Ignored by Google, Faroese islanders set up their own online ‘translate’ service

With no Faroese on Google Translate, residents of the Faroe Islands have created a community-led service to help visitors decipher the local lingo

Google Translate allows users to translate words and phrases between more than 100 languages. But Faroese, spoken by some 80,000 people worldwide, is not one of them, a fact that has irked some of the 50,000 residents of the Faroe Islands. They believe it could be discouraging visitors.

In response, those living on the 18-island archipelago in the North Atlantic have taken on the tech giant by setting up their own online translation service: Faroe Islands Translate. The service is free and aimed at visitors to the islands, or anyone curious to learn their language.

Users of Faroe Islands Translate can type words or phrases in one of 14 different languages into the site’s search box and a video translation will be sent back in Faroese. During the first 24 hours of its operation, the most translated word was ‘love’.

Good journalism can be about good things too.

Subscribe to Positive News magazine for some serious optimism

It is only possible due to the help of local volunteers – native speakers who will be on hand to respond translation requests using the video function on their phones.

The translators come from all walks of life, so users could be interacting with anyone from sheep farmers to social workers and chefs, to students such as Lisa í Dali, whose favourite Faroese phrase is “um tær ikki dámar veðrið, bíða so bara í 5 minuttir”, meaning “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”, a nod to the infamously changeable weather conditions in that part of the world.

Those behind the project say that tourism is growing in the Faroes, and noticed that not being included on Google Translate has frustrated some visitors. They feel unable to fully immerse themselves in the traditions and culture of the Faroes, they say. They hope that Google will take note and opt to include Faroese in Google Translate in the future.

Image: Sergio Villalba

“When travelling in most countries, tourists can use Google Translate to help them to communicate with local people and to feel as if they are a true part of the destination that they’re visiting,” said Faroe Islands Translate project manager, Levi Hanssen.

“Sadly, in the Faroe Islands, this isn’t currently possible – and we want to change that. We’re taking matters into our own hands and enlisting local people to help those who want to learn a little Faroese.

“While most Faroese people speak good English, we have a beautiful language of our own that we would love to share with those who visit, and with the wider world.”

We’re taking matters into our own hands and enlisting local people to help those who want to learn a little Faroese

The videos will be stored on a database so that frequently requested translations do not need to be repeated. They will help build an audible log of the Faroese language, something that has not been done before.

It is not the first time that the Faroese have taken on the tech giant. In 2016, residents petitioned Google to be featured on Google Street View by creating their own version which used cameras mounted on the backs of sheep. Called Sheep View, the campaign gained worldwide interest, eventually leading to Google including the islands on its service.

Those behind Faroe Islands Translate believe that being included on Street View contributed to a boost in tourist numbers over the past year and hopes that making the Faroese language more accessible will have a similar effect.

In an open letter video message to Google, the Faroe Island’s prime minister, Aksel V. Johannesen, said: “Our language is one of the most important aspects of Faroese identity. Visitors come from all over the world and they want to learn a bit of our language to experience our culture and beautiful country.

“We the Faroese, along with thousands of tourists, business associates and scholars would be immensely grateful if you could add the Faroese language to Google Translate.”

Google Translate supports “more than 100 languages at various levels” and as of May 2013, was used by more than 200 million people each day.

The magazine and movement that’s changing the news for good.

Join as a Positive News subscriber