December 16th. It’s a public holiday in South Africa – Day of Reconciliation. It’s also holiday time, and the streets of Makhaza are filled with people making ready for their Christmas festivities or their annual pilgrimage to the Eastern Cape. The small children are playing in the streets, the older kids are heading to the beaches, but seven of Makhaza’s inhabitants get up this morning and go to the office.
These seven remarkable individuals (pictured below) are part of a very exciting project called Khan Academy. With a library of over 2,700 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 253 practice exercises, Khan Academy is on a mission to help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace (www.khanacademy.org).
Project X Team – Top Left: Unathi Smile, Mandisi Gladile, Patrick Zangwa, Andrew Einhorn, Ayanda Gladile. Bottom Left: Athi, Ayanda S, Yanga Zukelwa
This team, however, has a more specific goal: To translate the Khan Academy videos into Xhosa. At present, the videos are being subtitled into 47 different languages around the world in a Wikipedia-style open collaboration. Of these 47, 16 are in the process of being dubbed. The reason? Khan Academy is not truly open to the world until it has been translated into the languages that make it accessible to the world.
When scouting about for a name for the translation project, we discovered that Xhosa is the only official language on the globe that begins with an ‘X’. It followed naturally that we name the operation “Project X”. This is the name that has stuck, and Project X is now well and truly under way.
It is a momentous task, but our translators have so far shown themselves to be up to the challenge. In the space of just two weeks, they have fully translated and edited the first 40 videos, which address topics in arithmetic. This equates to roughly 8000 lines of Xhosa, or 64,000 words. The videos are translated by individuals and then edited as a group to gain maximum simplicity and clarity in the translation. The goal for December is to complete the Arithmetic and Pre-Algebra playlists – two of the three core sets of videos in the Khan Academy math library. So far the team is well on track.
Project X is not only about bringing Khan Academy to the seven million Xhosa speakers in South Africa. It is also about leading the way for other African countries and language groups to follow suit. At present, Xhosa is one of only two African languages into which the videos are being translated – the other being Swahili. Ironically, while of all the continents Africa has perhaps the greatest need for learning tools like this, it is also the continent that has the lowest Khan Academy penetration. Project X is one way we are trying to rectify this imbalance.
If you are interested in getting involved with Project X, or setting up a parallel project for another language group, please contact Andrew by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Translation in Progress: Khan Academy’s online translation tool (and coffee!)