Vice wants to teach Google the Romani language to help fight iliteracy

Creativity, Digital & Media

The Roma minority is one of the largest ethnic minorities in Europe. There are an estimated 10 to 12 million Roma living in Europe and they are among the most impoverished populations in the EU, being faced with social exclusion, unequal access to education, employment, housing and medical services, according to the 2016 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights survey. Romani is a mostly spoken language, there are hardly any books, there is no press in Romani, therefore, the Roma people don’t learn, read or write in Romani.

Vice, the international publication that has always fought the anti-discrimination war, together with Aresel Civic Platform and Scena 9, launched “INTERNET LEARNS ROMANI”, a campaign that aims to hijack Google, the most popular internet tool, by uploading written content in Romani language on the internet. If there is enough content, Google will recognize the Romani language and will offer translations to and from it.

But why is it important for content in Romani language?

According to a study done by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights*, in the EU, only 15% of Roma children ever graduate from high school. Even worse, 20% of the Roma people over 16 yo included in the study are illiterate. In Romania things are slightly worse, with 22% of the Roma children over 6 yo do not attend school and 31% of the Roma people over 16 yo are illiterate.

“Everybody should have the right to learn in their native language. If that is too much to ask at this point in our history, then at least everybody should have the right to access to content in their native language. That will give people another reason to learn how to read and write. We do think that there is a connection between the fact that there is no written content in Romani and the high numbers in terms of illiteracy and school dropout among Roma people. Having access to written content in their mother tongue could avoid the grim statistics in the future. We must start somewhere, and we decided to start with Google. We are offering a solution that so many online publications, schools, websites can also adopt. There is a huge effort behind translating the content into Romani, as there is a small number of translators from and to Romani. But it can be done, and we are not stopping here”, stated Ciprian Necula, Aresel Civic Platform Coordinator.

“We discovered that if there is enough translated content online, the translation AI learns it. With any mirrored content in a language Google understands, it analyzes linguistic patterns and is able to learn a new language altogether. That new language becomes a new one indexed by the translating machine and is perfected over time. This would be a tool for culture legitimization, making things as learning in Romani, finding entertainment in Romani, games, articles at hand and eliminating the stigma put on the culture”, stated Ioana Zamfir, ECD MRM Romania.

Catalin Dobre, CCO McCann Worldgroup Romania & Regional CD McCann Central Eastern Europe, commented:

„Technology is amazing because it accelerates progress. This time we aim to use it to put integration on a fast track. Google proved it plays a role in shaping up the world and in supporting cultures. Now, by integrating the Romani language in Google Translate, it can help a culture grow and make a difference in the lives of more than 12M people.”

Adrian Tudor, Campaigner Aresel, said:

“This has to happen not only in Romania, but in all countries that have Roma communities. Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, the UK, Greece, to name a few. We need as many bilingual translations as possible. If anybody wants to submit for translation articles, website content that, online books, restaurant menus, they can easily upload on the campaign page – We have a group of translators helping us, but we need more. That’s why, if anybody who speaks Romani wants to help us translate, they can do so by registering on the website. If there is content online, the machine will know what to do with it and we will soon have Romani language translated by Google”.

The partners of the project were:

MRM Romania:


Platforma Civica Aresel:

Scena 9: