The National Academies

NCHRP 20-48(01) [Completed]

Making the Business Case for Translating Non-English Transportation Information

  Project Data
Funds: $30,000
Principal Investigator: John Metcalf
Effective Date: 6/1/2002
Completion Date: 1/31/2003

Background: NCHRP Project 20-48 "Accessibility of Non-English Language Transportation Information" has recently been completed. This project examined means of improving access to non-English materials through efforts such as machine translation, identification, collection and cataloguing of non-English materials, and the preparation, archiving and dissemination of English translations. While the researchers made some effort to quantify the cost of these recommended products and services, a critical element missing from the study was a thorough assessment of the benefits that would result from their implementation, and the costs that result from not having that access. This assessment would be a major step in developing a strong business case that could convince public or private agencies to provide the resources needed for new or improved programs, products and services.

Objective: The objective of this project was to assess, describe and quantify, to the greatest extent possible, the need for the United States transportation community to improve access to non-English published information.

The project objective was carried out through the analysis of case studies illustrating examples such as the following:
  • Savings in money, time or lives that could have resulted from access to existing material published in other languages
  • Examples of duplicated research indicating specific area of research or practice and the non-English resources that would have indicated the duplication if these resources had been available to the American practitioner or researcher.
  • Improvements in safety, efficiency, economy, equity, mobility, security, or the environment that could have resulted more quickly through access to existing material published in other languages.

The primary emphasis was on identifying foreign transportation technologies that have been implemented in the United States and yielded significant benefits. The key factor for this study was to assess whether the technology could have been implemented earlier or more economically if translated documents describing the technology had been available.

The case studies were to focus on subject areas that are important to the US transportation community, and where there is considerable recognized expertise in countries that publish in non-English languages.

In addition, the case study analyses were to include, if applicable, administrative data such as:
  • Specific summary description of the application/project/proposal or problem
  • Type of foreign language materials used, or that may have been useful had they been available via translation (e.g., reports, standards/specification, books, articles, regulatory/legislative documents, financial/planning documents)
  • Whether or not foreign language resources were acquired
  • Source of those acquired resources
  • Whether or not translation was required and if so, how was it accomplished


The methodology included contacts and interviews such as the following:
  • Recent participants in the AASHTO/FHWA international scanning missions
  • U.S. members of World Road Congress (PIARC) technical committees.
  • TRB conference attendees from non-English speaking countries.
  • U.S. transportation professionals in the public, private or academic sectors who have trained or worked in countries outside the United States, or are otherwise fluent in foreign technical literature.
  • U.S. university faculty who have students from other countries with skills in languages other than English.
  • Transportation professionals who have successfully located, acquired and made use of documents in languages other than English.
  • Doctoral candidates in civil or environmental engineering

Status: Completed

Product availability: The final report has been published as NCHRP Research Results Digest 279 "Making the Business Case for Translating Non-English Transportation Information."

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