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"Human-Centered Translation Technology": A summary of the keynote at
EAMT2018 by Sharon O'Brien
European Association for Machine Translation (EAMT) held its 21st
conference in Alicante / Alacant, Spain, from 28-30
May this year. The organizers made a great effort to invite
professional translators to the conference, having a dedicated
translators' track on one of the days. I had the honour of being
invited as keynote speaker and I embraced the opportunity to present
ideas on "human-centered translation technology."
have attended many MT conferences over the past decades and have
witnessed the considerable developments in MT, but also the
considerable and enduring divide between the MT R&D community on
one hand and the translator training, research, and professional
translation communities on the other.
recent descriptions (a TAUS Webinar on 17 April 2018), the modern
translation pipeline was characterized as data-driven, self-learning,
invisible and autonomous, which leads to the question: Is there any
space for the human in this pipeline? I believe so, and my mission at
the EAMT conference was to convince translation technology developers,
and MT researchers and developers in particular, to give more attention
to the humans who use the output from their systems. Which humans did I
have in mind? Of course, professional translators are the first cohort
to consider, but I also made a plea for thinking about end users.
start with professional translators. At the TAUS webinar mentioned
above, some large, global companies confirmed that they are now
publishing online "Fully Automatic Useful Translation," that is, raw MT
output that has not been edited by a translator. However, they also
confirmed that they are still benefiting from traditional translation
networks and that Translation Memory (TM) was their first line of
support for translation, followed in second place only by MT. With much
hype about MT recently, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that TM
technology is still very much relied upon.
tools have been used for many years by many professional translators
and are no doubt highly beneficial in certain contexts. However, in the
research domain, it has been reported in several studies of
professional translators at work that TM editing environments are still
not without their faults. Not all translators will agree with this, but
findings suggest that some translators are irritated by, for example,
being forced by TM User Interfaces (UI) to focus on "segments," rather
than whole texts. Instability of tools, as well as bugs, continue to
annoy translators, as does the perceived "complexity" of user
interfaces. Although some TM environments have undergone sleek
redesigns recently, we still find that the TM UI can be very "busy." In
a workplace study we carried out using eye tracking technology,
observing professional translators at work with their normal tools, we
found that the translators looked at the "Target Text Window" 61% of
the time -- which stands to reason -- but this window occupied only 19%
of the UI in the default configuration of the tool. Of course,
the translator could customize the UI to make this window bigger, and
the information presented in other parts of the UI are important for
the translator too, but we believe that UIs in general could be better
designed, possibly even made adaptive, so that the part that requires
most attention at any particular point in time is given the most
research on the translation process and translators has taught us one
thing, it is that we do not behave like automatons. Though there are of
course agreed approaches to translating in general, each translator has
his or her own nuances in terms of process, product and preferences.
However, translation technology development has not really embraced
this fact to date, especially not Machine Translation development where
the MT output is often sent to the translator regardless of its
suitability or quality. To place the human in the centre of the
picture, I believe we need to look at the potential of
"personalization." What follows is somewhat blue skies thinking, so
bear with me...
means tailoring a product or service to better fit the user. In areas
such as education, personalization has been shown to have positive
effects on learners and learning. Personalization is based on learning
about user needs, interests, preferences, expertise, workload and
tasks. Context is highly relevant and user modelling is key. If we
think about translation for a moment, it is a task that can be modelled
and context is highly relevant too. So, I believe that we could,
theoretically, produce translation tools that are personalized not just
to individual translators, but to individual translation tasks. For
example, if translation memory (or even MT) data were tagged for
register (formal, informal), and we know that a specific job requires a
formal register, we could personalize the translation engine so it
prioritizes suggestions tagged as "formal" only. A translation engine
could also "learn" about the interests of a translator by logging the
types of information searches the translator carries out, and the
online resources they use most frequently, by logging time spent on a
resource, or whether the translator cuts and pastes information from
that resource. Another example relates to the use of MT. We know that
translators have varying levels of tolerance of MT. We also know that
this is context-dependent. For example, it may depend on the language
pairs you work with, on the text type you are translating, or on the
time you've been given to produce the translation. Using this kind of
information, a personalized MT engine could be established for each
translation task. MT may be useful for one context (so switch it on)
and totally useless for another (so switch it off). A translator might
find MT suggestions useful at a certain quality level while another
might just find it irritating. So, using quality estimation scores, the
engine might "learn" the tolerance threshold for each individual
translator, for each specific translation context. It must be
acknowledged here that this kind of "machine learning" is contentious
and raises ethical issues, so I'm not suggesting that this is done
without knowledge or approval from individual translators. It's also
the case that this kind of learning is not easy and would take time
before the "engine" was sophisticated enough to be useful. As I said,
blue skies thinking... but the aim is to at least move us away from the
scenario where any kind of MT output is produced and sent to
translators for all contexts.
