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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 15-11-254
(the two hundred fifty fourth edition)  


1. Fair Trade Translation

2. ~ (Premium Edition)

3. The Tech-Savvy Interpreter: Choosing a USB Headset for Remote Interpreting

4. Clean Slate?

5. This 'n' That

The Last Word on the Tool Box

It's Done!

Greetings from Miami! This Tool Box Journal comes straight from the ATA conference in beautiful and warm Miami. (The other 1,600 attendees all asked me to say "hello" to you, too! By the way, a good way to follow the goings-on in Miami is right here.)

Yes, I know, this is a very late newsletter -- but at least I have a halfway adequate excuse this time. I have been frantically working on finalizing the 12th version of the Translator's Tool Box ebook. And, you know what, I don't even feel too conceited when I say it's done and it's great and I'm oh-so-proud of it.

It's been a long time since I released a new version of the Tool Box (more than one-and-a-half years), so it's no surprise that a lot has changed in the book. But I was surprised myself after I took stock of how much I actually had to update: I added 50 more pages to the now 450-page book (and took out a good 30 pages of obsolete information!), replaced or added half of the 280 images, updated dozens and dozens of links, inserted an entirely new chapter on audiovisual and multimedia translation by Carolina Alfaro de Carvalho, included all the new translation environment tools that have shown up in the last 18 months (and removed some others )-; ), covered the new version of Windows (10) and all the other essential tools (Trados, memoQ, Déjà Vu, Wordfast, Acrobat, Office, etc.), and published it simultaneously in three different formats -- PDF, a handsome HTML5 help system and an EPUB ebook format, all of which are included in one purchase.

When I published the first edition of the Tool Box thirteen years ago, I obviously had no idea that the book would end up being a textbook for virtually all US and many Canadian university translation technology courses and a major resource for translators around the world. But it is, and I'm glad and thankful for it!

If you already purchased any version in the past, you are eligible for the upgrade price of $25. For first-time buyers, it's $50 -- no, make that $40 for subscribers of the Tool Box Journal through the end of November. Just go to, enter the respective pricing and I will send you a link to a zip file with the three different editions.

Oh, and every buyer of the book gets a year's worth of free subscription to the Premium edition of the Tool Box Journal.


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1. Fair Trade Translation

Gert van Assche and Daniel Marcu are what you would call veterans in the world of translation. Gert has worked independently and for SDL (or companies that were eventually acquired by SDL) for many years; Daniel Marcu was the brain behind LanguageWeaver, the first viable commercial statistical machine translation system that was eventually also acquired by SDL and is now, after many rebirths, the engine that drives the SDL BeGlobal and Language Cloud solutions.

They have now teamed up to offer something rather interesting that they call FairTradeTranslation. I agree, it's a funny name -- reminds me of the smell of Nicaraguan coffee beans from my youth -- but it seems to be a relatively accurate description of what their system actually does.

Let's start from the beginning, though.

In a recent article on LinkedIn, Daniel states that "in spite of massive progress, MT does not yet deliver consistent or high quality. However, low-quality MT is often shoved onto the workbenches of professional translators who are asked to create high-quality products by post-editing bad MT while being paid less for 'the privilege of being more productive.'"

I know many would agree with this, but to appreciate it completely you have to understand who's talking. This is the person whose company was the first to commercialize statistical machine translation.

When I talked with Gert and Daniel a couple of weeks ago, Daniel said something similar but almost more striking. While some big enterprises have built good machine translation engines, he said, the percentage of the market that is served with those is "a drop in the bucket."

I know! Right!?

I'm writing this at the tail end of the MT Summit 2015 in Miami where I was asked to be on a panel on translators and machine translation. Those who have read my newsletter for a while know that I have been invited a number of times to speak at MT conferences as a quasi-representative of translators. Each time I felt honored and always tried to represent you adequately (knowing all along that I was inevitably doomed to failure because there is no "collective you"). It was interesting this time, though, that some of the responses I received were a little edgier than before. I had suggested that machine translation is a very welcome technology, especially as we've been able to work with it in the last year or so - as an integral component of the existing translation process rather than exclusively as a source for post editing. One fellow from IBM in particular was exceedingly unhappy with the suggestion that post-editing might not be the most productive way of dealing with machine translation, pointing to the IBM translators who worked with IBM's high-quality internal machine translation and how little they have to change to the output. So why would I suggest otherwise?

He might be completely right -- but what he is saying has nothing to do with you or me (minus the folks who do indeed work for IBM and a handful of other comparable customers with a similar setup).

And really, that's one of the areas where relatively isolated discussions on machine translation are just that: isolated or, to quote Daniel again, "a drop in the bucket."

So, back to FairTradeTranslation. They provide you with a platform that allows you to upload MS Office or text files or (SDL)XLIFF files. The next steps:

  • machine translate the file (if the system thinks that the three connected engines -- Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and SDL Language Cloud -- have a "good enough match"),
  • evaluate existing translations (if the file is a pretranslated XLIFF file),
  • replace those translations if it can find better ones, and
  • give you an estimate of the quality of the machine translation so you know how profitable it will be to work on that file or project.

