January 26, 2001, 3:41 PM — THAILAND IS TO spearhead a project to develop software that can translate English-language Web pages and e-mail messages into the various languages of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. The Internet content will be translated into the languages of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam, according to a Vietnamese government statement issued last Thursday.
The project is aimed at helping reduce the digital divide -- the gap between people with access to global telecommunications resources and those without -- as the vast majority of people in these countries cannot understand written English, according to the statement.
The project will receive technical assistance from Tokyo-based NEC, which has already built a similar system capable of translating Internet content in English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese into Japanese.
The languages of Southeast Asia come from several different language families, with widely varying grammar and syntax. This makes development harder than in similar projects previously carried out in Europe, where all the major languages belong to the Indo-European language family. The project is expected to take up to five years to complete, and cost several million dollars, according to the statement.
After the English translation engine and associated dictionaries have been completed, the project will add the capability to translate German and Japanese text into the various Southeast Asian languages, according to the statement.
In November last year, U.S. President Bill Clinton told countries in the region that they must take steps to turn the digital divide into digital opportunities in order to maintain economic growth.
The 10 countries in ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Of the two countries not involved in the project, Brunei uses the Malay language, while Singapore's Internet users at large are able to understand English text.