Svenja Osmers, Partner Management Team Leader for the Integreat app developed by “Tür an Tür – Digitalfabrik”, gives an insight into her work with digital integration, the value of translations in the app, and the crucial importance of working with translation agencies. MEINRAD has provided translations and consultation for Digitalfabrik since 2021.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your job at “Tür an Tür – Digitalfabrik” and the Integreat app.
My name is Svenja Osmers and I’ve worked at “Tür an Tür – Digitalfabrik” since 2020. “Tür an Tür – Digitalfabrik” is a spin-off from the non-profit “Tür an Tür” integration organization based in Augsburg. Digitalfabrik aims to develop effective concepts and solutions to produce a vibrant digital environment for integration and education, to facilitate active citizenship and to help disadvantaged groups. The war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s showed that printed information for refugees was a problem – one big challenge was providing up-to-date information in a very short space of time. So the Integreat project was launched in 2015, with the aim of providing multilingual digital content to tackle language and information poverty as quickly as possible, initially for refugees and now more broadly for new immigrants. My work for Digitalfabrik mainly focuses on this Integreat project.
What does your work involve specifically?
I’m a Partner Management Team Leader, so I’m responsible for everything that involves direct collaboration with our clients, who are primarily local councils in Germany. My remit includes the initial contact and consultation, arranging workshops during the implementation stage, technical support and organizing translations. In short, I’m always on hand to help our clients.
Which projects does “Tür an Tür” support, and what are your key strategies? What’s your vision and your mission?
Our vision is to use digital solutions to encourage communication and understanding between cultures, for the purpose of facilitating and supporting local integration. Our main focus is on our target audience: we consider which solutions and strategies can help refugees and new migrants settle in to life in Germany, and we want to help them find their feet. Our hope is that projects like Integreat give people the freedom to find out information for themselves, rather than relying on asking others all the time. Every year we produce a report on the success of the project – take a look at integreat-app.de/en for everything you need to know.
How are projects funded?
You don’t need a licence for Integreat, but you need to know what you’re doing to get the app into the app stores. We offer local councils an all-round solution, from technical expertise and availability through to translation of content, and more.
Our funding comes from the cooperation agreements we sign. Some of our content applies throughout Germany, and we supply that to the local councils so that they aren’t starting from scratch. Our support also includes marketing materials, training and workshops.
What content/texts does the app contain?
That varies a lot, depending on each local council. Integreat is used by smaller councils with a few thousand residents and by cities with a population of millions, like Munich. As you’d expect, Munich offers lots more opportunities and there are more staff – the app for Munich has more than 600 pages to cover all issues such as leisure, culture etc. But the key issues are the same everywhere, it’s just the answers that are different. Information about language courses and acquisition, and general guides to particular procedures such as making applications, can be found in every app. We produce content to answer the question: “How does the system work in the local area / throughout Germany?” If you’d like to find out more about the information we provide, visit integreat.app.
Another reason for doing it this way is to give the people responsible for consultation more time for specific questions, as they can refer people to the app for basic information.
Digital integration is a key term – what exactly does it mean, and how does it fit what you do?
Digital technology has now penetrated so many aspects of our lives, and how we obtain information is a particularly good example: if we don’t know something, we just google it. But if you need information about a particular region and you don’t speak the language well enough, you’ll either struggle to find it or you won’t find it at all. A key part of integration is learning to be independent rather than relying on others, and that’s where provision of multilingual information comes in. Accessing and editing information is much easier digitally, and integration depends on access to information.
What are the biggest challenges in your everyday work?
For me personally, it’s the (political) reluctance to provide appropriate funding and support for integration that you sometimes see. It varies from one state to another and from one local council to another, but sometimes it’s down to a lack of budget and staff. We often hear:“We love your work, and we’d love to do this, but...”
And the opposite question: What are the rewarding aspects of your work that spur you on?
The steady stream of positive feedback from our partners, i.e. the local councils we work with. They’re often complimentary and grateful for our friendly working relationship, and it’s nice to be regarded as partners working together on a project rather than as “service providers”. It really shows we’re on the right track. And personally I can say that the great thing about our and my work is the feeling that we’re making a sociopolitical impact. At the end of the day, even if we can’t help every single person, we can still help lots of people.
Integration is always thought of as being multilingual, but there are often language barriers – what role does the Integreat app play?
Integreat has a pretty broad target audience: not just refugees, but all newly arrived people, including skilled workers from other EU countries. Ideally, when refugees/new migrants first speak to the authorities, they will be given a flyer or something to refer them to our app and what it allows you to do. But we’ve also optimized the content for search engines, which means you don’t have to have heard of the app, or even be in Germany, to find our content. For example, if a skilled worker from Bulgaria wants to find information in Bulgarian about residence in Germany, they can use Google or another search engine to find this information.
How many local councils do you work with?
We now work with more than 100 local councils, and over 90 of them are currently online. That’s about a quarter of all local councils in Germany. Last year the content in our app was accessed over 3.5 million times. As well as catering to our primary target audience, our secondary target audience is the staff at information centres. And we know that lots of people use the German content too.
Why are translation services so important for you?
One obvious reason is that they’re the only way we can make the app available in multiple languages. And accurate translations are very important – legal texts in particular have to be correct.
What was the situation before you began working with MEINRAD?
We worked with translation agencies from the start. Nobody in our team has a background in translation, and managing the translations ourselves would be a huge amount of work which we don’t want to do. We want to offer local councils high-quality translations of their content at fixed prices. We’ve used memoQ for a few years now, and we manage the translation memories ourselves – that gives us more control, as we store all our own content and have a clearer overview of it. We understand the translation process better, so we can give better advice to our partners.
What’s your translation workflow?
We download the texts from our system as XLIFF files and create the memoQ project. We start by pre-translating the texts ourselves using the translation memory and machine translation. Once we have the analysis, we send the texts to our translation partners and request a quote, which these partners send directly to the respective local council – and they then decide which partner to go with. We’ve noticed that more and more councils are choosing machine translation and post-editing, Though pure machine translations have recently become increasingly popular as well.
So is post-editing no longer a must-have for you?
Our experience has shown that basic content for the app can be translated without post-editing. We tested it first with native speakers, asking them to assess whether the texts were easy to understand or not, and we got a very good response. And the districts and councils also got feedback from native speakers that the unedited machine translations were basically easy to understand and that the quality was OK – of course that heavily depends on how easy to understand the German source texts are. And I should make clear that not all the languages we need are even covered by MT engines.
What do you think are the advantages of working with a translation agency vs. working directly with freelancers?
We aren’t translators or translation managers, and we don’t want to be. So we need professionals, a big enough pool of translators, and that management expertise. It’s not just translations: the support and consultation we get, for example if we have problems with memoQ, is very important and something we really appreciate. It’s invaluable to have someone by your side who’s familiar with all the issues in translations – like building up a term base, something we did in partnership with MEINRAD. It was important for us to know that we could ask MEINRAD questions at any time.
Which marginalized languages do you handle, and which language pairs come up the most?
We always translate from German, and we currently cover about 25 languages. The least frequent are Somali, Albanian, Tigrinya and Amharic. By contrast, there’s now a higher demand for East European languages like Bulgarian, Ukrainian and Romanian.
Do you think that AI systems like ChatGPT will produce and translate texts for the app in future?
I think we need to be extremely careful with AI. The information for our vulnerable target audience must be correct, and in my experience ChatGPT is sometimes very creative in terms of adding incorrect information. Obviously that’s a no-no. So I think we’ll have to continue writing the texts ourselves.
Thank you for talking to us!
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