The first edX course that Minh-Tue Vo ’14 took was Street Fighting Math. A seven-week problem-solving course, 6.5FMx focuses on tackling math problems with reasoning and analogy on the fly.
Vo liked it so much as a complement to his MIT campus education that he enrolled in another: Autonomous Navigation for Flying Robots.
Vo loved the variety of courses on the edX platform and its ease of use, but in its first two years, it catered only to English speakers. What if he could translate it into his native Vietnamese?
After graduation this spring, Vo applied for an internship at edX in Cambridge, where he spent part of his summer doing just that.
To his surprise, Vo found the Vietnamese translation project already underway, as were efforts to translate edX into nearly 80 languages. An open-source brain-trust run entirely by volunteer coders fluent in those native languages, the project will have far-reaching impact in scaling up online learning, says edX CEO Anant Agarwal.
“Our goal at edX is to reach as many learners around the world as possible,” says Agarwal, “and we know that one way to do this is to increase the number of languages on our platform.”
To translate hundreds of instructional and static pieces of content into his native tongue, Vo created an account on Transifex, a platform for collectively translating large amounts of data, and got to work. The project even has a support group on Facebook.
“Every string on the website is marked with some markers, and, for most languages, it’s just one to one mapping,” Vo says. “A volunteer creates a free account and finds a list of phrases to translate or review. Once a project is completed or at 99 percent completion, the edX team downloads it into the database and integrates it with the website.”
In the past year, France, China, and Saudi Arabia unveiled edX platforms in their native languages. More partnerships are expected to launch as volunteers finish translations in dozens of other languages and governments discover the financial and social benefits of online learning.
Vo, who now works in San Francisco as a software engineer at Box, found the work on the Vietnamese translation both rewarding and challenging. “The grammar is consistent, but the vocabulary is not,” he says. “And a lot of the terms are newly invented, so a corresponding translation might not even exist!”
Currently, less than a thousand students in Vietnam use the edX platform in English, says Vo. He hopes to see that number rise when the Vietnamese version goes live this winter. “The project aims to raise the awareness of edX among Vietnamese speakers, and a Vietnamese website will definitely appeal to older generations,” he says.
Agarwal agrees. “Because the edX platform is available as open source, course creators can contribute courses in local languages. Now that the edX platform is [becoming] available in Vietnamese, we can look to the open source community to help provide courses.”