The “what” in Farhad Manjoo’s Wall Street Journal account of BuzzFeed’s upcoming expansion was to be expected: The site wants to grow beyond the English-speaking world, and plans to launch versions this month in French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese. The interesting part is in how it plans to get this done: Rather than hiring professional translators (expensive) or using software (not very good), BuzzFeed plans to essentially crowdsource its translation by enlisting those who use a language-instruction app called Duolingo to learn English. Duolingo users who reach some level of competency with the language are asked to translate documents, so BuzzFeed is going to offer its own stories as the raw material for those translations.
The idea is that with enough people translating the documents, the crowd can figure out idioms and other tricky bits of language better than a machine and at a much lower cost than a professional translator. It’s an interesting theory that BuzzFeed says has worked in testing. But what about the effects on the future English speakers of learning the language using BuzzFeed’s content? Will they come away with an encyclopedic knowledge of Mean Girls quotes and nineties television references?