U interns help launch language app

Ultralingua is donating its language software to foreign aid workers.

U interns help launch language app

Jeff Hargarten

Foreign aid workers in disaster-ravaged countries gained a valuable tool thanks to the efforts of a few University of Minnesota students.

Sarah Theisen  and Chris Lucia  were among five student interns who helped Ultralingua, a Dinkytown-based startup, to launch its Apps for Aid  program. Since December, the company has been donating translation software to foreign relief volunteers so they can communicate with the locals.

Ultralingua develops translation dictionaries, spell-checking programs, phrase books and other digital language learning tools for the iPhone,  iPad and Windows. It also developed a Haitian medical reference guide following the earthquake in January 2010.

The software doesnâÄôt require an internet connection, allowing its use anywhere in the world.

The company had been donating its language software âÄúon and offâÄù since 2009, spokeswoman Ashleigh Lincoln  said.

But a team of interns, who worked with the company this fall as part of a practicum course, helped create a structured, permanent donation program.

The interns saw the idea as the best way for Ultralingua to give back to the community, Lucia said. The company agreed and spread its software globally. What started out as a class project turned into something more.

Apps for Aid works alongside International Medical Relief, an organization sending short-term medical missions to locations throughout the world. IMR has responded to disasters in China, Indonesia, Chile and the Philippines.

The organizationâÄôs nurses, doctors and relief workers used UltralinguaâÄôs Haitian medical reference guide to better converse with Haitian-Creole-speaking earthquake survivors. IMR will begin using the companyâÄôs Spanish dictionaries in Peru  and Panama  this year.

âÄúI hope that they are able to partner with more organizations and get their products in the hands of more aid workers,âÄù Lucia said. He graduated from the University in December with a public relations degree.

Despite being an intern, Lucia saw Apps for Aid as something he could actually implement while working at Ultralingua. The company was launched in 1997 as âÄútwo college profs in a garage,âÄù Lincoln said. It often employs recent graduates and takes on student interns.

âÄúI hope that the program continues to grow,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúI think that this could become a large part of what Ultralingua does.âÄù

After finishing her internship, Theisen was hired by Ultralingua to expand the Apps for Aid program.

âÄúIf we have the resources, why not use them for good?âÄù she said.