You can view earlier editions of the Tool Box Journal going all the way back the 2007
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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 19-6-301
(the three hundred first edition)  


1. Fake News


3. The Tech-Savvy Interpreter - Digital Platforms for Individual Simultaneous Interpretation Practice: No Booth Required

4. This 'n' That

5. A Love Story (continued after a long absence)

The Last Word on the Tool Box

Turning lemons into lemonade

As translation professionals, we may frequently find ourselves on the forefront of those who point out silly translation mistakes, especially when it comes to product names (I've certainly done my part in Found in Translation). And we often associate these stories with hapless clients who don't want to invest in knowledgeable consultants. I don't know whether Kraft Heinz Company availed themselves of consultants when choosing "Mayochup" for their new mayonnaise/ketchup mix (believe me, this is not an advertisement for this, ahem, product). I would guess not, but either way they can't have been thrilled to release a product with a name that sounds like the word for sh*tface in Cree ("mêyiwi"). If it were me, I'd just file that in the category of "Sh*t happens."

However, that would make me a lot less clever than the spokesman for Kraft Heinz, who said: "We have heard about the unfortunate translation of Mayochup in Cree, and the only thing we want our consumers, whichever dialect of Cree they speak, to have on their faces this summer is our newest condiment mash-up."

Way to save "face"!


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1. Fake News

(This is a borrowed article that I wrote for the ATA Chronicle.)

Yes, I hate this buzzword as much as you do -- at least, as it's used in the present political climate. But it did capture your attention and, like it or not, there actually is some meaning associated with the concept of "fake news" in a more traditional sense.

I believe we are dealing with several "fake news" items when it comes to translation, especially translation technology. I would like to talk about two of these items: one I've discussed before at length, though my explanation must have been less than effective since it still dominates the thinking of many; the other is something we might all be guilty of in some way.

The first conceptual misunderstanding is that working with machine translation is necessarily the same as post-editing translation. Most of us translators know this is not true -- but not because we were told so or taught that way. It's because we know that machine translation really is only one of many resources (alongside translation memories, termbases, corpora, dictionaries, and other online and offline resources) that can be used in the translation processes. We also know that most translation environment tools allow us to dynamically use -- or not use -- the content that comes from machine translation engines. Our proven experience therefore stands in sharp contrast to the idea that post-editing, i.e., the correction of raw machine-translated content, is the only way to use that technology.

Of course, we could say, well, let others believe what they want to believe and let me do what I know is best for my business, but I think there's a problem with that kind of thinking. I've noticed how very difficult it is to talk about machine translation with anyone outside those who have some practical experience with it. That includes machine translation researchers and developers and, maybe more importantly, clients of ours who (are trying to) use machine translation. Typically they share the assumption that machine translation can be used by the translator only in the reactive way: the translator reacting to suggestions coming from the machine translation engine, i.e., post-editing. If that is the assumption, then the projects offered to translators will be structured so only that kind of work with MT is possible, and the research and development into working with MT will look only into that avenue. And this is not because of evil intent. Wordsmiths like us understand the power of words and language. If I have a concept in my mind (such as how to work with machine translation), and the only language I have to apply to it is that of post-editing, it's just very, very hard to change that. This is why we have to be patient, insistent, and strong in our communication that while there is this one way of working with machine translation output (in some cases, productively), in more cases than not there are other and better ways to work with that technology. Only then will we be sent a different kind of project and the research will look more deeply into other kinds of approaches.

This brings us to another topic, one where we ourselves might be helping to communicate something erroneous with unfortunate consequences. I'm talking about artificial intelligence (AI). There has been a lot of writing in this column and elsewhere about AI and its effects on the world of translation. Not only via neural machine translation, but as we discussed a few months ago, on a whole host of other kinds of technology that have an impact on the translation and translation management processes.

Clearly, we need to talk about and understand AI. Not like an AI researcher or developer would, but so we can have a healthy estimation of how much it supports our work now and in the future. But we've been led astray on a path littered with our own words and our own imagination. Terms like "neural MT," "artificial intelligence," and "deep learning" all seem to suggest that these are processes that emulate functions of the human brain. And this is exactly what pop culture and news outlets also want us to believe.

The fact? It isn't true. How do I know? Because we don't understand our brains. We don't know how memories are stored. We don't know why some parts of the brain are responsible for some functions but can also be completely reconfigured. We don't even know whether brain activity is actually a matter of computation or a completely different kind of process. We don't know what causes moods, creativity, intelligence, wit, and emotions. And we certainly don't know what "mind" and "consciousness" are. We do know some impressive numbers (100 billion neurons, 100 trillion synapses, etc.), and lots of people are working very hard and making good progress on understanding more and more about the human (or really any) brain. But we're still very far from having a good grasp on this most elusive of realms.

