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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 20-3-310
(the three hundred tenth edition)  
1. Computercalypse
2. What's new in subtitling translation tools? (Guest article by Damián Santilli)
3. Recycling
4. A Love Story (continued)
The Last Word on the Tool Box

I recently published an article on Patheos, a site that hosts all kinds of posts for all kinds of religions. It's an article about one of my favorite stories in the Translation Insights & Perspectives tool that I've been working on for some time now. You might be familiar with the story since I've mentioned it a number of times: the one about Modern Chinese pronouns and how they are uniquely able to express attributes beyond gender. If you haven't seen it, you can read it right here.

As I was writing and re-reading that article, I retraced a path that is highly relevant for how we use language and the meaning of translation.

In the article I said, "While almost everything that is expressible through language can be expressed in any language, it simply won't be." My editor frowned at the sentence, but if you think about it, you will likely agree. In fact, maybe I'm treading on well-worn ground to start with and this is a no-brainer for you: Clearly, the notion of "untranslatability" that the media and publishers in general are so in love with ("hygge," anyone?) is a myth. But it is not a myth that languages supply their speakers and writers with different linguistic tools to express themselves adequately for their purposes. Those tools diverge from one language to another, making the languages not untranslatable but more or less externally inaccessible. The Chinese pronoun I discuss in the article mentioned above can be explained -- and therefore translated -- but it simply won't be used readily by non-Chinese speakers, thus rendering the concept less available.

What really excites me is that there is only one "cure" for this deficit: translation. In fact, the more "untranslatable" something seems, the more idiosyncratic it is, the more urgent the need for translation.

You're welcome, world!

1. Computercalypse

My compassion goes out to all those who are suffering today from COVID-19 and its many ripple effects. In this time of uncertainty and fear, I hope that we will hone our compassion for one another as we help and encourage each other through this crisis.

In the meantime, many plans have been put on hold. You're receiving the Tool Box Journal this week rather than last week because I was supposed to be at a conference in Rome this week. But to be completely precise, that was not the only reason my plans were disrupted. I also experienced a computercalypse of sorts. The motherboard of my primary computer threw up her little hands in disgust over the never-ending communications she had to channel, and in her disgust she took the hard drive right with her to her grave. My semi-competent technician (the worst kind, if you ask me -- but the only kind you can find in Nowhereland) didn't discover all this until after attempting various roundabout fixes. Now that everything is said and done (more said than done), I am using my old laptop with a new motherboard and hard drive and a non-functioning internal keyboard (I should say "o-fuctioing" since it's the n-key along with a number of other keys that decided to retire).

Why am I telling you this?

Because it was rather painful, compelling me to try to learn from my mistakes and the lack of productivity that accompanied it.

Fortunately, I did not actually lose any data. All my data is stored in the cloud (I don't work for any hyper-security-sensitive defense contractors or the like that might make this impossible), and the data that was stored only on my hard drive was accessible via a SATA cable. But in reality, I did lose quite a bit of information, the kind that is particularly painful to recoup: installation codes, registration numbers, configuration data, etc., etc.

As translators we use highly specified computers. Not better computers than others, just better for our particular purposes. And at no time do we realize that more clearly than when all those programs and apps and utilities that have become so integral a part of our working routine are suddenly not available anymore.

Here are some guidelines I've set up for myself that might be helpful to you as well:

Have a second computer at your fingertips that is configured the same as your primary computer. At first this might seem like an expensive measure, but it's really only the hardware that you have to pay for. As far as the software, you are often either allowed to install and register it on two different computers or you can install it on both and just register the "active computer." I did actually have a second computer in my office with much of the necessary software installed, but it was so slow and decrepit that I ended up working on a "regular" laptop from home and just about pulled my hair out because nothing worked the way I was used to.

Either make nightly backups or have your files available on Dropbox, OneDrive, or a similar cloud-based solution. Cloud-based solutions, if they are compatible with your clients' security demands, are better than backups because you don't even have to restore anything. You just pick up where you left it before your computer jumped off the bridge (at least as far as the data and the files you're working with are concerned).

If you use a client-side email system like MS Outlook or Thunderbird, have the database file containing your emails and contacts located on external media connected to your computer. These files cannot be stored in the cloud, but they can be stored on an SD card, USB stick, or an external drive (all of which need to be backed up as well). Why is this helpful? Because it gives you a plug-and-play opportunity to continue using your email right away.

Make a list of all necessary data that can't be stored elsewhere and back it up regularly. This includes bookmarks and passwords from your browser (unless you use a synch feature with your browser), custom spell-checking files, data files from your accounting system, any translation memory and termbase data that is located on your computer, fonts, settings files for any tools that you have spent a long time creating and fine-tuning, and so on. These are so essential to working effectively, and you really don't want to recreate them or even wait a long time before you can reclaim them from another damaged hard drive.

