Volunteers complete Arabic, Russian, and Ukrainian translations of GBIF.org

Community members further reduce linguistic barriers by adding support for first Cyrillic-script languages, first right-to-left language and all official United Nations languages

Flock of 10 common cranes (Grus grus), Shumerlinsky District, Chuvash Republic, Russian Federation. Photo 2020 Oleg Glushenkov via iNaturalist Research-grade Observations, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Volunteer translators have recently completed the translation of the GBIF.org interface into three more languages: Russian, Arabic, and Ukrainian.

Their efforts have enabled GBIF to fulfil a commitment established in its 2019 work programme to improve user access to data by supporting, at a minimum, all six official UN languages: Arabic, Simplified Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish, in addition to its primary working language of English. Four more language communities from the GBIF network have extended this mandate to provide access in Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and now Ukrainian.

"The ability to support communities that need biodiversity data in languages beyond English is critical to GBIF's ability to engage new members and increase its relevance to both scientific and policy audiences," said Joe Miller, GBIF Executive Secretary. "We deeply appreciate the enthusiastic support of our volunteer translators, most of whom are also engaged in other activities across the network."

Each of the nine translations contributes toward reducing the language barriers highlighted several times in the independent Twenty-Year Review of GBIF recently completed by CODATA. In this way, the volunteer translators have provided a critical resource for GBIF’s strategic outreach and engagement aimed at expanding national participation.

"Although Ukraine currently is not yet a GBIF participant country, we're convinced that there is support in the local community to do so," said Iryna Yatsiuk, who with three colleagues produced the Ukrainian translation. "Translation of the GBIF website is a good step for demonstrating to authorities and decision-makers how the data easily can be managed and used for practical applications at a local scale."

The translation of GBIF.org into Arabic increases its accessibility for the world’s more than 420 million native speakers. Most of these people reside in 22 countries where Arabic is an official language—and all today remain under-represented as users, publishers or participants within the GBIF network.

The experience with Russian demonstrates how effective language can be in convening and organizing potential stakeholders. Translating training materials into the local language played a critical early role in expanding awareness and building skills across an emerging cohort, along with targeted support from FinBIF, the GBIF national node in Finland.

Three years, two conferences and nine training courses later, researchers working in the Russian Federation have doubled the number of peer-reviewed papers using GBIF-mediated data. Meanwhile, nearly 100 data-publishing institutions have generated a greater than tenfold increase in the number of records previously available from Russian institutions.

”Arriving at the Secretariat as non-native English-speaking researcher, I wasn’t convinced that GBIF’s operations required translations, because global science speaks English these days," said Dmitry Schigel, GBIF Scientific Officer. "But people simply think differently when information is delivered in their own language, and translation has transformed the effectiveness of GBIF’s outreach and training in the informal GBIF.ru community and Norwegian-funded BioDATA project.”

The steady introduction of new content, enhanced data features, and additions and adjustments to the site navigation provides an ongoing need for additional translations. After completing work on the UI, the volunteer teams have shifted their attention to key website content describing GBIF and how it operates, both as a platform and a network. In addition, volunteer translation has broadened the communities supported by the technical guides prepared as part of GBIF digital documentation.

Individuals interested in participating as a volunteer translator can request to join the translator group in the GBIF community forum. Those interested in exploring the potential for additional language support should contact the GBIF communications team.