So, is there no artificial intelligence? Well, yes, there is, it's just that it doesn't work like the human brain. In fact, the term "artificial intelligence" is incomplete. We should always refer to its full and technically correct moniker, which is "narrow AI" (already sounds a lot better, doesn't it?). Narrow AI is the ability of a machine to non-concurrently process large amounts of data and make predictions exclusively on the basis of that data. That's what we have today, and computers are incredibly good at it. Much better than we are. General AI (also referred to as "Artificial General Intelligence" or AGI), on the other hand, may never actually be achieved. We don't even know whether AGI will be built on the basis of narrow AI's current technology. If we ever reach true AGI, machines will be able to reason, use strategy, make judgments, learn, communicate in natural language, and integrate all of this toward common goals. (And, yes, also likely do a good job with translation and pretty much everything else.)

A few weeks ago I did a presentation for a class taught by a super-smart developer who also works for a large technology developer. I explained the differences between narrow AI and AGI, emphasizing as I did above that we don't understand how our brain works and that it therefore isn't a model for our current state of AI. At the end of my talk a number of questions were raised, to which my developer acquaintance responded by explaining that our current form of AI is modeled on the human brain. Exactly the opposite of what I had just said, though I think he didn't realize it. If we have been taught a certain concept over and over and over again, it's not a matter of hearing the opposite once and being able to replace it easily. It takes a lot of patience and time.

So let's teach ourselves and others that today's artificial intelligence does not emulate the human brain (and it's entirely possible that it will never be able to do so). Let's keep on repeating to the rest of the world that there are many ways to use machine translation, sometimes better than those that are assumed by default. We might just be able to turn that fake news into real and helpful news.

Further reading: Meredith Broussard: Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World. The MIT Press, 2018.

Byron Reese: The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity. Atria Books, 2018.



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OK, this is one of those embarrassing things for Windows users (if you are one and/or care about such things). Apple computer introduced the multi-use Command key in the 1980s, and UNIX used the Meta key going all the way back to 1970. Windows users, on the other hand, were given a "Windows key" (or WinKey) to unlock some fancy features only in 1994, represented here by the (borrowed) "squared plus" icon: .

Even though Microsoft was (once again) late to the party, it did show up eventually and made some decent contributions.

Here are my favorite features (in the latest version of Windows 10) to which the WinKey provides quick access in combination with other keys. (If you're already familiar with each one of these, let me know and I'll send you a free PDF copy of my Translation Matters book in recognition of your geeekiness.)

  • : Just pressing the WinKey opens the Start Menu, and successive typing lets you find apps and docs on your computer
  • + E: Displays the File Explorer
  • + R: Displays the Run dialog box that enables you to enter manual commands
  • + M: Displays the desktop
  • + Left (Right): Snaps your current window to the left (right) and displays the other open apps on the opposite side of the screen so you can choose (pressing the Up or Down keys immediately after you hit the Left or Right key makes the current window snap to a quadrant)
  • + T: Focusses on the first and then succeeding taskbar entries (+ Shift + T cycles backward)
  • + Number Key: Launches a new instance of the pinned application in the nth slot on the taskbar
  • + P: Displays external display options (to connect to an additional monitor or projector)
  • + +: Zooms in to 200% (+ - goes back to 100%)
  • + I: Opens Windows Settings
  • + TAB: Opens the Task View where you can select one of the open applications, create a new "virtual" desktop, and see a timeline of your activities
    • + Ctrl + D: Creates an additional desktop ("virtual" desktop) without first opening the Task View
    • + Ctrl + F4: Closes the current "virtual" desktop -- any open applications are automatically transferred to Desktop 1
    • + Ctrl + Left (Right): Switches between open "virtual" desktops
  • + V: Opens the clipboard history
  • +. or ; : Opens the emoji panel when typing.
  • + H: Opens the dictation toolbar

If you're still mad because this is all about Windows only (though chances are you didn't actually make it this far!), here is a complete list of Mac shortcuts.



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3. The Tech-Savvy Interpreter - Digital Platforms for Individual Simultaneous Interpretation Practice: No Booth Required (Column by Barry Slaughter Olsen)

I received my training as an interpreter in the mid 90s. We were still squarely in the age of magnetic media back then (think cassette tapes, Dictaphones, and VHS video). Digital recording still wasn't in the hands of your average consumer, much less your average interpreting student. We coveted our cassette tapes with ''authentic speeches'' from the United Nations General Assembly or a US State Department press conference.  After all, good practice material was hard to come by. Practicing interpreting on your own meant purchasing a Walkman with headphones to listen to the source speech and a portable tape recorder to record your own performance for subsequent playback and critique. It was a crude setup but it worked. If they didn't want to use the ''Walkman'' setup, interpreting students would have to fight to reserve the simultaneous interpreting labs on campus so they could practice.

I returned to academe, this time as a professor, in 2007 and have been training interpreters at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies for the last 12 years. I started my teaching just as Silicon Valley was beginning to digitize everything it could. Videoconferencing was poised to take off. Cloud computing was hovering on the horizon. And cheap digital storage and computing power were coming online. These technologies now underpin almost all my work as an instructor and much of my students' interpreting practice. These technologies are also responsible for the many new remote interpreting platforms I have written about in this column.

