I've been thinking a lot about how we can fundamentally change
our perspective on machine translation. Of course, we've already
experienced a long and sometimes painful evolution in how we (whoever
"we" refers to) view machine translation. (The simple fact that
some of you find that statement upsetting goes to show that "we"
doesn't include everyone, and there may have been many different
Here's what I think "many of us" (better?) would
somehow agree to: Machine translation is not a replacement for professional
translators (everyone nods), but it can be a helpful technology for
the professional translator, if used appropriately (some will somberly
shake their heads). The "if-used-appropriately" clause depends
very much on your language combination, the kind of material you translate,
the type of clients you work for, and the variety and quality of MT engines
you have access to. It also naturally depends on how skilled you are in
selecting the appropriate kinds of technology and using them proficiently.
Based on my experience (which naturally is as limited as anyone's),
post-editing of machine translation has not made me more productive (or a
better translator), whereas using machine translation as an on-and-off
helpful repository of suggestions of fragments for my translations has
proved to be very efficient.
So, there is that. But it seems to me that every time a new
development in machine translation happens and the news is inevitably
covered a thousandfold in the mainstream media, our productive
"arrangement" with MT quickly starts to crumble. A case in point
is the ongoing spate of stories about neural machine translation, which
left many translators once again doubting their future in translation.
This weekend I visited the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem,
Oregon, where I was struck by a painting titled "Western
Vanguard" by the late artist Michael Daily of Seattle. In the later
part of his life, Daily "tried to reduce the landscape to the basic
elements of horizon, water, light and atmosphere" (from the
description of the painting).
Standing in front of the vibrant painting, it struck me that
this is what we need to do as well. We need to go back to the basic
elements to really understand what we're talking about.
When we speak about translation, we're talking about
communication with an added level of complexity. (Intelligent)
communication is one of the unshakable cornerstones that makes us
distinctly human (yes, even prairie
dogs may have a language and -- according to the strangest of all
strange news releases -- artificial
intelligence will help us to understand dolphin language by 2021, but
still...). This is exactly why the tech community has tried so
intently since the 1950s to "crack that nut" -- because it's the
hardest of all nuts to crack. Once the computer knows how to understand
human-composed text and newly compose it accurately in another language,
artificial intelligence equals human intelligence.
But when that nut is finally cracked (or maybe I should say
"that Pandora's box is opened"), unemployment is the very least
of our worries.
We have a tremendously safe occupation as compared to
virtually anything. The public doesn't understand this partly because they
intuitively understand the challenge of machine translation, so it's
thrilling to see computers try to translate and do it increasingly better.
But we're partly to blame. We ourselves don't understand MT fully, so we
fail to communicate these elemental truths that need to be communicated.
So, let's take hold of these "elements" and follow
Michael Dailey's lead in communicating them. Not necessarily to hang them
up in art galleries (though there's nothing wrong with that!), but to
communicate their essence in equally stunning and convincing ways.
We'll need to communicate with each other, including with
those in our "industry" who use MT as an excuse to exert price
pressure (a logic that simply doesn't hold up!), as well as with the public
at large. It's an easy and marvelous story to tell (especially because
it'll make you look really good).
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1. Writing Tools for
The other day I stumbled on an article that I wrote for the Translation Journal
10 years ago in 2007 (I'm hosting this on my own server now because the
images all disappeared after the new owner of the Translation Journal
took over). The article was entitled "Creating the Ideal Word
Processing Environment in Translation Environment Tools" and it's been
a lot of fun to read through. Why? Because almost every feature mentioned
is now widely used in our tools, including:
- Real-time spell-checks
- AutoText / AutoCorrect
- Track changes
- Better handling of inline codes (some tools
actually forego them completely today)
- Smart quotes
- WYSIWYG editing
- Non-printing characters
(The two features from the article that could be supported
more widely and/or
more comprehensively are grammar checks and voice recognition.)
Of course, not every tool supports all those features, but the
majority of tools support most features well, and I think that's a reason
Still, this can't be a reason not to demand more features.
I was particularly reminded of this when Vicente Victorica
from Mexican translation provider TranslationToSpanish.com wrote to me a
few days ago. Vicente's company has already developed and released the
tool that allows you to extract text from CAD drawings, translate it, and
reimport it to the CAD drawing (I've mentioned this tool a number of times).
Now they've developed yet another tool: Capitalizer. Capitalizer
capitalizes the first letter of every new segment in a translation
environment tool without you having to do anything about it. It's similar
to what MS Word does after a period. Of course, there are situations
where this is not desired, but there's probably no translator of
alphabetical languages who uses translation environment tools who has not
accidentally had a lower-case letter sneak into the beginning of a
segment/sentence where it should not have been. This tool puts an end to
that. Unfortunately, in my opinion it's priced a little too high at $15,
but that's not my point. Instead, if there's a felt need for a tool like
this, then there must be many other areas where our existing solutions are
lacking. I would like to look at those to determine how the word processing
of our everyday tools needs to be improved.