final part of my talk turned attention to a group who are largely
forgotten about when we discuss translation technology -- end users,
i.e. the people who are the recipients or readers of the translation
produced via tools. This is not to say that translators forget about
their readers -- they don't! However, we know very little about the
impact on end users of different translation modalities, especially raw
(unedited) MT or post-edited MT and how it compares with translation
produced by a professional translator, without MT. At Dublin City
University, we have started to carry out research on various types of
users to see how comprehension, task completion and attitude is
affected if the user is provided with raw or post-edited MT or with
"human" translation (HT). For example, some work has been carried out
in DCU to see how well users can follow instructional text that
explains how to carry out tasks in MS Excel, and another researcher is
investigating levels of comprehension when learners are exposed to MT,
PE or HT of subtitles in online courses.
the impact of different translation modalities is really putting the
human in the centre of translation technology. The final end user group
I mentioned was those who might need translation as part of
humanitarian response efforts. We are researching the role and need of
translation (not just interpreting) in "crisis" and disaster contexts
through an EU-funded project called the International
Network in Crisis Translation, or INTERACT (@CrisisTrans
on Twitter). Humanitarian response is often in need of translation and
it is a sector that is becoming ever more technologized. Machine
Translation has already been used to assist with communication on the
ground during the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and there is every
likelihood that it will be used again in the future. My parting point
was this: If we get it wrong in this context, we get it really
wrong. So, for this kind of end user, we need to make sure we are not
just repackaging MT engines as they are now and handing them over for
use without any discussion or consideration of the impact on end users
in these kinds of contexts.
mission, as mentioned above, was to try to get translation technology
researchers and developers to think more about the end users of the
output from their systems, whether they are professional translators or
consumers. We have begun to at least open up the conversation.
Sharon O'Brien is a lecturer in the School of Applied Language and
Intercultural Studies at Dublin City University. She teaches
translation, translation technology, localization and research methods.
Her research focuses on human factors in translation technology,
especially machine translation and, more recently, on the role of
translation in crises and disasters.
you are interested in finding out more about some of the research
mentioned above, please visit: dcu.ie/salis/people/sharon-obrien.shtml
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How Technical is the World of Translation?
been writing the Tool Box Journal for 15 years now. The tag
line of the Journal is that it's "for people in the world of
translation who want to get more out of their computers." This has
always included an attempt to encourage you not only to get more out of
your existing computers, but also to equip them in a way that allows
you to produce more translation with the same or higher quality in less
the years we've come a very long way. There is no longer any reason to
talk about the merits of translation environment (or CAT) tools in
general; now we can talk about specifics, like the benefits a new
version of a tool brings, how to utilize a specific feature, whether to
have just one or several tools, or which tool to use for a specific set
of expectations. I don't need to worry about mentioning machine
translation anymore. It's long become a resource for many of us, so the
question now is not whether MT will ever play an important part in our
professional lives but how to tame it to make it give us what we need.
I also don't really need to sing the praises of using terminology
(though I actually think we have made less progress on this than other
technologies), and I clearly don't need to explain what a translation
memory is, what kind of quality checks QA tools typically provide, or
what a "cloud" is.
do I say all this? Because it occurred to me this past week that there
are a number of translation-and technology-related issues that I
am a lot less sure about than I could be.
