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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 14-10-240
(the two hundred fortieth edition)  


1. Hard Numbers

2. SmartTools (Premium Edition)

3. Showed Me What You Know!

The Last Word on the Tool Box


Another International Translation Day under our belts and, yes, I admit that I wasn't as happy as the occasion should have warranted. We worked so hard to lobby Google to commemorate the day by creating a special doodle and . . . doodle-dee-dah, nothing happened. Grrr! I for one have been using Bing since September 30!

Really, it's too bad that Google didn't follow our advice -- after all so much of what they do deals with translation. Maybe next year? I won't hold my breath, but, along with most of you, I'd certainly welcome it.

Still, there has been some very positive news in the world of translation during the past couple weeks. One that made me terribly proud was the news that Arabic translator and poet Khaled Mattawa won the MacArthur Award (aka the Genius Grant). This is the coolest award ever, given out once a year to a dozen or so outstanding and creative folks in any field. And the 600,000+ US dollars that come with it can be spent in any way the recipient sees fit. And let me say it again: A TRANSLATOR RECEIVED IT THIS YEAR! Cool, huh?

Another story that filled me with pride as a translator concerns Hans Boland, a Russian> Dutch translator who was chosen to be the recipient of the Pushkin medal, the highest honor for a Russian translator, from the hands of Putin himself. Hans said: "Not from that guy!" and refused the honor. Some of you may not agree politically (though you might have forgotten the tragic Malaysian Airlines flight that originated from Amsterdam), but you will have to admit that this is an admirable act of Zivilcourage (the courage to stand up for your beliefs).

And speaking of Zivilcourage: in a few talks I gave in Europe during the last couple of weeks, I tried to introduce the concept of community for the world of translation. I've often discussed here and elsewhere that the concept of "industry" is a difficult one for most of us working in translation. The difference between the various groups producing translations is just too vast to be lumped into a cohesive whole. And the fact that there are such differences between many of us is only emphasized by "lobbying" or interest groups like ATA, FIT, GALA, TAUS, IAPTI, IATIS, and many others. Maybe we can agree that each of those groups represents its own industry, but the point I've been trying to make is that together we form -- or should form -- a community. We do have common interests. Remember: many of you joined me in asking Google to honor International Translation Day because it was in Google's interests as well as ours. And I think that's the spirit - one that celebrates languages and communication -- that unites us as a community. The stuff that separates us is well defined by the many interest groups, and they are free to battle out their differences. It might just be a good idea to do it internally and not out in the open.

1. Hard Numbers

In a recent conversation, David Canek from Memsource shared some interesting observations with me that I would like to pass on. For those who don't know, Memsource is a cloud-based translation environment tool that's been around since 2010 and presently has about 30,000 registered users. That number might be a little misleading since it includes everyone who's ever registered, even if only to try the tool, but it's still a tool with a rapidly growing user base. And there are good reasons for that: While all the resources are stored online (thus "cloud-based"), you can choose between a web-based and a desktop-based translation editor with virtually the same functionality. In fact, when I recently showed the web-based translation interface to the European Parliament translators as one example of a user-friendly translation interface, you could almost see the unfortunate memories of clunky web-based interfaces of the past blowing out of their minds.

But I don't want to talk about Memsource, the tool, as much as about how users use Memsource. Since it's a cloud-based tool, it's easy for the Prague-based company to access aggregate statistical numbers across the entire cloud. David and his team recently looked at what percentage of users are using the TM and termbase features, what percentage are using machine translation, and which machine translation engine (if any) they're using.

Here are the results:

  • Translation memory: 28.8% don't use the TM feature (vs. 71.2% who use it)
  • Termbase: 61.6% don't use the termbase feature (vs. 38.4% who use it)
  • Machine translation: 53.8% don't use MT (vs. 46.2% who use it)
  • Kind of machine translation engine: Of all MT users, more than 98% used either Google Translate or the various options of Microsoft Bing Translator (vs. less than 2% using non-public engines, even though there are preconfigured connectors to the following MT engines: Apertium, Asia Online, KantanMT, LetsMT, MoraviaMT, NICT, PangeaMT, Systran, and Tauyou)

These are very valuable numbers. And while I'm sure they would differ to some degree in other tools, I would bet that the general direction is similar.

