SPINNING THE GLOBE
From time to time, we’ll “spin the globe” and pick a translation effort to spotlight. Today, our figurative dart landed on Burma (also known as Myanmar), whose unusual language presents some unique translation challenges.
The San Francisco Bay Area has proven fertile ground for a volunteer group contributing to make Khan Academy accessible in Burmese. A vibrant community of expatriates has settled in the area, and for some, coming together to translate KA videos is a natural extension of their activism for their homeland. This small but mighty group, spearheaded by Advocate Nyunt Than, finds strength in collaboration. “Many of us left Burma due to brutal oppression, so we are always thinking about helping the people back home,” relates Than. “Projects like this are not the first time that we have come together as a community.” Than himself left the Burmese village of Kamase for Singapore in 1992 and moved to the US in 1996. Last winter, on his first trip back to Burma in 20 years, he spoke publicly about how Khan Academy can play a part in Burma’s education reforms.
As an Advocate, Nyunt supports his tight-knit collective with encouraging words and holiday greetings via email, as well as by hosting weekly Google HangOuts. “Many of us are not seasoned translators,” Than admits, “but are willing to do whatever we can to bring world-class education in to the hands of the millions of Burmese. So, we are diving into water though we don’t know how to swim well, but the experience will make all of us stronger and better translators as we learn and grow from each other.” In January, Nyunt visited Yangon and shared his community’s efforts with a broader audience of stakeholders.
The Burmese volunteer community has focused mostly on subtitling, and Burma’s unique written language, while beautiful, has presented challenges. “Our alphabet comes from Brahmi script and uses the shapes of the sun and the moon—very round,” says Than. Unfortunately, the popular font used by most Burmese is not unicode-compliant and is thus not supported by Apple, Google and Microsoft. This has created headaches for subtitlers, one of several hurdles. Spotty Internet availability in Burma is another. Than notes that Khan Academy provides one way to work around this challenge: “We are very interested in KA Lite as a way to connect communities throughout Burma.”