Catalan aims to break through English-dominated tech scene at MWC

Several initiatives promote its use at the world's most important technology fair

English signs at MWC 2024
English signs at MWC 2024 / Maria Asmarat
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

February 29, 2024 11:18 AM

February 29, 2024 07:14 PM

Despite a record number of Catalan companies attending this year's Mobile World Congress, the world's most important technology event taking place in Barcelona this week, the Catalan language is significantly absent from the event. 

Although the Catalan government reached an agreement with the fair's organizers, the GSMA, to promote Catalan in the technology and digital sectors, this commitment has not materialized. 

To increase the presence of the Catalan language, the Plataforma per la Llengua organization uses international events such as Mobile to interact with companies and "communicate the reality and opportunities of the Catalan language". 

Gerard Soler, representing the organization, says that the increasingly global technological landscape, dominated by English and Chinese, poses challenges for languages such as Catalan. 

Catalonia stand at MWC24
Catalonia stand at MWC24 / Jordi Borràs

AINA project pushes Catalan in AI 

In the field of artificial intelligence, companies are increasingly recognizing the need to incorporate languages beyond English and Chinese. 

According to a 2019 study by the Catalan Ministry of Culture, 88% of consumers in Catalonia expressed a desire for a Catalan language option in services such as Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. 

Despite this demand, after five years, such an option is still not available. However, the AINA project is making commendable progress in addressing this challenge. 

AINA, a collaboration between the government and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, is dedicated to enabling machines to speak and understand Catalan, streamlining the integration of the language for businesses. 

This week, the Catalan government announced the allocation of €1 million to fund up to 22 AI initiatives within the AINA project. 

Attendees at Mobile World Congress 2024
Attendees at Mobile World Congress 2024 / Jordi Borràs

Hola Alexa and Relisten

At this year's Mobile World Congress, two AI initiatives that incorporate Catalan are AB Control's Hola Alexa, which allows Alexa to speak Catalan, and Recog's Relisten, which transcribes medical conversations in multiple languages, including Catalan. 

Hola Alexa can provide daily local information through a voice system. It consists of an application that allows Alexa to speak in Catalan and is primarily aimed at the media. 

"Journalists have a platform to write the story and upload photos," explains Josep Manel Aler, one of the promoters of Hola Alexa. From there, the device will narrate the story to the user in Catalan. 

Aler explains that the initiative fights the "digital divide" because it is "easier" to connect to devices using voice. The target audience, as Aler points out, is "any creator of audiovisual content", but he admits that they are currently more active in the media, especially the local ones. 

Attendees take pictures of a robot at Mobile World Congress
Attendees take pictures of a robot at Mobile World Congress / Jordi Borràs

Also on display at Mobile is Relisten, a tool developed by Madrid-based Recog. It transcribes conversations between doctors and patients and has the ability to distinguish relevant elements for medical history. 

It currently understands Catalan, Spanish, English, Portuguese, and German, and the founders want to expand to other languages. The Catalan Ministry of Health plans to test the tool in six primary care centers (CAP) in Catalonia. 

Catalan language absent at MWC 

Most of the signs at the Fira de Barcelona, where Mobile takes place, are in English, with Catalan and other languages completely absent, despite the fact that the event attracts visitors from nearly 200 countries around the world. 

The conferences organized by the GSMA on the main stage are primarily in English, and the language translators only support Chinese. 

"It cannot be that someone comes here and does not know that the language spoken is Catalan," adds Soler, calling for change.