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Translating the atmosphere

Workshops aim to transform weather research

by Bob Henson


Translators Marina LaGrave and David Russi. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

The World Wide Web offers a huge range of information on weather and climate, but only a sliver of that spectrum is available in Spanish. This is despite the fact that many research scientists are fluent in both English and Spanish, and internationally focused efforts such as UOP’s GLOBE Program have long included materials online in the six official United Nations languages, including Spanish. Still, it can be difficult for Spanish speakers to find what they need online in the way of educational materials on the Earth system.

The typically monolingual world of atmospheric science on the U.S. Web is beginning to change, however. In the last year, UCAR has dramatically stepped up its efforts to offer online educational materials en español.

“There’s an ignored ocean of demand,” says Roberta Johnson, director of UCAR Education and Outreach (EO). Her program now provides some 5,000 pages of Web materials in Spanish. Another center of translation action is UOP’s COMET Program, which recently unveiled a Spanish version of the higher-level pages on its popular MetEd site (see “On the Web”). And there is also strong interest in translating the introductory pages of the UCAR/NCAR Web site into Spanish as funding allows. Software underpinning the site was recently upgraded to permit versions in multiple languages.

Forecaster training in two languages

Most of COMET’s modules are intended as continuing education for operational forecasters, but they are also popular in college classrooms and even among motivated high school students eager to learn about such topics as rip currents or mesoscale convective systems. Until recently, Vilma Castro—a professor at the World Meteorological Organization’s Regional Meteorological Training Center at the University of Costa Rica—had been translating one or two modules per year into Spanish for COMET as time and funding allowed. But in 2005, the NWS Office of International Affairs expressed interest in a stepped-up program of Spanish-language training.


Roberta Johnson and Marina LaGrave (right, behind desk) brought some of UCAR’s Spanish-language educational materials to the annual meeting of Mexico’s National Association of Science Teachers in Puebla last November. (Photo courtesy UCAR Education and Outreach.)

COMET responded by hiring David Russi as the program’s first full-time translator. Over the last year Russi has produced Spanish versions of all the top-level MetEd pages in addition to translating 15 modules. Currently, COMET has almost 40 hours of educational materials available in Spanish and plans to add 20 to 40 hours each year. A distance learning course on basic hydrologic science is COMET’s first to be released at roughly the same time in English and Spanish. The full course, including 11 individual modules, will be available this summer.

Russi has also translated two of COMET’s modules on the GOES-10 satellite, which is now observing Central and South America (see President’s Corner, page 2). Meanwhile, Castro continues to advise COMET on which modules would be most useful to Latin Americans, as well as providing and reviewing translations for the ­program. “We’re working toward the goal of having most of our materials available in both English and Spanish,” says COMET’s Liz Lissard, who oversees the translation efforts.

Terminology is a particular focus of COMET’s translation efforts. The new Spanish resource page available on MetEd provides access to many external glossaries and dictionaries in Spanish and English. In addition, COMET is translating its own glossaries to help bridge English and Spanish materials. “There’s really nothing like them out there for Spanish speakers. We think they’ll be a fabulous resource,” says Russi. Glossaries that are tied directly to a module will provide full definitions in both languages.
Russi takes pains to make his Spanish as international as possible. “There are differences between Central and South America and across the Atlantic. I try to stay away from localisms of any kind.”

El tiempo en español

Among UCAR’s educational tools aimed at the K-12 audience, much of the translation to date has centered on Windows to the Universe. Now in its 12th year, this multilayered guide to Earth and planetary science draws so many students, teachers, and members of the public to its 7,000 pages that it accounts for more than half of the traffic on UCAR servers.

Beginning in 2004 with the help of NSF funding, EO has translated about 75% of the W2U site into Spanish. The translations include a new section called Earth’s Polar Regions, which debuted on 1 March in honor of the International Polar Year (2007–09). Of the roughly 16 million users who visit W2U each year, more than a quarter now head for the Spanish pages. There’s a fair bit of cross-visitation, though, says Johnson. “Because you can easily switch from English to Spanish or vice versa, there are people using the site to learn both languages.”

Roberta Johnson

Roberta Johnson. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Teachers crave additional background to help them convey geoscience concepts to students across the Spanish-speaking world as well as in bilingual U.S. classrooms. One of EO’s first attempts to meet this need was a workshop in 2004 for 30 teachers who conduct bilingual K-12 programs in Boulder County, where UCAR is based. This one-shot effort has since morphed into NCAR’s Bilingual Science Teachers Annual Resources Symposium (BSTARS), which provides Earth system teaching tools to bilingually oriented teachers along Colorado’s Front Range.

Last year, 96 teachers participated in the first BSTARS symposium, including six from Veracruz, Mexico, and 80 from across Colorado who attended with support from the state department of education. The workshop occurred at the start of Boulder’s unusually wet winter, giving the Mexican teachers their first glimpse of snowfall. To help stretch the limited budget, EO staff personally hosted the teachers from Veracruz in their own homes.

The Mexico connection grew out of the MILAGRO field program (Megacity Initiative: Local and Global Research Observatory), which was based in Mexico City and Veracruz earlier in 2006. Along with producing Spanish-language outreach materials for the MILAGRO Web site, the group built strong ties with teachers and education specialists in Veracruz. One day during MILAGRO when EO translator and coordinator Marina LaGrave and colleague Randy Russell were visiting the region, the two were asked to whip up a late-afternoon workshop for Veracruz science teachers. Despite the short notice, 65 local educators showed up for the training.

EO now has a memorandum of understanding with the state of Veracruz to advance science education, says Johnson. A similar arrangement is in the works with the state of Jalisco, where sustainability is a hot topic. EO is also working with leading educators in Chile, who are interested in technology to improve K-12 science education.
Funding for this work remains a challenge, with resources sparse in Mexico and often directed elsewhere in the United States. Yet Johnson and LaGrave are inspired by the enormous potential to change young lives by conveying the workings of the atmosphere in Spanish. One mother of seven boys in Mexico wrote to thank the group for helping pull her sons onto the information highway and away from trouble in their neighborhood streets. “I can’t put into words how meaningful this work is to us,” says Johnson.

On the Web image2 image3

COMET MetEd (Meteorology Education and Training)
MetEd en español

Windows to the Universe
Ventanas al Universo

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