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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 17-7-276
(the two hundred seventy sixth edition)  


1. Sketch Engine

2. Mix & Match Experts (Premium Edition)

3. The Tech-Savvy Interpreter: BYOD Comes to Simultaneous Interpreting: The Linguali Kit

4. Microsoft's Better Voice

5. App World, Here We Come

The Last Word on the Tool Box


Here's what I realized the other day (you may have already seen it on Twitter where it was shared a number of times): There is a fundamental difference between translators and the general public:

"The public thinks that technology takes care of translation. Translators know that good technology makes good translators better."

Might not sound like too much of a revelation when you first read it, but once we really understand this (both in how it differentiates us and how good translation can make us better translators) it gives us so many arrows in our quivers as we expose the truth about translation technology (make that "good translation technology").

Go forth and engage! 


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1. Sketch Engine

Dragoș Ciobanu from the translation department of the University of Leeds wrote to me a couple of weeks ago:

"The reason I'm writing is to ask whether you've had a chance to play with Sketch Engine. In Leeds, we've been using it in our corpus linguistics work a lot and it's got brilliant features, from the terabytes of super useful multilingual data which it already comes with, to features for term extraction, specialised corpus building, thesaurus, collocations, and tons more! It's really, really cool and I'm only writing to you because the translators I know who have been playing with it also like it a lot. So I thought you may want to check it out and even feature in the Tool Box."

Not sure whether you could tell, but Dragoș really likes Sketch Engine. And in a way, I could stop the article right here, because he already said it all -- sort of.

After spending some time looking at Sketch Engine, I felt embarrassed that I hadn't known more about it. As Dragoș said, it's really, really cool. It's also a monster of a tool (size-wise) and it's not particularly easy to navigate when you first encounter it. (According to Ondřej Matuska of the Sketch Engine team, this is indeed one of the areas that they're trying to focus on in the immediate future: to make the product more user-friendly.)

But first of all, what exactly is Sketch Engine and what does it do?

It's a corpus tool developed by the Czech company Lexical Computing Limited. Lexical Computing was originally founded in 2003 by the late Brit Adam Kilgarriff and Pavel Rychlý, a professor at Masaryk University in Brno. The idea of corpus tools, and this corpus tool in particular, is to find out how language behaves based on large collections of data. For this purpose, Sketch Engine built corpora in more than 80 languages (as well as "time-stamped" corpora in a slightly different set of 18 languages for the purpose of comparing word usage over time). The sizes of the corpora differ widely (from just a few million words in Maori to more than 800 billion in English), and they are available for a number of analysis purposes for any paying trial user (the annual subscription price is 100 euros for non-academic users, with the trial period ending after 30 days).

The analyses you can do on these corpora with Sketch Engine include the following:

  • Word sketches: This is where the program got its name, and it's what Kilgarriff brought to the table. A word sketch is a summary of a word's grammatical and collocational behavior (collocational refers to the analysis of how often a word co-occurs with other words or phrases). Since the data in the corpora is lemmatized (i.e., words are analyzed so they can be brought back to their base or dictionary form), the results are a lot more meaningful than what most of our translation environment tools provide when they're unable to relate different forms of one word to each other. Another word sketch option that Sketch Engine offers is the comparison of word sketches of similar words.
  • Thesaurus: The ability to retrieve a detailed list or a graphical word cloud with similar words, including links to create reports on word sketch differences for those terms to understand the exact differences in actual usage.
  • Concordance: Searches for single words, terms, or even longer phrases. Since the data in the supported languages is tagged, it's also possible to search for specific classes of words or specific classes of words that surround the word in question.
  • Parallel corpus: Retrieval of bilingual sets of words or phrases within the contexts. Presently this is available only for on-screen data viewing, but it will soon be offered as downloadable data. This is especially helpful when uploading your own translation memories (see below).
  • Word lists: The possibility of creating lists of words and the number of occurrences, either as lemmas (the base form of each word) or in each word form.
  • Creating your own corpus: For translators this likely is the most exciting feature. You can use the tool's own search engine mechanism (which relies on Microsoft Bing) to create a monolingual corpus. The tool will create a list of websites that contain the terms that are relevant to your field, have them automatically download, and form a corpus. I don't need to explain to you the possibilities this offers to translators who don't have the privilege of having high-quality translation memories or termbases for a particular subject matter that they need to translate. As a logical extension of this feature, you cannot only perform any of the functions mentioned earlier on this new corpus but it is also possible to run a keyword search on the user-created corpus, identify the terms that are relevant, and download that into an Excel or TBX file. The term-extraction feature presently is available for Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. 
  • You can also create a bilngual corpus by uploading your own translation memories and use Sketch Engine's more user-friendly OneClick Terms site to extract terms from TMX, XLIFF, PDF, DOC, DOCX, HTML, or TXT files in essentially one or two clicks.

Translators have been one of the primary target groups for the makers of Sketch Engine. One immediate result of that focus is the availability of a plug-in for SDL Trados Studio (see here and here). The plug-in itself is free, but it requires a trial or paid registration to be usable. It allows you to perform collocation, thesaurus, and concordance searches and will soon offer term extraction. According to Sketch Engine's Ondřej, talks with makers of other translation environment tools are under way to offer plug-ins or add-ons for those tools as well.