More widely available grammar checkers and more seamless
compatibility with voice recognition seem like no-brainers. But what about
features like the new MS Word Editor (which I wrote about in edition
272 of the Tool Box Journal), a smart tool for catching stylistic
errors. Or in edition 260 I wrote about tools like PerfectIt and Lingofy,
which are similar to Editor but much more customizable and powerful.
Do we want tools like that?
To me it seems the answer has to be "Yes!" -- at
least as an option. And it seems an approach like SDL's
"AppStore" can achieve this most easily because the burden there
will be on third parties to develop it.
Aside from high-powered tools that might be integrated, what
other word-processing features are we still lacking? Write to me or post
something on Twitter with the hashtag #betterxl8tools and we'll continue
the discussion in the next edition of the Tool Box Journal and
The SDL Trados
SDL Trados on are on the road, exploring the exciting and
ground breaking innovations in SDL Trados Studio 2017, SDL
Trados GroupShare 2017 and SDL MultiTerm 2017.
If you would like to learn about new
translation productivity features, such as AdaptiveMT and upLIFT
technology, we could be visiting you next!
today | Story so far
(Project) Management Tools (Premium Edition)
Though there still doesn't
seem to be agreement on how to name the tools mentioned in the heading,
there's certainly a market for them, especially in the freelance/small
agency market. While the market among larger LSPs is evenly divided between
Plunet and XTRF (or home-brewed solutions), tool developers
seem to be keenly aware that there's a lot of room when it comes to smaller
A few months ago, I talked
about tools like BaccS, Protemos, and QuaHill . .
. . . 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 www.internationalwriters.com/toolkit. This will also give you access to
the archives the of Tool Box Journal going back all the way to 2007. Or,
if you purchase the 460+-page Translator's Tool Box
ebook, you'll also get a Premium subscription for free.
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3. The Tech-Savvy
Interpreter: Genius Scan: A Versatile Document Scanner in Your
Pocket (Column by Barry Slaughter Olsen)
* Be sure to check out this
month's Tech-Savvy Interpreter video premiering on May 30.
Interpreters, because of the very nature of our job, are
usually on the go. We are always working at someone else's office,
conference room or conference center. We check email most frequently from a
smartphone and spend a lot of time traveling to and from assignments. We
also spend a significant amount of time tracking expenses, negotiating
working conditions, and reviewing contracts, all usually on the go.
Mobility is a big deal.
For years, I would dread returning from an interpreting
assignment with a stack of paper receipts that I would need to organize,
record and submit to a client for reimbursement. This required that I have
a scanner (and for many years a fax machine) in my office taking up space.
Reviewing and signing contracts while traveling was another headache.
Then last year, while I was grumbling about having to wait
until I got back to my office to scan and send a document, an education
technology specialist told me about Genius Scan --
an app that turns your smartphone into a powerful scanner that can scan
everything from restaurant receipts to contract signature pages to speech
texts on the spot. I've been using it for several months now and Genius
Scan has made me more efficient, productive and more importantly, more
responsive to clients.
With the introduction of scanning apps, the smartphone has
eaten yet another piece of office equipment and, thankfully, freed up some
much-needed space in my office. Genius Scan is one of a big wave
of scanning apps but it has proven simple to learn and easy to use. In a
word, it's not wonky like a lot of similar apps out there.
What Can the App Do?
is available for iOS and Android smartphones. It uses your smartphone's camera
to scan whatever images (documents, photos, etc.) you put in front of it.
There are free and paid versions of the app. The free version (Genius
Scan) provides all scanning features and allows you to send scanned
images in .pdf and .jpg formats by email, text message and with other
messaging apps loaded on your smartphone, like WhatsApp or Facebook
Messenger. The free version also has banner ads at the bottom of the
screen -- nothing is truly "free."
The paid version ($7.99, Genius Scan+) provides a lot
of additional functionality like automatic direct upload to cloud storage
services like Box, iCloud, Evernote, DropBox,
Google Drive, OneDrive and others. The paid version also
allows you to print directly from your smartphone, encrypt scanned files,
and customize automatic file names. On the Apple Store, Genius Scan+
currently comes bundled with Genius
Sign -- an app available only for iOS that allows you to insert
text, sign and date PDFs from your smartphone.
Both versions allow you to tag scanned files for easy grouping
uses specialized algorithms to capture, flatten out and enhance the image
even if you scan the document at an angle and even if your document is
crinkled and doesn't lay flat. The auto enhance feature will detect if the
scan is of a black-and-white or color document or a photo and adjust the
scan settings accordingly. These settings can also be controlled manually.
The app can also determine the edges of the document you are scanning with
surprising accuracy, as long as the document is placed on a
contrasting surface. No more dead space around smaller scanned documents.