Let's look at them in some more detail. The translation memory numbers are probably the most surprising: Almost a third of all users don't actually use TMs. In a certain sense that should make me happy as a long-time warrior against the term "translation memory tool," but it still seems odd that so many don't value translation memory. My guess is that most of these users are casual translators (there is a free Memsource edition for that type of user) who don't really understand the TM concept, or who are just interested in accessing MT content for the great variety of file formats that Memsource supports. If that's true, we need to keep that in the back of our minds for the remaining statistics.

The termbase numbers are somewhat unsurprising, though I might have expected an even lower usage of terminology databases. In this column (and elsewhere) I have often vented about the unfortunate underuse of terminology components in translation environment tools. In that sense, it's actually a positive development that more than a third of users are using the termbase -- especially if our assumption about a segment of non-professional users is correct.

Now, on to machine translation. There has been a chorus of voices in the last few years, especially in the MT community, claiming that even though so many translators are complaining about MT, a relatively large percentage of them are "secretly" using it. With almost half of all Memsource users proven to be using machine translation, I think we can say that there is some credence to that notion. Granted, we might have to take some percentage points off to account for amateur translators, but it's safe to say that significantly more than a third of all professional users of Memsource are using MT (more than use termbases!). Of course, it would be interesting to analyze those numbers further (for instance, to find out which language combinations are using it to what degree and how the MT suggestions are actually being used), but David and his team chose not to only have a high-level view of usage data.

Perhaps more striking are the kinds of MT engines that are being used. Almost everyone is using generic public engines (Google, Microsoft) where the source is being sent to and further processed by the MT providers. In fact, in Memsource's particular case, a large percentage of users even select to send the target segments. (This option is called "Microsoft with Feedback" and goes back to an agreement between Memsource and Microsoft that users don't pay any fees if they use that option; in exchange, they send the target segment as well. Note that you can also use the regular Microsoft engine with Memsource.)

This makes me wonder about the answers to two questions:

Has our concept of data sharing evolved to the point that we feel comfortable with much of our data being shared with large corporations like Google and Microsoft? I'm guessing that many of our clients would answer that question with a fairly resounding "no." I don't want to stir up a hornet's nest here, but I would likely respond to those clients like this: "So you also don't want me to use Gmail or other web services in which data is also being analyzed?" In a way that should settle the first question.

Here is the second question, though: If so many of us are using machine translation, why don't we use customized engines? After all, the MT community has been telling us that only with those will we see some real progress. Here my hunch is that while many of the MT vendors tell us that (theoretically) it's easy to build custom MT engines and access those services, in practice that's not really the case. The vendors still seem to have a lot of work to do. Whether that consists of making access easier or showing us that the results are actually superior remains to be seen, and chances are it'll be a mixture of the two.



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2. SmartTools (Premium Edition)

Five years ago I talked about the TSO or the "Trados Studio Opportunity." Back then, when SDL released a completely overhauled version of Trados that really required as much retraining to use as a completely new translation environment tool would take in the first place, I really hoped that a competitor -- or better yet: several competitors -- would show up and use this opportunity to claim some market share to make the market landscape a little more diverse. Whatever one might think of Trados -- and I think it's a powerful tool -- competition fosters creativity and advancement and is therefore desirable for us as users.

Kilgray was really the only one who showed up (in an effective manner), and I commend it for that. memoQ has garnered a significant market share in the past few years; though it hasn't tumbled Trados from its first place position, it's made the marketplace a lot more interesting. Of course, there are plenty of other tools as well (as readers of this journal know only too well), but I think it's fair to say that none has a market penetration for all sectors of the translation world like memoQ.

memoQ was able to do this by delivering extreme versatility as far as its features, a simultaneous focus on the different kinds of groups that deliver (or require) translation, and great creativity mixed with unerring reliability in its development.

Interestingly enough, a couple of new players have shown up recently with the potential to shake up our market a little bit more -- and I like that outlook.

One is Smartling. Many of you have already worked in it, and those who haven't will certainly have heard of it -- its marketing budget (and savvy) make it a dominant presence in virtually any venue. It's not just the marketing budget that is large, though - the company has received more than $65 million in investments, allowing it to hire top-notch developers and top-notch virtually everything, so we can expect it to continue to grow significantly over the next couple of years.