Can you believe you've never heard about this tool before? Well, maybe you were quicker than I to find this, but the good thing is that now we all know.


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2. Mix & Match Experts (Premium Edition)

In preparation for my talk at ConVTI-2017, the online event on August 26-27 organized by our colleagues Gio Lester and Marcia Nabrzecki, I am trying to make sense of something that will not be new to many of you but likely is a nuisance nevertheless. I'm talking about how new technologies are difficult to use in combination with each other.

What are the three most important and widely available new technologies when it comes to translation? 

. . . 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 latest edition of the Translator's Tool Box ebook and receive an annual subscription for free.  



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3. The Tech-Savvy Interpreter: BYOD Comes to Simultaneous Interpreting: The Linguali Kit  (Column by Barry Slaughter Olsen)

*Be sure to watch this month's Tech-Savvy Interpreter video to see the Linguali kit in action debuting on Friday, July 14th.

Regular readers of The Tech-Savvy Interpreter will know that I took a first look at Linguali (pronounced Ling-GWALL-ee), a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) solution for on-site simultaneous interpretation, in October 2016. Linguali is one of a handful of BYOD solutions on the market today that allow delegates at a meeting to listen to the on-site interpretation with an app on their smartphone or tablet. These solutions offer significant potential savings to clients on equipment rental and offer a simultaneous interpretation solution that is more in line with today's technology platforms -- namely, smart devices.

Although using modern-looking technology to provide simultaneous interpretation may not seem like a big deal, I have heard comments from multiple end clients stating that they were not happy with the look and feel of the traditional (in other words "old looking") simultaneous interpretation equipment offered by many conference organizers. So much so that they have begun to look elsewhere for multilingual communication solutions. Although BYOD solutions have not been fully developed and refined yet, they are viable options for certain types of bilingual and multilingual meetings with on-site simultaneous interpretation.

Why revisit this tech platform less than a year later? Simple. The platform has evolved and is in regular use on at least two continents. Not to mention I had the chance to get my hands on a "Linguali kit" that includes everything an interpreter needs to offer simultaneous interpretation for a small bilingual meeting. So, let's take a look.

Use Case

This Linguali kit provided to me by DS-Interpretation (a certified Linguali partner) is intended for use in small bilingual meetings, say, for up to 25 people (although Linguali states one access point can handle up to 60 connections). My interpreting career has been replete with this kind of meetings with a dozen or so technical experts from two different countries meeting in a small-to-medium-sized conference room, so this kit seems like a perfect solution for this type of gathering. These meetings usually start with presentations and then lots of back-and-forth to discuss proposals and negotiate terms of an agreement. With traditional portable equipment, interpreters are usually at the mercy of the ambient sound in the room and may need to wander around during the meeting to hear all the participants when they speak.

Linguali addresses this challenge by turning participants' smart devices not only into receivers to hear the interpretation but also into push-to-talk microphones that provide direct sound into the interpreter's headset. This is a definite improvement over traditional portable equipment that offers no direct sound for the interpreter. Not all smartphone mics are created equal, so audio quality will vary, but the tests I conducted showed that iPad and iPhone microphones provide adequate sound for

Linguali charges US$5.00 per smartphone connection per conference -- a significant savings over traditional simultaneous equipment costs.

What's in the Kit?

The basic Linguali kit that I tested included:

  • An Afoundry wireless router
  • A Sennheiser PC 8 USB headset
  • A Microsoft Surface Pro tablet with Windows 10 Pro edition and Intel Core i5-6300U CPU
  • Detailed setup instructions

The kit can easily be expanded to include iPods and disposable earbuds for delegate use. But if meeting participants bring their own smart devices, the router, headset and computer are all you need to provide simultaneous interpretation. This kit is a replacement for a traditional "bidule" or portable setup used for small meetings with or without an interpretation booth, but interpreters will need a table to set up the computer if no booth is provided.

Setup and Technical Requirements

In theory, setup is not complex but does entail several steps that must be performed in order. First, plug in the wireless router. Then, fire up the computer, connect it to the router's wireless network, plug in the USB headset, and then start your conference on the computer by opening the Linguali interpreter console. Delegates then download and launch the Linguali app on their smartphones, then connect their smart devices to the wireless router and launch the Linguali app to begin listening to the interpretation. It's important to note that delegates will need to download the Linguali participant app from the App Store or Google Play before connecting to the wireless router, since once they do connect, they will not have internet access.

In practice, however, setup can be more complex. It is important to follow the instructions closely because changing the order of the steps may cause the smart devices not to recognize the conference and may require closing out the app and reopening it to connect successfully. Not a difficult thing to do, but it can be frustrating for a less-than-tech-savvy delegate who is not familiar with all the features of a smartphone. The same goes for connecting to the wireless router used to transmit the interpretation. You'd be surprised how many smartphone owners don't know how to connect their device to a new Wi-Fi network.     