However, if you place a restaurant receipt on a white tablecloth, the app
struggles to find the edges. If you want the size of your scans to fit
standard paper sizes (e.g. US Letter 8.5 X 11, legal 8.5 X 14, or European
A4), the app can do that as well.
Figure 1 - Paper
receipt on contrasting surface.
Figure 2 -
Genius Scan detects borders of receipt before scanning.
How I Use It
The reason I use this app is simple. It is a time saver and a
productivity enhancer. It is also amazingly useful for getting readable
scans of last-minute documents that you receive at interpreting assignments
that you can then share with colleagues. I have also used the companion Genius
Sign app to sign and date contracts for clients while I am on the
has proven most useful for keeping track of travel and other reimbursable
receipts. Having them upload automatically to my cloud drive with a date
and time stamp makes record keeping much easier and saves lots of time when
tax time rolls around.
Genius Scan is
useful in my online teaching of interpretation as well. Although I use lots
of technology to teach, I find I still like to provide detailed feedback on
a printed transcript of a speech. Students prefer this as well. In an odd
twist, it is faster to provide feedback this way than to type out comments
in a Word document. I can quickly scan the annotated transcript and email
or text it to a student. Same goes for hand-scored grading rubrics.
One important clarification is that Genius Scan does
not offer optical character recognition (OCR), so if you are planning on
scanning documents so they can be digitized and converted to searchable
text, this isn't the app for you. There are other scanning apps available
that can do that. But if you need an app that can replace a traditional
flatbed scanner to scan receipts, signature pages and any other hard copies
of documents you need to convert to PDF, you can't go wrong with this app.
To be sure, Genius Scan is transitional technology.
Much of what I use the app for won't be necessary when we transition to a
true paperless society and we don't have to collect paper receipts for
travel and business expenses. But until then, Genius Scan will
remain one of the most used apps on my smartphone.
Do 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I made a statement in the last issue of the Tool Box
Journal about Matecat that Translated, the developers of Matecat,
took issue with. They asked me to publish the following statement:
"Contrary to what you wrote, Translated had acquired
licenses for batch conversion from SDL. Such licenses were being used not
only for the newly created Matecat, but for other Translated products that
we've been offering to our clients for years. SDL felt that we had not been
transparent since the filters were also being used to create a potential
competitor to their SDL Trados. Hence, they requested that we stop using
their SDK in Matecat.
"I was very upset because I felt our license usage was
legitimate. They were very upset because they felt we were not transparent
in our strategy. I think that they honestly believed that we were using it
only for online orders from our customers and not to offer a free CAT tool
to external users. After clarifying the situation with SDL, we came to an
agreement to stop using the SDK in 6 months. SDL refunded our licenses and
we developed our own filters. It was a tense period but we have continued
doing business together.
"Since then, Translated has invested heavily, in terms of
human and financial resources, to create new filters based on the Okapi
framework. Such investment led to the improvement of the Okapi framework
and to a set of open source filters released as the Matecat filters.
"Our filters have been released as free open source
software. The industry now has filters that support more file types, are
more accurate and much faster. So much so that many in the industry are
using them, including [some] of our direct competitors."
Stay tuned! memoQ 8.1 will be released on May
- New PDF
- And much
On May 24th, on www.memoq.com/downloads.
5. This 'n' That
I would like to point you to an excellent
article in the ATA Chronicle about using voice recognition in 45
languages (versus the 7 that are officially supported by Dragon
NaturallySpeaking). It's written by Tiago Neto whom I have quoted a
number of times regarding this important topic. Make sure to take a look at
it if you're not among the lucky English, French, German, Italian, Spanish,
Dutch, or Japanese translators who already have easy access to good voice
If you are a patent translator in Arabic, Chinese, English,
French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish, you're
certainly familiar with WIPO Pearl, the
multilingual terminology database of the World Intellectual Property
Organization that covers your languages. If you're not translating
patents but work with other kinds of technical materials in those
languages, you might not know about this resource -- but you should.
The database presently contains more than 133,000 validated
patent terms and 18,000 validated patent concepts, and it's an amazingly
You might also have fun playing (and learning about new
subject matters) with the Concept
Map Search, which links 13,000 concepts to other concepts in the
If you've already upgraded to the "Creators Update"
for Windows 10,you'll have learned that it's not much of a
"Translators Update" because there really aren't many great
features for us, except maybe one.
The new Windows 10 has a "Night Light," which
creates warmer color temperatures that are more gentle to your eyes, less
distracting to the person next to you in bed, and more conducive to sleep
right after using the computer (or not). You can activate and modify it
under Settings> System> Display> Night Light Settings. Have
fun -- but let me give you some sage advice (appropriate to my "stage of life"):
sleeping is even better!
And should you be planning to be at the ABRATES
conference in São Paulo, here is a little preview of my talk
(and my wandering dogs).
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