US Peace Corps help develop Zambian translation app

Digital Content

United States Peace Corps volunteers together with Zambian software developers have developed a mobile application that is planned to translate English words and phrases into any of the seven major languages spoken in Zambia. The app titled "Bantu Babel" is available for Android-compatible devices in the Google Play store, the Peace Corps have said.

The Peace Corps said the app has two parts: a dictionary for translating individual words and a survival phrase book that contains helpful terms for accommodation, shopping, food and emergencies, among other things.

Tony Tseng, a third year volunteer, said the app, which can be used as a training tool for government and aid workers or as a supplement to formal language training runs offline therefore eliminating the need for an internet connection.

"Peace Corps has a phenomenal language-training programme, and to be able to share it is both exciting and inspiring, and to be able to realise a solution in collaboration with host-country nationals truly embodies the spirit of Peace Corps," Tseng said.

Three Peace Corps volunteers are said to have worked with developers from BongoHive, a Lusaka-based technology and innovation hub, to develop the app.

BongoHive provides a place for Zambia’s local tech community to meet, swap experiences, and attend training, networking and hackathon events.

"It is my belief that Zambia, like many other developing countries, is in a great position to leapfrog over traditional technology infrastructures. Almost all Zambians own a cellphone, and the market for mobile applications is growing,” Tseng said.

He added, “To be able to utilise the mobile phones already in use is a new approach to development that has proven to be successful in other countries across Africa."

The framework for the programme was developed during a two-day "hackathon" in December 2012 in the capital Lusaka, as part of the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) global hackathon, which included participants in 32 cities and 16 countries.