barrier to getting your message out to the masses.
Thousands of years later, the “curse of Babel” is still with us, and the only way to make yourself understood is to hire a professional translator who knows the language of the people you are trying to reach.
Slowly but surely, that last roadblock to human understanding is disappearing, thanks to innovative Web services that are bringing speakers of different tongues together. Google Translate, for example, lets you type in text or paste a URL into its translation box, and seconds later, you get a direct translation of your text in one of several dozen languages, or a fully translated Web page.
The translations aren’t always perfect, but if you paste the URL of an Arabic-language news page into Google Translate, you’ll get a passable English translation of the page (sans, of course, proper grammar, in most cases; but who worries about grammar these days anyway).
Text translations, while far from easy, are infinitely less complicated than audio translations.
Accents, dialects and the quality of elocution of speakers makes writing standard translations software nearly impossible, with applications needing major component additions for each specific language. That’s not stopping Google from trying, though, and one of the result of the company’s stated desire to make all knowledge accessible to all people is the new Youtube Transcribe Audio feature.
Google doesn’t really have an audio site of its own, but it does own Youtube, and almost all videos have sound. And when you combine Google Translate technology with audio transcription, you get either a window onto the world – with an automatic English (or other language) text translation of what you are hearing – or, in some cases, a really funny story! That’s because the service is still in beta and clearly is going to be an ongoing project for awhile.
Even the automatic transcription of audio in the same language (English voiceover to English text) isn’t always successful, but Google gets lots of credit for at least getting the ball rolling.
When you load a Youtube video, you may see a box on the bottom right of the video marked “CC,” which stands for “closed caption,” a caption generated by Youtube of the voice on the video. Hover your mouse over that box and you’ll see a selection for “Translate captions,” which gives you a list of dozens of languages to translate the captions into. Magically, the captions change into something you can understand (more or less).
The criteria for being chosen for a transcribing/translating job aren’t clear, but the videos I found that do have them were mostly interviews. And some of the interviewees gave Youtube its reputation as the “black hole” of Internet time-wasting.
So, if you want your inspiring Israeli story to be seen and read without Hebrew being a barrier to the viewer, check out dotSUB (, a site that makes transcription and translation as easy as feasibly possible. Using dotSUB’s convenient tools, you can quickly and easily enter the transcribed text in your language and then do the same for the translation. You can then download the finished product and upload it to Youtube, confident that you’ve got a firstclass translation, all laid out with properly placed captions – ready to win the hearts and minds of the people “out there.”