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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 16-7-263
(the two hundred sixty-third edition)  


1. The Future Awaits? (Premium Edition)

2. Studious Developments

3. Fair Trade Translation (Premium Edition)

The Last Word on the Tool Box

A Poor Sense of Humor . . .

. . . is what my kids typically (and often) tell me I have.

Be that as it may, this joke is still funny:

A noun and a verb sit at a bar.
Verb: "Hey, wanna go back to my place and conjugate?"
Noun: "I decline."

I know that the majority of you will laugh or at least smile about it (if you haven't already seen it on Twitter or elsewhere).

But something strange happened when I told this to people around me here on the Oregon coast. Nobody got it (except my wife who thought it was hilarious, bless her heart). I also told it to a group of recent college graduates who were visiting us. They didn't get it either (and, embarrassingly for my son and his new girlfriend, even thought I was telling a dirty joke).

Now, I know that declension and conjugation are not as prominent in English grammar as in many other languages, so that might explain some of the disconnect, but it still felt strange to me and made me realize that what we do -- working with languages -- is quite set apart from what others do. The good thing is that those same others can still benefit from it, even if they decline to conjugate overtly.


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1. The Future Awaits? (Premium Edition)

Here is a slide from a presentation I gave a couple of weeks ago about how the use of the main data assets used in the translation process is in an ongoing process of change:

Other Views

(Admire my beautiful PowerPoint slide design? Ralph Waldo Emerson, that never-ending source of smart-sounding quotes, had something to say about this: "Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great." J)

At any rate, the point of the slide was this:

. . . you can find the rest of this article in the premium edition. If you'd like to read more, an annual subscription to the premium edition costs just $25 at



Fresh on the Memsource blog:


2. Studious Developments

I can't even remember when I last wrote a product review of SDL Trados Studio. (I just checked in the archives -- it's been about a year.)

To remedy that fact, I asked Daniel Brockmann and Massi Ghislandi to meet with me and update me on two projects that I knew had been in the pipeline for some time: an online editor and SDL's self-learning machine translation, which will be termed "Adaptive MT."

Turns out that my timing was accidentally impeccable. The SDL Translation Online Editor was released just last week and SDL has committed itself to rolling out Adaptive MT later this year still (right now it's in a relatively shaky alpha version).

Let's talk about the online editor. At this point, it's probably not exactly what you would expect. It's neither a quasi-clone of the SDL Trados Studio desktop environment nor is it actually meant (at this point) to play a role within the Studio workflow.

Instead, the online editor (which runs on Chrome, Edge, and Firefox -- IE is not supported) is really meant for a different target group: people with an occasional need for translation, who really are not well-versed in things like "translation memory," "termbases," or -- shriek -- "quality assurance."

This is reflected in both its interface and functionality. There is a translation memory, but only one that contains previous translations that were committed in the online editor interface (no way to import external data). There is no termbase, and the controls that match the available features are very limited as you can see in the screenshot below.

SDL Online Editor

You can also see that, by default and if there are no TM matches, there is machine translation (by SDL Language Cloud), and you can see that at this point there are some problems with unnecessary tags (which I assume is due to the early release version).

Also, the only file types that are supported are Office formats and text files. Good enough for the occasional translator, not so much for us.

So what's the deal with this? Well, SDL wants to make its foray into the world of cloud-based interfaces slowly and carefully. As you can imagine, there eventually will be more functional and professionally usable (by that I mean "professional" as in "translation professional") online editors, but the powers-to-be at SDL might be wise not to hasten it only to see it crash and burn.

I thought it was very positive when Daniel Brockmann insisted that a fully functional future online editor will not be a clone of the desktop product, but will be geared toward a potentially different set of expectations that users have from a cloud-based product (such as greater simplicity). That would be very wise indeed.

(See the rest of this article in "Part 2" below.)



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2. Studious Developments (Part 2)

On to Adaptive MT.

