- 27 April 2015
More than 3,500 language professionals, representatives from the language (technology) industry, researchers, academics, administrators, officials, concerned citizens and politicians (including several Members of the European Parliament) have signed an open letter from the European language technology community to the European Commission: "Europe's Digital Single Market must be multilingual!"
The open letter is a response from the language technology community to the European Commission consultations for the Digital Single Market Strategy. According to the authors of the open letter, there is a severe danger that the language technology field is vanishing from the European Commission priorities. Currently it is not yet part of the strategic priorities of European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. The authors say that they are trying to change that.
Digital Single Market
Creating a connected digital single market is one of the European Commission priorities. Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said: "Let us do away with all those fences and walls that block us online. People must be able to freely go across borders online just as they do offline. Innovative businesses must be helped to grow across the EU, not remain locked into their home market."
Objectives include common EU data protection rules, reform of telecoms rules, modifying copyright rules to reflect new technologies and to make them simpler and clearer, simplifying consumer rules for online purchases, making it easier for innovators to start their own company, boosting digital skills and learning, and enjoying the same online content and services regardless of the EU country we are in.
Multilingual Digital Single Market
The removal of language barriers is, however, not (yet) part of the Commission's priorities. There is no longer a Commissioner for Multilingualism and it looks like nobody knows where the responsibility for multilingualism lies.
The language technology industry is gathering in Riga (Latvia) from April 27-29 to forge a unified vision for a multilingual digital single market and initiate concrete actions to bring about this vision for a market without language barriers, which is believed to be instrumental for empowering Europe in the global world.
In a fact sheet attached to the open letter, drafted by META (Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance) and LT-Innovate (European Association of the Language Technology Industry), the authors cite a number of facts and figures on the Multilingual Digital Single Market and explain how a Multilingual Digital Single Market can be achieved through investment in multilingual technologies.
Lack of language coverage
Current e-commerce growth within Europe is about half that of the US, due partially to a lack of language coverage from European SMEs. Surveys show that less than 5% of European SMEs currently sell cross-language. Language can be expensive for SMEs. Online businesses face around € 5,000 in up-front costs for each new language they translate their websites into. Even when sites are translated, the vast majority of SMEs cannot respond to support requests or customer feedback in other languages.
English is not the answer
Surveys show that 52% of EU customers do not purchase from English-language sites. Customers are six times more likely to buy from sites in their native language. Adding even a few languages to an SME's website beyond English can have a major impact on revenue. English is not the answer, the authors conclude.
Language Technology Danger Zone
Research by META-NET has determined that the native languages of approximately 140 million EU citizens are in the "Language Technology Danger Zone", where language technology is inadequate to support the Digital Single Market. Lack of language technology support (automatic translation, tools to assist human translators, and multilingual support in content-creation tools) restricts customer access to content and excludes millions of individuals from the online audience of European businesses.
Only three European languages (Spanish, English, and French) meet at least the "moderate" level of language technology support.
No single language accounts for more than 20% of the potential Multilingual Digital Single Market. Most account for less than 3% of the DSM. Without a solution, the European Digital Single Market will remain fragmented, the authors conclude.
Citizen engagement problem
Without language technology, the European Commission has no way to respond effectively to citizen participation. About 290 million EU citizens are language blocked from interacting with the European Commission's web resources for citizen participation.
Speakers of English, French, German can participate fully. Speakers of other languages are language blocked from full participation. Investment in multilingual technologies can help the European Commission solve its citizen engagement problem, the authors suggest.
In the medium-to-long term, multilingual language technologies are needed to enable all European citizens to communicate with one another in their respective native languages with sophisticated machine translation working behind the scenes. Only when EU citizens can interact in their own languages will they truly develop a sense of European identity and community, the authors argue. At the META-FORUM conference on the Multilingual Digital Single Market in Riga (Latvia) on 27 – 29 April 2015 (the "Riga Summit 2015"), an in-depth Strategic Agenda for the Multilingual Digital Single Market will be released by META and LT-Innovate.
Meta, the Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance, has more than 750 members.
LT-Innovate, the European Association of the Language Technology Industry, has 180 corporate members throughout Europe.
The Open Letter can still be circulated and signed.