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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 17-5-274
(the two hundred seventy fourth edition)  


1. Writing Tools for Translators

2. Project/Translation (Project) Management Tools (Premium Edition)

3. The Tech-Savvy Interpreter: Genius Scan: A Versatile Document Scanner in Your Pocket

4. Correction

5. This 'n' That

The Last Word on the Tool Box

Elemental Truths

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 evolutions.)

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).

Western Vanguard

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 Translators

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
  • Comments
  • 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 for optimism.

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 wrote to me a few days ago. Vicente's company has already developed and released the helpful TranslateCAD 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 elsewhere.



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2. Project/Translation (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 providers.

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 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?

Genius Scan 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 and searching.

Genius Scan 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.

Paper receipt on contrasting surface

Figure 1 - Paper receipt on contrasting surface.

Genius Scan detects borders of receipt before scanning

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 road. 

Genius Scan 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.

Final Thoughts

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



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4. Correction 

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 24th. 

  • New PDF import
  • New Find/Replace
  • Better preview
  • And much more

On May 24th, on


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 recognition.


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 rich resource.

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 database.


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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The Last Word on the Tool Box Journal

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