It's relatively easy to train rules-based machine translation (like PROMT, SYSTRAN, and Lucy MT) on the fly -- even if the process of entering new terms and phrases tends to be rather cumbersome. (You have to go through a number of options to teach the system not only the new word or phrase but also information about it such as part of speech or other grammatical information).

But the good thing about an RbMT system is that it is possible to finagle the outcome -- which traditionally has not been the case with statistical machine translation systems.

Here the data that the system uses to create translated text sits in so-called "phrase tables" that typically cannot be written to interactively. So rather than learning interactively as you make changes to MT suggestions, you (or a system administrator) will have to set the system up to rebuild the MT engine with updated data on a regular basis. This is a very cumbersome and time-consuming task, not to mention that it's super-frustrating to have to wait a few days or even more before you can stop changing the same poor output again and again.

There are some exceptions to this. One was developed as part of the EU-funded MateCat project. They developed a process that uses a technique called "cache-based online adaptation for machine translation." (You can read about it right here.) Very unfortunately, this technology did not make it into the commercialized version of MateCat, but it looks like the technology's current "guardian" -- the Fondazione Bruno Kessler -- has ported this technology to yet another EU initiative, the ModernMT project, which "will overcome four technology barriers that still hinder the wide adoption of currently available MT software by end-users and language service providers." We'll see what will come out of that. I certainly hope that in this case, the technology will end up seeing the public light of day.

Another tool that has tackled this is Lilt, and I just recently wrote and recorded a video trying to explain just how it manages to do this. (You can watch the video right here.)

And later this year, SDL Trados Studio (as well as other SDL translation products) will be equipped with a feature that, while using a statistical machine translation engine, (almost) immediately learns from your corrections. All you have to do to make that happen is to, well, make said corrections.

Here's how it works behind the scenes: Rather than training a machine translation engine with translation memory data you might have collected, you select the base-line engine (the non-specialized engine) of the SDL Language Cloud MT offering and then customize that.

Ah, you might say, my work will benefit everyone else as well! No, not quite (in fact, not at all). That's because while you do share the core MT engine with others, the customizations that you enter will not be seen and/or used by others. How is that possible? Well, just as in most statistical machine translation products, the actual phrase table (see above) stays unchanged by your corrections, but whatever corrections you do make are stored in your "private phrase table" within Language Cloud. That private collection of changes essentially modifies the output of the engine to make it produce results that are more similar to your previous corrections.

The demo that Daniel and Massi showed me was really rather impressive. One term within a lengthy sentence was altered, and after a short delay (thus the "almost" immediate learning mentioned above) that term became the preferred term for the next lengthy sentence, despite the fact that it really was not a commonly used term.

The tool allows you to create as many "instances" of a customized engine as you want (which might well be necessary for different clients), and while it will be available at first only between English and French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Dutch, you should be able to expect other language combinations to follow suit quickly.

I'm happy to see this feature and look forward to seeing how it will perform with a large number of changes and what the actual improvements will be (in an internal test that SDL did last year, they said they had to perform an average of 250 fewer edits in a post-editing scenario of 300 segments in an EN>FR project). I'm also interested in how this feature will be beneficial in a non-post-editing scenario with the machine translation as just one additional resource accessed by features like AutoSuggest (early feedback from SDL is that the implemented changes will indeed change there also). 



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3. Fair Trade Translation (Premium Edition)

Last November, I reported on Fair Trade Translation, a service provided by two veterans in the translation industry, Gert van Assche and Daniel Marcu.

Fair Trade Translation allows you to upload MS Office files, text files, or (SDL)XLIFF files. These will then be analyzed and machine translated (by Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, or SDL Language Cloud, whichever provides the "best match"). The translations will be categorized into "bad" and acceptable, and you will be given an estimate of the quality of the machine translation so you know how profitable it will be to work on that file or project.

. . . you can find the rest of this article in the Premium edition. If you'd like to read more, an annual subscription to the Premium edition costs just $25 at Subscribers to the Premium edition also have access to the archives of Premium journal all the way back to 2007.



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