For this edition of The Tech-Savvy Interpreter, I want to focus on software programs for independent practice. As digitized audio and video have become as common as digitized text, a whole new range of possibilities has opened up for individual interpreting practice. The list of offerings continues to grow, and interpreter training programs are beginning to include these digital practice platforms in one form or another in their curricula. We are still in the early stages of development of these tools, but they offer an excellent alternative for students who are part of online training programs or who may struggle to get in enough practice in the simultaneous interpretation labs at their school.

Here are three very different tools for individualized interpreter practice. If you know of others, please contact me. All the platforms require a computer and a headset.


SCICrec (pronounced ''skick-rek'') was designed by the Directorate General for Interpretation (DG-SCIC) at the European Commission in Brussels for use with their Speech Repository, one of the best organized and largest collections of simultaneous and consecutive practice material for conference interpreters. This is a software program that must be downloaded and installed on your computer. It supports both simultaneous and consecutive interpreting modes. Since the program is installed on your computer, you do not need to be connected to the Internet to use it. SCICrec is available free of charge to professors, current students and alumni of DG-SCIC partner universities through the My Speech Repository feature. To gain access to the software, you must be a registered user of the Speech Repository. The software is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

GoReact is an online video-based skill development platform. It works well for individual interpretation practice and interpretation testing. The most impressive feature of this cloud-based platform is that it has a powerful feedback feature that allows trainers and fellow students alike to provide feedback that is time coded and synched with the recording of the interpretation. It also lets users create a set of specific markers that can be used to indicate problems such as incomplete sentences, mispronunciations, and omissions, to name just a few. The platform can then automatically tally and plot the data across the recording. GoReact also provides dual track recording and volume control of the original audio and the interpretation. It is by far the most developed platform of the three. The GoReact business model focuses on educational institutions and not on individual users, so it isn't an option for interpreters looking to practice on their own to keep their skills sharp. You can create a demo account to gain access to the platform, but it is a powerful one with a lot of features designed for use in a formal educational setting, so it will take some time to learn to use it.

Interpreters' Help

Interpreters' Help bills itself as a ''comprehensive solution for interpreters'' that focuses largely on terminology management and glossary sharing. In addition to these services, it also has a ''practice dashboard'' in free beta, so no cost associated with its use but you may encounter glitches in the software, which you are kindly asked to report to the developers. The practice dashboard allows individual interpreters to practice interpreting speeches in simultaneous and record their performances. It also has a growing public speech database that users can access for practice. Individual users can also build out their own private speech database and archive recordings of their interpretations on the site as well. The bigger vision the developers have is to encourage site users to critique and provide feedback to one another. Time will tell if that idea catches on. So, if you are eager to test out an individual interpreting practice platform, this is likely the easiest one to take for a test drive.

I see all these individual practice platforms as positive developments. They can strengthen existing academic programs by providing new practice and feedback opportunities but they can also help interpreters whose language combinations will never be part of traditional training programs by providing them with ways to practice and receive feedback. Not to mention, this is all done online as well. None of these platforms is perfect, but building an awesome self-practice platform for simultaneous interpretation is not something there is a huge market for, we are too specialized, but if enough schools and individuals begin to use one or two of these platforms regularly, we just may see something develop that meets interpreter training needs like never before.

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. This 'n' That

Translation scholar Anthony Pym has conducted short interviews with more than 100 translation scholars and published them all on a YouTube channel. You might enjoy watching some.


Y'all know Daniel Hahn, today's best public mouthpiece for the world of translation (by the way, you can see what he did during his week as the TranslationTalk curator right here in the archives, along with all the other curators). Daniel gave a very good interview the other week about translation in the Economist, where he shared the following thought that touched me and many of you:

"I have no self-expression that needs to be fulfilled through this process. That's not how translation works. I have a desire for someone else to be able to express themselves via me."

Try to top that!


At the fun and informative memoQfest in Budapest a couple of weeks ago, I got to talking with tools expert Angelika Zerfass and decided to run a series on tips and tricks with hidden features in common translation-related tools. She will write the first installment next month on memoQ. Let me know if you're interested in writing a guest article for another tool.


ATA members: I need your help. In my function as the head of the ATA Resources Committee, I'm trying to put together a list of technical resources (blogs, newsletters, etc.) that are (relatively) regularly published by ATA members. Please let me know what I should include. (An example, for instance, would be Riccardo Schiaffino's About Transation blog).


Do you remember the translator-specific URL shortener It's still out there, but we had to password-protect it to exclude nasty spammer and phishers. If you want to use it to shorten your own URLs in a way that also shows who you are, you can go here and unlock it with the login: xl8talk and the password: 20xl8talk18.



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5. A Love Story (continued after a long absence)

Peter Reynolds reminded me the other day that I had not contributed to my ongoing (and very geeky) love story with characters for a long time. And he is right -- there is still lots to say. Some of you will remember my collection of remarkable characters, and I'm looking forward to contributing some more.

I found this very strange and rarely used character a few months ago and had it filed away in my mind for later use. Pretty much the only use I can think of is right here.

If you have a Javascript-enabled browser, hold your cursor over the character for a definition. 


The Last Word on the Tool Box Journal

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