Save all the emails that contain download info and registration codes for software that you purchased. No need to explain this further, but this is one that will save you so much time.

And here's one I never would have thought about before: All things being equal, work with products from technology vendors who have adequate support in a time zone that is accessible to you. I had one product (which shall remain unnamed -- you're welcome, <tech vendor>) that I realized on a Friday I was going to need access to over the weekend. I couldn't activate it because it needed to be deactivated first on the old (dead) computer. Although we eventually found a solution, it cost me many valuable hours and nerves when it could have been done in the blink of an eye if adequate support had been available here in the US. Good lesson learned. (Another interesting observation: If this had been a one- or two-person outfit located on the other side of the world, I'm sure my problem would have been solved much more quickly, since support is often provided by those developers around the clock. But because this was a larger company behind the product with regular business hours, I was out of luck.)

Naturally it's up to you to take or leave any of my advice, but from now on it's a code I will live by. 

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2. What's new in subtitling translation tools? (Guest article by Damián Santilli)

As you might know by now as a Translator's Tool Bool Journal reader, translation environment tools are improving by the day. The overwhelming presence of neural machine translation (NMT) in every translation suite, plus the constant improvement of technologies like upLIFT from SDL Trados Studio, are changing the way we face translations with almost every project. In audio-visual translation (AVT), however, despite technical improvements and innovations in apps from streaming services, it sometimes seems that we subtitlers are still doing our work in much the same way as we have since the turn of the century. Back then, we faced a huge leap in methodology and availability of tools, and we rapidly went from receiving physical materials to subtitle to logging into our clients' servers to download media and send the subtitles via e-mail. And although some things have changed in the last few years, professional subtitlers working for direct clients like production companies, or even film directors themselves, have had the same resources for a while now: free software and software too expensive for some freelancers. So, what have we been missing in between? Well, a solution like technical translators use -- the likes of memoQ, Wordfast, and Trados Studio -- though we do have that too, kind of. Let's dive into these three scenarios and see what's new for subtitlers.

Can we still rely on free software for professional subtitlers?

The short answer is yes, we can. If you're the type of subtitler who prefers mainly working with direct clients and you avoid working for large streaming services via vendors who do not always offer the best rates, then you might be in a sweet spot in the AVT world. I don't mean this just because you get to charge higher rates. You can actually use myriad free alternatives, like our old friends Subtitle Workshop and VisualSubSync, or the more frequently updated and flashy Aegisub and Subtitle Edit. All of these allow you to deal with large videos in a variety of formats, and yes, they are powerful enough to do that. You don't really need to pay if you're also trained on spotting [defining the in and out times of individual subtitles] with these tools; however, you might be interested in investing (a lot) in more professional tools.

I have the money, and I want to invest in something better.

There's no doubt that despite their elevated price, both WINCAPS Q4 Subtitling Software and EZ Titles offer great improvements in things like recognizing some of the subtitles from the audio and letting you save time in spotting, as well as creating subtitles from DVD or Blu-ray, for instance, if that's something you're looking for. Additionally, they do have a more powerful interface, which feels like comparing some free CAT tool's interface with those of the most expensive options. But hey, can you do pretty much the same with OmegaT as you can with Wordfast? Yes. And in the case of subtitle editors, that same logic applies, with a big difference though: if you want to invest in professional software, you'll have to pay around $1,700 for the EZ Titles basic edition and $300 a year for WINCAPS. Is it worth the investment? It certainly is -- if you can afford it.

And what about the cloud?

Here we can find some new alternatives. Some of them are free, and some are expensive, but not outrageously so. I have been particularly impressed by Ooona, which has a similar price to the most expensive alternatives but offers a wide variety of options, and you can even get some great discounts. In fact, right now, if you use the code BESAFE_80%, you will pay only $60/year for the Online Captions & Subtitles Toolkit, which is normally priced at $300/year. The promotion code is part of the company's efforts to help translators during the coronavirus crisis. The discount expires at the end of April.


is great because it offers different alternatives. For instance, if you're used to working with timed templates, you can opt for the cheapest option, Ooona Translate, and subtitle online without the need of installing software. Certainly, this is a great way to go about things nowadays, considering that most subtitlers are working with timed templates.  

Oona Translate

It's worth noting here, though, that if you're working for Netflix, for instance, you'll be translating directly on their online software and won't need anything else.