I've been thinking a lot about what Spence Green said in the last
edition of the Journal. Let me requote him here:
seems to be a widespread belief that translation is noble work and
improves the human condition. That's good and true and not the case for
many other industries. I know plenty of people for whom work is not a
calling. That rarely seems to be the case in translation.
my experience, what is most obviously missing from this industry is a
culture of operational efficiency. Early in my life, and later at Lilt,
I managed software engineers. Engineers seem compulsive in their need
to write fewer lines of code, to optimize their work processes and
tools, and to produce more faster. Everyone's looking for an edge, and
this is good, because more software gets written, and more products get
created. Recently I've started managing sales teams, and the culture is
very much the same. Sales reps use tools and technology to generate and
handle more deal flow, increase close rates, and shorten sales cycles.
This is good for commerce.
contrast, many in the translation industry seem to assume that the
faster you translate, the lower quality work you produce. That just
isn't generally true for human performance tasks. For example, my
co-founder John is a much better programmer than I am. Not only does he
produce more code every day than I do, but also his code is better than
mine. This is true in many other human endeavors be it programming or
translation or sales or running.
the industry really cares about making information universally
accessible so that more people can participate in the knowledge
economy, then people should be championing operational efficiency. That
means significant automation of PM work, use of MT on every segment,
and so on."
read that and I agree. But it would be a lie not to admit that I see
some of myself reflected in his first paragraph. Now, the translation
work I have been doing for the last 20 or so years is technical
translation (according to the definition in
Tool Box Journal
286, this includes any translator working with a specialized
vocabulary; in my case, it refers to the translation of technical
week I posted this rather silly tweet:
translation can be boring.</admission> <but>I love it when
toward the end of a project questions are resolved and everything comes
together like a big jigsaw puzzle.</but>
little flippant, but it still represented a true confession. We don't
often talk about the fact that some of our work can actually be really
boring (as far as the content goes) -- so we have to look at other
elements from which to derive joy and purpose.
work"? We could argue that, yes, what we translate is very important,
and errors can have significant consequences (like they almost did for
the Indian premier and surely did for the translator in this
case), but that's not really what "noble" refers to. The railway
engineer who painstakingly fastens railway tracks probably doesn't
refer to his work as "noble," but it is clearly important.
recently stumbled on this quotation from MIT linguistics professor Ken
Pike: "One's personal identity is heavily bound up in one's mother
tongue. People somehow feel like it's part of them when they speak
their mother tongue. They develop their moral structure in their native
language. If you ignore this you damage an individual's feelings about
himself and you've destroyed something valuable in his soul. He is not
himself any more. The deeper inner structure of a person is so
intimately related to language. He can't get away from it."
sure you could argue the validity of every aspect of this quotation,
but what speaks to me is how deeply personal language is -- native
language as well as language acquired at a later point.
I think this explains the mantle of "nobility" we carry around. That's
why being a translator or an interpreter "feels" different than being
an engineer -- even if the work product may be equally important. (And
remember, I'm talking about technical translation rather than literary
or religious translation.)
this said, I still agree with most of what Spence says in the latter
part of his statement. We do tend to be reluctant to adopt technology
that "messes" with our core translation activity. We were relatively
quick to accept computers (In edition
284 I quoted from an article by Alan Melby showing that [US]
translators started to adopt personal computers at the very beginning
of their general availability and were essentially all equipped by the
end of the '80s). We're quick to adopt all kinds of other conversion,
data entry, display, and accounting technology (well, maybe not the
last one so much). But it took us a good 15 years to accept CAT tools
widely (read this very
well-written and coherent article by Tony Roder from 2000 if you
don't know what I mean), and many of us are still struggling with
machine translation (as a mental exercise, try inserting "MT" every
time Tony uses "TM" in his article -- the arguments sound very similar).
second thought really stuck with me this past week. I had been
following a discussion on social media among some "industry veterans"
who reminisced about how backward the world of translation is when it
comes to technology and, really, how laughable it all seemed to them.
happened to know all of the conversation participants fairly well, but
I still didn't jump into the discussion -- even though it really
bothered me. I think I finally figured out why, and I hope this will be
helpful to you as well. It rankled me because the discussion was so
driven by agenda and allegiances to products and companies. Granted,
everything everyone says is in some way agenda-driven, but the kind of
agenda that gets under my skin (and would get under yours as well --
I'm not sharing the link because I don't want to publicly shame those
good folks) is one that is connected to a product or a technology in
which the participants of the rants have a stake. One would say
"nothing new for the last 20 years," and the others would say "True.
