The National Academies

NCHRP 20-48 [Completed]

Accessibility of Non-English Language Transportation Information

  Project Data
Funds: $174,228
Research Agency: L&H Applications Technology - AppTek
Principal Investigator: Mohammed Shihadah
Effective Date: 8/24/1999
Completion Date: 11/1/2001

Background: Transportation research and innovation occur worldwide. Taking advantage of existing knowledge maximizes the impact of funds committed to developing our transportation facilities. However, the U.S. transportation community lacks adequate access to non-English language research results, standards, and guidelines. Moreover, few U.S. transportation professionals are able to read materials written in languages other than English.

The scope of this problem is evident from an analysis of the TRANSPORT (SilverPlatter Information Ltd.) database, which includes abstracts of transportation research documents from the TRIS (Transportation Research Information Services, IRRD (International Road Research Database), and TRANSDOC (operated by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport) databases. About 20 percent of these abstracts are in French, German, or Spanish. They would not be readily retrieved in a search using technical terms in English, and even if they were, their information is not easily available to the primarily mono-lingual U.S. transportation community. Moreover, it is estimated that 35 percent of the original source documents cited and abstracted in TRANSPORT are unavailable in any English translation.

Finally, little is known about the accessibility in English of important classes of documents not represented in TRANSPORT, such as standards and guidelines.

The goal of this research is to improve access to non-English language documents for the U.S. transportation community.

Objective: The objective of this project is to develop a practical process to improve access to non-English language transportation standards, guidelines, and research results for the U.S. transportation community.

Tasks: It is anticipated that the research will encompass at least the following tasks: (1) Building on the published results of the FHWA International Scanning Review "Acquiring Highway Transportation Information From Abroad," identify (1) major worldwide producers and suppliers of non-English language abstracts and full-text documents of transportation standards, guidelines, and research results and (2) existing producers and suppliers of translations of these abstracts or documents into English. (2) Evaluate the adequacy of existing software (termed as "pre-translation" or "gisting") for quick, routine translation of abstracts, focusing principally on the TRANSDOC and IRRD databases. Determine the cost of translating existing non-English language abstracts in the databases and estimate an annual cost for providing translations into English of such abstracts as they are added in the future. (3) Investigate the feasibility of enhancing commercial translation software products with a transportation-specific dictionary. (4) Submit, within 4 months after the effective date of the contract, an interim report for review by the NCHRP that summarizes the results of Tasks 1 through 3 and includes an updated work plan for the remaining tasks. The research agency will be required to meet with the NCHRP approximately 1 month later to obtain approval to proceed with the remaining tasks. (5) Evaluate "best practices" used in other countries by public and private organizations to obtain timely access to foreign language technical documents. Define a best practice for the U.S. transportation community to acquire or produce complete, competent translations of documents into English. (6) Evaluate "best practices" for disseminating, accessing, and archiving translations of foreign language documents in English within the U.S. transportation community. (7) Investigate potential mechanisms for coordinating and administering the translation and archiving of foreign language documents within the U.S. transportation community. (8) Identify potential funding sources and partnerships for translating full-text documents and archiving them in appropriate libraries and databases. (9) Prepare a final report that summarizes the findings of Tasks 1 through 8, draws conclusions, and presents a recommended process for providing English translations of abstracts and documents to the U.S. transportation community. In the process, establish criteria for selecting documents for full-text translation; recommend translation procedures; suggest improvements to existing methods and techniques of translation, dissemination, access, and archiving; and estimate related costs and identify potential funding sources. Include a detailed implementation plan for demonstrating the value of access, communicating the benefits, and marketing the results of the study to stakeholders such as AASHTO, U.S. DOT Bureau of Transportation Statistics, FHWA, university transportation centers, the Special Library Association, and TRB.

Status: Completed

Product Availability: The contractor's report is available upon request from NCHRP. The results of the evaluation of machine translation software has been published in NCHRP Research Results Digest 267.

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