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CrowdLingo: A mobile platform for volunteer language help

CrowdLingo allows immigrants to tap into an informal network of volunteer translators.

Photo of superNOVA
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Language is the first and most challenging barrier many immigrants face. Translation of simple documents like school notes, parking tickets, and mailbox flyers can help people navigate daily life. CrowdLingo pairs immigrants or others who need language help with volunteer translators who are looking for an opportunity to sharpen or showcase their skills, earn points through a gamified platform, or simply help others in their communities. By leveraging a widely-available technology -- camera-enabled smartphones -- CrowdLingo puts an informal knowledge-sharing network within everyone's reach.


If you get an e-mail in a language you don't speak, you can always run it through Google Translate to get the gist of it. Often, though, this isn't enough -- understanding which action to take based on a piece of text often requires an understanding of its social and cultural context. For example, can you imagine machine-translating your child's report card? There are times when nothing will substitute for the human touch. Suppose you've gotten a piece of mail that you can't understand. With CrowdLingo, you can use your smartphone to take a photo, tag it with a brief description (in your native language), and specify the language into which you would like it translated. Volunteers can browse through the collection of uploaded documents until they find one with which they think they can help. When a volunteer has answered your query, you will receive a notification and have a chance to rate the quality of the help you received. Volunteers with consistently high ratings will earn points that can be used for bragging rights, listed on a job application, or used to gain priority viewing for their own translation requests.


The primary beneficiaries are people with translation needs. These might be refugees or other immigrants, travelers, or students. We designed with Spanish-speaking populations in the United States in mind, but there is no reason that the same idea couldn't be applied elsewhere. The volunteers also benefit; they may live in the same communities, or they may be scattered around the world.


1. Work through local NGOs or volunteer organizations to find immigrant families who would be willing to test our prototype. 2. Use wireframes (or a similar approach) to mock up a simple digital prototype. 3. Talk to potential volunteers to see what kind of incentive systems will keep them engaged. See our video at


We'd like to get some feedback from app developers and user-experience experts (especially people who have worked with gamified systems), and potential users. We're also unsure how this should be made self-financing -- it would be helpful to talk to people with relevant entrepreneurial experience.

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We'll need help with a lot of the technical work, especially developing a mobile application. We'll need help with a business plan and design of the volunteer incentive system. Some of us speak Spanish. We have some architects, so they know how to make things look nice. We can write projects.


We are working in the United States, and developed this as part of the OpenIDEO Design Kit course. We are a team of 6 people from different backgrounds, some of us are immigrants. Between us we speak 10 languages.


  • Yes, and I am looking for a partner working with refugee communities to implement this idea.

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Photo of Sarah Lowe

Hi, superNOVA,

I like your idea! We're trying to solve the same issue. It's definitely a big problem for recent refugees and immigrants adjusting to new environments. Great work in thinking it through.