Except the exact features that my company has just released or is about
to release." And so on and so forth.
yes, translators are continuing to struggle to "let go." We certainly
can and will have to make more progress in how we become more
technological, productivity-minded, and open about being more
productive (it's just silly to maintain that the typical translator
today supposedly translates as many words per hour and day as
translators in the 1980s and '90s). On the other hand, it's just as
silly to say that technology has not moved much in the last 20 years.
It has, and we have moved -- at an admittedly slower pace -- in its
wake. The tool set and depth of access to resources that the typical
professional translator of 2018 uses would blow the mind of the
translator of 1998 (and probably horrify them with the certainty that
the translation profession is doomed.) Fortunately, we know today that
our position is just as secure as it was in 1998 if not better, because
public interest in translation has become much more pronounced.
what are we to do? Own the fact that this is personal, drive the
conversation, tune out the (product-) agenda-driven voices, and leave
the wake. This last point especially is where we need to really change
our modus operandi.
family has a little house on a nearby lake, and I sometimes watch
wakesurfers (surfers who ride on the wave in the wake of a boat without
holding onto a rope) go by. Looks cool, but I would much rather sit up
in the boat and determine where we're going.
find out "where" we're headed by coming together on neutral,
non-product-related ground to stake out where we are, where we want to
be in 20 years, and what we will find out in the process. If we do this
in a sincere and reasonable manner, we will actually be driving the
boat rather than balancing precariously in the wake behind.
should all these wonderful things happen? I'm always open to
suggestions, but for the present I can think of no better way than the Language
Technology Wiki. Visit, read, and speak up.
style, your wording, your content. Utilize translations quickly and
reliably throughout your company.
machine translation powered by STAR MT
short video for more information on STAR MT functionality and usage.
The Tech-Savvy Interpreter: Oyraa -- Connecting Interpreters
Directly to Clients through Technology (Column by Barry Slaughter Olsen)
in November 2017, at the annual conference of the American Translators
Association, I was interviewed by a Japanese remote interpreting
startup called Oyraa.
The company's CEO, Oya Koc, contacted me recently to get the green
light to publish the interview (If you are interested, you can watch it
here). As they say, turnabout
is fair play. So, I took the opportunity to interview Oya to see how
her interpreting tech startup has fared since it first launched, in Q3
be clear, Oyraa offers dialogic consecutive interpreting only, which
includes both OPI/VRI (Over-the-phone interpreting / VRI - Video-remote
interpreting) formats. Their business concept basically goes like this:
create a platform to connect end users with freelance interpreters
through a smartphone app. For anyone who has kept an eye on the
on-demand interpreting space, this is not a new concept. At least a
handful of other companies have tried or are trying to do something
similar. Here's what sets Oyraa apart from traditional OPI/VRI
functions exclusively within a smartphone app (both for interpreters
and end users)
- it is
essentially a marketplace to match end users to independent interpreters
on the platform set their own rates and availability
focuses on the customer to
customer (C2C) market
crowdsourcing of interpreter talent is a touchy subject among
professional interpreters for a whole raft of reasons. Many startups
have been seduced by the idea of crowdsourcing "bilingual talent" a la
Uber. And based on my conversations with folks form Oyraa, this is what
motivated them to start the company as well.
of these startups has found the secret formula to success. Most have
been undone by not knowing what they didn't know about how interpreting
works, but Oyraa seems to be learning quickly and taking these lessons
the six months that have passed since the company's launch, Oyraa has
learned several important lessons. Here are four of note:
serious interpreting service must rely on trained, professional
Initially, Oyraa envisioned a tiered service where you can choose
between untrained bilinguals or trained interpreters. The company
learned two lessons very quickly: First, untrained bilinguals cannot
provide a professional service, and second, the untrained bilinguals
registered on the platform were the least responsive to client requests
for interpretation. Consequently, Oyraa is removing all profiles of
untrained bilinguals from the platform and instituting a credential
verification process for interpreters who wish to work on it. Verified
interpreters' profiles include a badge attesting to that fact --
definitely a step in the right direction.