Amara is another great alternative for working directly from the cloud, with two options, Plus and Pro, which are both somewhat cheaper than other paid alternatives. Additionally, Amara has a free, public version in which you can use their powerful editor, but all subtitles you create there are publicly available. This means you can't use this software professionally, but it is an excellent way to start for many translators wanting to take their first steps in AVT. There are other options you can find online, like Subtitle Edit Online and Subtitle Horse, but I would recommend trying either Ooona or Amara, particularly if you're a Mac user, and you find it difficult to get different alternatives for your specific needs.

Subtitling with translation memories and termbases... are we there yet?

As I said in the introduction, if you're like me and work as a subtitler as well as a technical translator, you might have been wondering why it's so hard to have a subtitling environment tool with translation memories and termbases. Especially considering that two, three, or even more translators might be working at the same time on a whole season of an upcoming TV show. Well, there's a catch: you need a source text, right? While this might seem obvious to you and me, it wasn't for the people at SDL when they introduced the Studio Subtitling app last year. I remember watching Paul Filkin's presentation while he was showing how you can translate from an AVT-specific file and store your translations in a TM, and even add terminology to a termbase with Studio Subtitling, and suddenly one question started looming: what happens if I don't have a source text? Paul seemed baffled at that question, which is not too surprising since subtitlers and technical translators seem to operate in different worlds. And while it seemed clear to SDL or Kilgray with their memoQ Video Preview Tool and Smartcat, among other developers, that we would be translating from files where we could watch the video inside the TEnT while subtitling, they didn't know most of us don't work like that. We work from audio, and if we do have a script, we have it as a plain text on a PDF or Word file. 

So, it's clear now that going forward we need to find an alternative that, combined with speech recognition technology, allows us to create translation units without having a timed template. This, together with the possibility of sharing termbases between several translators working on the same project within the same subtitling environment tool (we could call them SETs, when they finally arrive), and potentially allowing interaction between translators -- as we are starting to see in some web-based tools -- could drastically change the way we work, as the internet did for many subtitlers who were used to working with physical devices. And in that regard, there might be something cooking between AI, automatic speech recognition, and NMT developer AppTek and Ooona, who appear to have joined forces. We'll just have to wait and see.


About the author: Damián Santilli is a Sworn English<>Spanish Translator and a Certified International Spanish Copy Editor and Proofreader. His areas of expertise are subtitling, software localization, information technology, engineering, and mechanics. Since 2009, he has offered more than 100 workshops and lectures on audiovisual translation, translation technology and Spanish proofreading to more than 1,000 students in different cities of Argentine and elsewhere. In 2018, he was part of the team that created the Netflix's Hermes test and was in charge of the Latin-American version of the exam. You can find more information about him and his many accomplishments at  

[Note from Jost: My friend Damián is also just a super nice guy and I really want to thank him for this rock-star article!]


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3. Recycling

This has been on my "I-should-write-something-about-this" list for a long time: how technology and language/imagery about technology are the master recyclers.

In the narrative of how technology uses infrastructure that really wasn't meant for it, internet connectivity is the best example. Between the infrastructure that was originally designed for phones (dial-up, baby!), power grids, and TVs, everything was (and most of it still is) used to achieve something the system was not originally set up to do. You could argue that the internet is just now, after three decades or so, paving its own highways with 5G.

More interesting for us is language and symbology. You're doing what when you're "cc'ing" someone? "Carbon copying"? Now, I'm old enough to have seen that kind of "technology" in action, but I have a strong feeling that many of you are not. You're "dialing" a phone number and after the phone call you "hang up"? I don't think you actually do either -- certainly not in the literal sense.

And that "Save" icon, by the way, represents something most of you may never have seen in person, but it's still used by virtually all the latest editions of programs with a manual save feature. It's a "floppy disk," which stored a massive 1.4 MB of data. Well, wait, in reality that "floppy" disk was rather stiff; it just inherited the name from its precursor, which truly was a large and very vulnerable "floppy" disk. By the time the new storage medium came around, the term "floppy" had already become a synonym for storage disk, so why spend any effort to learn a new term? (One good reason: It was a terrible term to start with.)

But then, that's how language works, right? A little lazy and beautifully imperfect, but completely adequate for equipping speakers to express what they see around themselves. For everything else, we have literature and all other kinds of art. 


AIT Software Development Team prepares revolutionary release! Be the first to try it:

AIT will use the rest of our advertising space for useful links from UK, EU, and US official government bodies. Translation deadlines and word counts are important, but not as important as your life and health. Stay safe and be healthy!

4. A Love Story (continued)

Every once in a while I add to my collection of "Characters with Character." Here's one that is a failure of sorts. In fact, two failures.

If you have a Javascript-enabled browser, hold your cursor over the image of the coin to read the associated story.

The Last Word on the Tool Box Journal
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