A new app, launched by the Portland non-profit Torus, aims to help some English language learners, specifically refugees, find COVID-19 information in their native languages. The Torus App was developed by Afghanistan-born Ramin Tokhi, whose first language is Dari (a Persian dialect). In 2020 Tokhi founded Torus to provide “a sense of belonging to a community for immigrants and refugees” through its language programs.
Currently the app is a resource for Russian, Thai and Persian-language speakers. (The Persian dialect featured in the app—Dari—is most commonly spoken in Afghanistan.) The technology used can support any language, and Tokhi hopes to expand the app to include more languages in the future.
“The inspiration for the app is to provide a multilingual resource to help our language learners have a simplified version of what OHA (Oregon Health Authority) is offering on their website,” said Tokhi.
“Another aspect that inspired us is that Dari is spoken in Afghanistan,” he said. “We are expecting, and have been receiving, a lot of Afghan refugees. I immediately knew there wouldn’t be as many resources as there are for other languages. I wanted to bridge that gap.”
The app offers tips on staying healthy, resources for finding testing, vaccines and personal protection equipment in the Portland area, English language classes and the opportunity to practice English. It’s expected to be available on Google Play and the Apple Store later this year, but it can be downloaded directly from the Torus website now.
Users select their desired language before downloading or by going to the settings menu after the app has been downloaded.
The experience of using the app is unique. It’s not just a way to find COVID-19 information; it’s also a language learning tool.
Here’s how it works once the app is downloaded:
In this example, the desired language is Thai. In the lower left corner of every page on the site you will see the words “Show translation” in Thai. When you click on “Show translation,” all the English content above will be translated below in Thai, so you can see both languages at once.
“The reason we did that is because we wanted to keep in mind the language learning aspect of this app,” said Tokhi. “We wanted them to compare Dari (for example) with the English language so they can practice like that.”
Tokhi moved from Afghanistan to Russia when he was 7 years old. He lived in Moscow until he was 21, when he moved to the United States in 2012. Tokhi graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Applied Linguistics. Then he founded Torus.
“I wanted to give back,” Tokhi said. “Once I graduated, I was thinking ‘how can I meaningfully give back to this community and country that welcomed me as a refugee?’ Many refugees want to say ‘thank you’ for this opportunity to live in a safe country. Sometimes, ‘thank you’ is not enough. I decided I wanted to give back by bridging the gap between people and communities through language and culture exchange or sharing. For me, this is just a way to say ‘thank you.’”