Since the wireless router in the kit is not connected to the Internet, while delegates listen to the interpretation, they will not have Internet access on their device. Having a separate wi-fi network used exclusively for the interpreting system is more convenient and ensures the network will not be overloaded by people surfing the web or watching cat videos on YouTube. It also keeps people focused on the meeting. However, not having access to the Internet on their device may bother some users.

Smartphones and tablets must be able to run on iOS 8 or later for Apple devices and 4.2 or later for Android devices.

Observations from Testing

Here are some observations from my test of the kit in no particular order.

The ability to turn an iPod or smartphone into a presenter microphone is great and worked very well. Pressing the microphone button on the smart device five times in rapid succession locks the mic open. Used with a recommended lavalier microphone it works well for longer presentations. The audio the smartphone provides to the interpreter is clear and clean but I would like to have more volume or "headroom" if I were to need it.

Interpreters who use this system will need to be comfortable connecting computers and smart devices to Wi-Fi networks and have a basic understanding of how plug in and test headphones and microphones.

Clearly, the Linguali team has put a lot of effort into making the interpreter desktop and the delegate app easy to use. If a listener does decide to open another app, Linguali continues to run in the background and the audio keeps streaming. It is little details like this that will make or break a BYOD interpreting platform. I encourage the folks at Linguali to continue to ferret out every possible end user mistake or misstep that could crash the app. For example, a couple of times the smartphone app would connect to the conference but the interpreter desk would not show it was connected, the app would then crash. Reopening and reconnecting the app resolved the problem in both instances, but these problems downgrade the user experience.  

I was not able to do a full load test on the wi-fi network. I simply don't have enough smart devices to connect to it. But I did connect five devices and all were able to send and receive audio clearly. Range was definitely adequate for a small conference room. The router appeared to have a range of well over 1,500 feet.


The Linguali kit I tested is a viable, cost-effective alternative to traditional portable FM equipment for small bilingual meetings. The sound quality is very good, and the ability to use delegates' smart devices as push-to-talk microphones to provide interpreters with direct sound is a definite plus. The interpreter interface is simple and intuitive. That said, Linguali has not hit its stride just yet. There are still some kinks to be worked out to improve ease of use for both interpreters and delegates, but if you know your way around a computer and a smartphone, setting up and using Linguali will be simple and your clients will likely be impressed by the technology you employ to provide your services.  

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



DS-Interpretation, Inc.

Specializing in Conference Interpreting since 1972. New cloud and app-based technologies including Linguali, cutting-edge equipment & sound booths and professional interpreters world-wide. We believe in relationship-based customer service that focuses on meeting the needs of interpreters.  As Company Founder, Bill Wood, said years ago: "Interpreters will not be replaced by technology, they will be replaced by interpreters who use technology."  Find out why interpreters love working with us.


4. Microsoft's Better Voice

Microsoft rather quietly (pun intended) released a trial version of voice recognition for 20 different languages and variations of languages (including Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish). While this is only an add-in for Microsoft Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint, it would be rather easy to use Word as an interim "staging area" for your dictated data (to be automatically copied into a translation environment tool), especially if your language is not easily supported elsewhere.

I have written previously about ways to get access to voice recognition in many more languages than are covered by Dragon (Nuance officially dropped the very unnaturally spoken NaturallySpeaking moniker), but it's good to see that there are more and more developments that slowly but surely extend the number of languages being supported with this technology.

And remember: If you think that using voice recognition is "geeky," how much more geeky is it to hack on a keyboard to make your computer understand what you are trying to say?



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5. App World, Here We Come

When Wordfast released a translation app for iPhones in 2010, I was not exceptionally kind in how I commented on it in the Tool Box Journal (I felt kind of bad about it afterward). The reason behind my knee-jerk reaction was a sense that the phone was really not the most productive tool for professional translators to use (there were some tablet computers in 2010 but not in very wide use). Well, apparently the app did not work out and it was eventually withdrawn. (It is of course still possible to use the web-based Wordfast Anywhere on a mobile device.)

When I read SDL's press release a couple of weeks ago about their app, I remembered my unkind response to Wordfast's attempt and thought it might be good to actually see what the app does and how it works. But, alas (or maybe: hurray!), it's not actually a translation app; instead, it's an app that connects you to product support and other sources of information.

A couple of other translation environment tools have also released apps in the past few months (see the XTM App for Project Managers -- for Android and iOS -- and the Memsource Mobile App, both of which allow you to take care of urgent project management tasks), but none of them for translation-related tasks.

With the increasingly indistinct differentiation between (laptop) computers and tablets, it does not seem out of the question that we will see professional translation apps at some point, though. So I asked Massimo Ghislandi from SDL where discussions stand in that regard right now at SDL.

He pointed me to some online translation/editing environments of the SDL Trados Online Editor (I wrote about that awhile back) and to some future online interfaces that I will write about in one of the upcoming newsletters. Neither will be in the form of an app, but completely web-based instead.

My takeaway: what we do is just a little too involved to be easily replicated in an app (not that we need to confirm that, but still...). After all, the Google app store is not called "Google Play" for no reason. It might be fun to translate, but it's not all play. 



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