While Smartling does have a program for language service providers, the primary target is mid-size and large translation buyers, and the technology then essentially trickles down to the translation providers. So though this is not a product that is primarily focused on translation providers, it will have a tremendous impact on the market and many of us will spend significant time working in it in the months and years to come. I worked in Smartling a couple of months ago and wasn't too happy with several features from a translator's point of view, but afterward I had a long talk with its CEO, Jack Welde. He promised to make the translation interface more translator friendly, and it's possible that some of that has already taken place.

I wouldn't be surprised if Smartling were able to garner 50%+ of the technology market share in certain markets, especially among tech-savvy translation buyers who are easily impressed with the upstart nature of their business.

That should help SDL (and Kilgray) to stay alert. And we're all the better for it.

Another potential market shake-up of sorts comes from a very different kind of company that many of you know from a different context. ABBYY is typically known to translators as a provider of high-quality OCR (optical character recognition) technology and what may be the best PDF conversion tool (PDF Transformer). Many of you also know that ABBYY has a language service arm, too (ABBYY Language Services), and in that capacity it has been building language technology solutions for some time. ABBYY Aligner has been around for quite a while, and there has been a lot of talk about the translation environment tool SmartCAT, which is now finally going to be released by the end of this month.

. . . 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 Or you can purchase the new edition of the Translator's Tool Box ebook and receive an annual subscription for free



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3. Showed Me What You Know!

Last time I mentioned some helpful tricks in the Tool Box Journal and said that everyone who knew them all would get a free copy of Found in Translation. I ended up sending out two.

Some of you also sent some other tricks that might be helpful:

For instance, that elusive middle mouse button might get a lot more use once you realize you can also use it in a web browser to open a link in a new tab (rather than replacing the web page you're currently viewing) (thanks to Chantal Frigon for that).

Or how about these Office tricks (all from Shai Nave):

  • Pressing F4 repeats the last command. For instance, if you changed one section into bold characters or a different color, you can repeat that by selecting another section and pressing F4.
  • Shift+F5 takes you back to the last location where you changed something in the document. I don't have to tell experienced editors or translators that that's helpful.
  • Ctrl+F3 cuts selected text to the "spike," which is sort of a clipboard that can hold several items. If you empty the spike with Ctrl+Shift+F3, it pastes all the cut items to the place of your cursor. Great for rearranging documents or for otherwise heavy editing.

And one last one for Windows 7 and above (also from Shai):

  • The Windows Calculator has some fancy conversion and other features that you might not know about. Open the Calculator (type calculator into the Start menu in Windows 7 or press Winkey+F and type calculator in Windows 8) and then press Ctrl+H (or select View> History) to save and display all previous calculations and easily access them. Under the View menu you can also find many other helpful modes. The most interesting for translators is probably the Unit Conversion mode (you can also press Ctrl+U to open that). It offers a lot of preconfigured conversions -- many more than Google does (but not quite as few as my favorite tool, Convert).

I hope you find some of these tips useful. This time I won't give out books but would instead like to remind you that Christmas is coming, and with that the opportunity to send Christmas presents to clients and/or potential clients. There is simply no better gift than Found in Translation, in my humble opinion -- it'll show your clients how important your profession is and why they should work with you. You can find information on how to bulk order lots of copies for greatly reduced prices right here, and if you'd like me to sign the books before you send them out we can find a way to do that as well (just send me an email so we can talk about it). 



Kilgray is traveling the world to meet you!

Stay tuned! Mark the following dates in your calendar and meet Kilgray at these upcoming events...

  • ATA in Chicago on 5-8 November 2014: attend a pre-conference memoQ training session for beginners, visit the Kilgray-memoQ booth for memoQ translator pro and server demos, and ask our support manager questions at the tool bar
  • tekom in Stuttgart, Germany, on 11-13 November 2014: get free vouchers to enter the market hall, make appointments with the memoQ team, attend booth demos and get firsthand information on memoQ 2014

To ensure that there is a timeslot dedicated only to you, please make an appointment with us at

We look forward to meeting you in Chicago and in Stuttgart!


The Last Word on the Tool Box Journal

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