rate matters. Since
Oyraa is essentially an online marketplace, it relies on the
interpreters to determine when and if they will take client calls. It
also allows the end clients to choose specifically which interpreter
they want to work with. From an interpreter's point of view, both
aspects are quite positive. But, that also means interpreters can
decline calls for whatever reason, leaving the end client's needs
unfulfilled. And this has been a problem. To address it, Oyraa has
introduced two features: an availability indicator that interpreters
can turn on and off to let potential clients know if they are
available, and a response rate calculator that shows potential clients
how often interpreters answer calls during the time they indicate they
are available. The higher the response rate, the more dependable the
interpreter's service. It is an attempt to tackle the age-old problem:
finding the right interpreter at the right time.
and most travelers are reluctant to pay for interpreting services. To
language industry outsiders, the tourist market can seem rather juicy
and ripe for the picking when it comes to OPI/VRI services on
smartphones. In practice, tourists and your average world traveler are
reluctant to spend even a minimal amount of money on interpreting for
run-of-the-mill interactions at hotels, restaurants, and on public
transportation. This has proven true time and time again at every
Olympic games or World Cup tournament over the last 10 years. But,
there does appear to be a C2C market for OPI/VRI in places with expats
who need access to healthcare, real estate and other services while
living abroad. Call it the "flipside," if you will, to the burgeoning
need for interpreting services in countries with large immigrant
populations like the United States, United Kingdom and the Nordic
countries, where the market is heavily institutionalized and regulated,
and a healthy business-to-business (B2B) market has developed to
transaction costs are still too high. Oyraa
has worked very hard to simplify the process to get interpreters paid,
regardless of where they live. They currently use the Internet payment
Individual interpreters can cash out their earnings whenever they like.
From an end user's and an interpreter's perspective the payment process
is simple. But the reality is that international transaction costs are
still very high, and they eat significantly into the 20% commission
that Oyraa earns on each interpreting session. Oyraa continues to look
for innovative options to bring this cost down and is even exploring
the use of cryptocurrencies to pay interpreters.
love rooting for underdogs, and there is a special place in my heart
for entrepreneurs willing to take risks to make their dreams a reality.
Oyraa has learned some hard lessons and reacted quickly to evolve its
business model. C2C interpreting services or consumer marketplaces for
interpreting services are truly a new frontier. They are radically
different from the ways interpreters are accustomed to finding work.
Their ultimate success will depend on a marketplace's ability to
attract professional interpreters to its platform by providing a
dependable stream of work in acceptable conditions.
you have a question about a specific technology? Or would you like to
learn more about a specific interpreting platform, interpreter console
or supporting technology? Send us an email at email@example.com.
2019 Call for Proposals open until June 30th!
you are an interpreter, translator, trainer or have expert knowledge in
the language services professions, we invite you to submit a workshop
proposal for Lenguas 2019: An International Forum for Interpreters and
Translators, January 24-26, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico.
for more information.
you remember the grandiose and raunchy translation fail (or surely, in
the eyes of the jokesters who manipulated it: success) that Google
Translate displayed when translating the Finnish phrase "anoppi
kylässä" ("mother-in-law is visiting") into English and then,
following that, into all other non-East-Asian languages because of the
use of pivot languages? I'm rather happy but definitely proud to say
that the Tool Box Journal awoke the otherwise so aloof and
unresponsive Googlers and made them fix it. It's still not an exactly
"correct" translation, but it's missing the salty component.
Trados Studio 2019 -- Preview Brochure
a sneak preview of the new features coming in SDL Trados
beginners through to experts, the wealth of new features and
enhancements in SDL Trados Studio 2019 will
guide you on your journey to better translation results.
Making the Move, Take 2
news: Five years from now, when my next PC needs to be equipped with
its many new programs, utilities, and apps, it will take much less of
my time! And that will all be thanks to EN/DE> FR translator Fred
Condette who pointed me to Ninite, a super-cool (and free)
tool that allows you to select appropriate versions from the available
programs offered on its website bundle into one single download and
then install them on your computer in one go. Really, really smart.
Here is a list of the presently available option:
the memoQ Referral Program
has always been well-known of its collaborative approach. Now we have
taken one step ahead, and launched a new initiative, which holds a
truly collaborative spirit: the memoQ Referral Program.
users -- including server and translator pro owners -- can now earn
credits by referring memoQ translator pro to
interesting, huh? Visit the memoQ
website to learn more about the program, and join today!
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2018 International Writers' Group