Although the number of online translators on the internet and in app stores increases every year, language barriers haven’t become any less daunting. Simply put, online translators are extremely inaccurate. Paying for professional translation is expensive, and not everyone has a friend that can speak the language they need translated.
Enter the mobile app Flitto. Flitto says it has an 93% translation accuracy rate and is 1/100th the cost of professional translation.
Over the last 3 years, Flitto has seen their user base grow to over 5 million users, with over 12,000,000 translation requests made in over 17 different languages.
Flitto was launched in 2012 by three Korean coworkers Simon Lee, Dan Kang, & Jin Kim, who recognized the need for superior online translators in an ever-widening global community. Most current online translators lack the AI and finesse necessary to interpret things like figures of speech, metaphors, and–most importantly–context. While many online translators have no problem translating simple vocabulary, it’s rare to get a full sentence translated perfectly and presented in the same natural manner you would use in actual speech.
How Flitto Works
Flitto says it’s simple: you’re asking a real living person to translate, not a machine.
Flitto works by linking those in need of translations with bilingual individuals all across the world.
If you need an English message translated into Korean, Flitto will make sure your request is instantly sent to the mobile devices of registered users that speak both the languages you specified. Translation requests can be made via text, voice, or even by image.
Flitto doesn’t just send the request out to one person; its patent-pending algorithm extracts hundreds of translators who best fit to your request and then only a few hundred are extracted from the algorithm to receive the request. Completed translations come back to your device, and you are then able to choose which one you would like to select. You can select a translation by either looking at the translator’s user rating (an indicator of translation reliability), or simply by choosing the one that comes back first.
Once you click “select,” you will reward the translator with Flitto Points. More on what you can do with these points later.
With it’s newest version debuting in Fall 2015, Flitto will add the ability for 1:1 translations. This option will work via an escrow system. The requestor selects a translator and sends the inquiry directly. Bypassing the point system, users will be able to broker translations with direct cash. The translator will take away the entire price they set for their work, incurring no fees.
“These clever additions put Flitto a step ahead of all the other translation apps out there.”
Perhaps the most important of Flitto’s features is the use of memos. Memos come with each translation and include notes from the translator. This helps users understand more about the translation they are receiving. Is the translation informal? Is it considered rude? Does it have another connotation? These clever additions put Flitto a step ahead of all the other translation apps out there.
Benchmarking Reliability and Avoiding Sticky Situations
Flitto makes sure that translations are unique and accurate by having a dedicated team in their Seoul HQ monitor the integrity of translations occurring all over the world. This means that those trying to profit by running translations through a machine translator will find themselves out of luck and possibly even banned from using the service. It all seems a lot like Uber. And that’s a good thing.
“Uber and Airbnb were definitely two primary inspirations, as well as sources for benchmarking the app,” says Flitto representative Rebecca Kah.
I sat down with Ms. Kah in a cozy neighborhood coffee shop close to the Flitto office. I asked her to demonstrate the app.
We took a photo of a paper coffee cup that had a French phrase on it. We specified that we wanted the phrase translated from French to Korean. Within 2 minutes of submitting, we had 3 translations sent back to us, all eager for the Flitto Point bounty we had assigned to our request.
We read the memo attached to the first translation we chose: “Cafe Merci–this is the name of the coffee shop you are at.”
“Oh…” I thought to myself. I suddenly imagined a plethora of foreign dating situations where this memo feature could save me from being slapped or having a drink dumped on me.
Navigating the pitfalls of an international relationship would be much simpler with a little additional help from a trusty translator.
Flitto Point Bounties and Rewards for Bilingual Users
Those that act as translators are rewarded with Flitto Points every time they translate a message and have that translation selected by the author of the request. These points can then be either used for their own future translation requests, or exchanged for shop and restaurant vouchers. There also is the option for a full cash payout via Paypal.
Flitto recognizes that it’s going to have to adapt globally in order to attract translators and incentivize them to earn points. With this in mind, Flitto’s online store changes according to user location.
If you’re registered in South Korea, you’ll be presented with a location-specific range of choices that include vouchers for Starbucks, Baskin Robbins, ramyeon, and even cosmetics. If you access the store from the US, you are able to choose between Amazon gift cards, smartphone accessories, and apparel.
Perhaps the best reward is accumulating enough Flitto Points to be able to get your own translation requests answered when you need them. Casually translating English to Spanish in your spare time can earn you points that will come in handy later when you suddenly need help translating Japanese to English.
User Ingenuity and the Future of Flitto
Perhaps one of Flitto’s coolest evolving features is the introduction of QR codes in restaurants. Popular restaurants in the Myeongdong and Hongdae neighborhoods of Seoul already have users translating menus into different languages so that all types of visitors can enjoy what these restaurants have to offer. Simply scan the QR code and you’re able to see the menu presented in the language of your choice. A Flitto QR code at the entrance of a restaurant on your next trip might just make the whole dining out experience a little less nerveracking when traveling.
The future is bright for Flitto and users are making the future even brighter. Because Flitto isn’t limited to 250 characters, users were coming up with unique and interesting uses for the app. College students were requesting translations to help them with their foreign language homework. Bloggers and YouTubers were translating their content into different languages in order to reach new audiences and even artists were getting their web comics translated.
“Because Flitto isn’t limited to 250 characters, users were coming up with unique and interesting uses for the app that probably the creators didn’t even imagine.”
With traveling abroad growing for the fifth consecutive year and internet audiences consuming more and more international content and media, it will be interesting to see if Flitto can indeed help take a chunk out of the language barrier.
Flitto is a free app that can be found in the iTunes App Store, Google Play, and Microsoft App Store. All users are given a starting credit of 100 Flitto Points. Bilingual translators are required to first take a small quiz in order to prove their language abilities.
-Edited by Lindsay McEwen