By Kim Bo-eun
“We are working to facilitate communication among people and nations across the world,” said Yoo Jang-hee, president of the volunteer interpretation organization BBB Korea.
He said BBB Korea aims to overcome language barriers by making use of a network of volunteer interpreters, anywhere in the world. The three Bs stand for Before Babel Brigade.
“All you need to do is press a button on your mobile phone, and you will be connected to someone who will provide you with the interpretation service you need,” Yoo said in an interview with The Korea Times.
“Hiring an interpreter is incredibly expensive,” he said. “But everyone has mobile phones, so through BBB Korea, interpretation becomes increasingly accessible.”
The organization’s ultimate mission is to create a global society without language or cultural obstacles, like how it was before the Babel Tower was built in the Bible.
BBB Korea is the only volunteer language interpretation organization in Korea that offers interpretation in 18 languages, 24 hours a day through mobile phones, in any country.
Because it is a 24 hour service, the volunteers need to be on standby, even at night. “It requires some self-sacrifice, but it’s great that so many volunteers are willing to do the work,” said Yoo. Currently, BBB Korea has 4,000 volunteers.
The volunteers are selected based on an online application and phone interview. They come from diverse backgrounds and include students, office workers and former ambassadors.
BBB Korea’s interpretation service is widely used in Korea, especially by nurses, policemen, and officials at the immigration bureau. Although it is used frequently for day to day purposes, the service can also be used by Koreans when traveling abroad.
BBB Korea celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The BBB movement started during the 2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by Korea and Japan, to facilitate communication among foreigners visiting the nation during the event.
The organization has achieved several accomplishments during the past decade.
At the time of the World Cup, Korea was recognized for its efforts to provide systematic interpretation to foreigners, through the BBB movement. Moreover, the number of foreign visitors to Korea who say they experienced difficulty in communicating has gradually decreased.
Yoo himself also provides interpretation services as a volunteer.
As the former dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University, he took part in many international events. “I started interpreting because I saw the value of it as a means of communicating language and culture,” he said.
Yoo envisions a bright future for BBB Korea and the world in terms of breaking down language barriers.
“As the number of people in Korea who speak a foreign language increases, we can expect that we will have even more volunteers providing services, particularly for languages that are not very well known in Korea,” he said.
“My wish is that BBB Korea will continue to play a critical role in making Korea the hub of international events,” he said. “I also hope that in the future, BBB Korea could study the cultures and people around the world, and not only focus on language, to realize our ultimate goal.”
Yoo has served as the head of numerous research institutions, commissions and academic societies. He was named the chief of the Commission on Shared Growth for Large and Small Companies, Tuesday.