The underlying software for the tool is a statistically-based system that attempts to evaluate the quality of the MT proposals (even in comparison to low fuzzy TM matches) and, according to a setting determined by you, simply deletes or replaces poor MT suggestions (or TM matches) rather than passing on the bother and frustration to you.

Gert and Daniel know that the system is not infallible; in fact, in the FAQ section they say this: "Q: How can I fool the system? A: In many ways. For example, if you choose to submit a file with human translations, we will reject some as being not good enough -- translations produced by machines and humans are different, after all."

That's right, but if a) you're using machine translation as a base translation that you then want to post-edit; b) you know that your clients have no problem with their texts going to public resources (especially the Microsoft Translator is an issue here); and/or c) you need a quick way to look over a pre-machine-translated project to see whether it's worth your time before you commit to post-editing it, FairTradeTranslation might be a very interesting solution for you.

As a rare and casual user (up to 5,000 words a month), and if you're only interested in the basic features, you can use the system for free. If you want to process higher volumes and want the system to learn from your editing choices and selected options, you can pay $149 a year (for up to half a million words).

I'm not sure whether this system is going to completely change how most of us work -- it might mean some changes for some -- but what I really, really like about it is this: It's just so creative and it shows that we are doing very well if we have smart folks coming up with such smart solutions for us.

The complaint that the world of translation is not vibrant enough and does not come up with enough creative solutions is just wrong. We are doing quite well on that front.



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2. ~ (Premium Edition)

The applicability of the Tilde Terminology service might just sky-rocket with the release of a Trados Studio plugin for Studio 2014 and 2015. . .

. . . you can find the rest of this article in the Premium edition. An annual subscription to the premium edition costs just $25 at I would encourage you to subscribe. Your support makes my research and in-depth analyses of the translation technology market possible. 


3. The Tech-Savvy Interpreter: Choosing a USB Headset for Remote Interpreting (Column by Barry Slaughter Olsen)

With a growing number of platforms that provide remote simultaneous interpretation for a plethora of use cases (e.g. Interprefy, VoiceBoxer, ZipDX), interpreters now find themselves needing to equip their offices with the right equipment for the job. And since we don't have a sound technician on the payroll (or at least I don't), knowing a bit about sound and headsets becomes a real asset.

For this month's installment of the Tech-Savvy Interpreter I want to focus on something absolutely crucial for anyone planning to work remotely as a simultaneous interpreter. It's called "full-duplex audio." Put simply full-duplex audio allows you to receive and transmit audio signals at the same time-something absolutely essential for simultaneous interpreting, of course. This simultaneous two-way flow of audio is often called "doubletalk" by audio engineers (No, it is not the sinister cousin of Orwellian "doublespeak"). For the tech geeks out there, you can read more about it here.

Unfortunately, as we discovered when building a remote simultaneous interpretation platform a few years ago, finding a high-quality USB headset that is capable of simultaneously receiving and transmitting high-quality audio is not a simple task. The reason? Many of the USB audio chips used in headsets today can't deliver a consistent audio signal from the microphone while sound is being played in the headphones. And that is a big problem if you plan to use the headset for simultaneous interpretation.

Most retail electronics stores do not stock more than one or two models of USB headsets-usually low-end models for the occasional Skype user and high-end models for hard-core video gamers. To complicate things further, sales associates usually don't know enough to provide the guidance to ensure you get the USB headset you need. So what's a hardworking simultaneous interpreter to do?

Fortunately, there are a handful of full-duplex-capable models out there that handle doubletalk very well. A big "thank you" to Michael Graves from ZipDX for compiling this list. All headsets have been tested and can send and receive high-quality audio at the same time. For convenience's sake, the links offered below are to Amazon. The headsets, however, can be purchased from multiple sources.

·  VXi Passport 21V: This is a great, inexpensive headset from a company that only makes headsets. It's light, comfortable, durable and sounds great. They are available in single or dual-ear models. VXi sells refresh kits that include new foam for the earpieces and pop filter for the mic. That gives you some sense of how long they expect the headset to last.

The headset cable ends in a "Quick Disconnect" (QD) fitting. You must add a suitable lower cable, of which there are three: 

VXi Passport 21P: This is the same headset as the first option, but equipped with a Plantronics type Quick-Disconnect connector. This allows it to be used with a less expensive Plantronics DA40 USB adapter cable.

Jabra BIZ2400 Duo: These are light and sound good. The round control in the cord has a rotary volume control with mute function.

Plantronics Blackwire C720: On a pure audio quality basis this headset works adequately. It's not the most comfortable. It connects to the computer via USB. It has a control in the middle of the wire that's actually a Bluetooth radio, so it can also be paired to a cell phone.

Logitech H650e: These USB headsets are available in single or dual-ear models. They're not as durable as the VXi. They have a flat cable that some may find to be stiff.

You'll notice that all of these USB headsets are wired. Wireless technology introduces a whole new set of complications and is best avoided for remote simultaneous interpretation.

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



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4. Clean Slate?

Almost exactly five years ago, I wrote about Tom Hoar and Precision Translation Tools for the first time. At the time he had just launched his first Moses-based machine translation product, called DoMY. It was a prepackaged Linux-based command-line tool that allowed you to build your own machine translation engine. Two years later he released the engine with a graphical user interface (but still on Linux), and another two years down the road, in 2014, his company released the program as a server-based application with connectors to tools like the TEnT OmegaT or Welocalize's translation management system GlobalSight.

Since all this was still happening exclusively on Linux, it was accessible only to folks who liked to work in that environment or who felt adventurous enough to invest in a Linux computer and the necessary learning curve that comes along with any new computing environment.

The numbers proved this was not the most attractive offer to the translation community. According to Tom, maybe 300 individual translators use the system, many of whom are using the free open-source version.

Long story short, Tom hired a new engineer and ported his machine translation program to the Windows environment to make his program more palatable to you and me (or, as many very aggravatingly would say, "you and I"). This is available now, but only in the form of a command-line tool (meaning that you essentially have to control the tool by typing commands into Windows' Command Prompt application -- not the way we like it with clicking on buttons, etc.), with no connectors to existing translation environment tools (so you have to convert and pretranslate your texts in the form of a TMX file and then use that in Trados, memoQ, Wordfast, or whatever).

To find funding for this, Tom and his (small) team started a crowdfunding campaign that they just now successfully finished (though you can still sign up and claim one of the tools that is slated for release with a 40% discount). The new tool is called Slate Desktop and will have a fully functional graphical user interface and connectors to some translation environment tools (though I'm not sure which will be operable on the January release date).

So what to think about this tool? I think Tom is doing us a favor by trying to communicate statistical machine translation in very down-to-earth terms (sometimes even a little too down-to-earth for my taste) and giving us (as a community) the notion of accessibility. I also think that his tool will work well for some translators who work almost exclusively for one client, or at least within one relatively narrow area of specialization. I could imagine that the productivity increase of 25-30% that Tom claims could easily be realized by some of those.

Others will have a hard time finding the required amount of their own data that they need to feed to the tool. Most of us have an estimated minimum of 130,000 translation units in our TMs, and many of us have much, much more, but is it all within one narrow area of specialization? You see, if I'm working in "heavy machinery" translation, for example, it's typically not good enough to mix data from different clients or different applications of the machinery, let alone data from completely different fields.

I know there are colleagues who work in very narrow domains and mostly for one client, and I think for them this tool might be a real productivity boost, but I'm not sure how much that's true for others. In its promotional materials, Tom talks a lot about the style of the individual translator, claiming that the tool will learn my unique style. But I have to say that I change my "style" all the time as I translate. I might have a certain style as I write this newsletter, but when I translate I try to respect the style of the original. Am I still going to add my own imprint to every translation I do? Sure I am. But I suspect that's not distinctive enough across all projects and clients to train an MT engine adequately.

I will continue to watch Slate's developments, and I will be very ready to change my mind about a wider-than-expected application if I find out I'm wrong.



Across v6.3: Translators Have Made Their Choice

The new Across version for translators will be available in late November. Many optimizations are based on suggestions from the Translators' Advisory Board. In the future, translators will be able to integrate their own TMs and terminology lists. Additional file formats, such as PDF and JSON, will also be supported. The new version will facilitate increased customer proximity and enable the translator to highlight his skills.

More information will be available at from November 23.  


5. This 'n' That

I've been a grump recently when it comes to conferences. Yes, I'm at the ATA right now, and, yes, I will enjoy it (grumble, grumble), but my frequent flyer status next year will most likely go down by a category since I haven't been at very many conferences this year.

So it comes from the bottom of my heart when I say that I can't wait for the Nordic Translation Industry Forum, November 19 and 20 in Reykjavik. When I booked my flights a week or so ago, they were shockingly cheap. And can you think of a better place to be in November than in Iceland? While actually learning in high-powered sessions and making new friends in the process?


Mats Linder just sent me the latest version of his Trados manual, which now covers everything up to version 2015 with the current Service Pack 1. It's a mighty 500-page tome at this point, and you can find it right here.


Another new publication is the Out of Office newsletter that deals with everything regarding MS Office that could ever come in the way of someone "professionally working with text." It's published in four languages (EN, DE, FR, ES) and is written and translated by distinguished colleagues. You can download the first edition (000) for free on the website and subscribe to the paid edition for later issues.


The Last Word on the Tool Box Journal

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Should you be  interested in reprinting one of the articles in this journal for promotional purposes, please contact me for information about pricing.

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