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 A computer journal for translation professionals


Issue 14-8-238
(the two hundred thirty eighth edition)  

Contents

1. New World Localization (Premium edition)

2. SDL's Language Cloud

3. The Canadian Response (Premium edition)

The Last Word on the Tool Box

Blazing Trails That Never End

I recently asked myself why so many translators who are deeply engaged with translation technology don't continue their technological exploration and interest once they reach a certain level of expertise.

Just so you know, no one has ever accused me of being too subtle. So to make sure we're all on the same page, the illustration I will be using here is intended as a caricature, or a description in which, according to Merriam-Webster, "certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect."

In that spirit, let's imagine the life of a typical, successful, "technically adept" translator. Our composite translator probably reached this point in life through one of two paths.

Following one path, they receive a translation degree and -- depending on the era and location -- attain a certain level of technological proficiency through instruction (which will reflect the allegiances of the corresponding professor and school). Once they've launched out "into the wild," they apply what they have learned and continue to refine their use of technology to their particular needs and circumstances. When they've reached a level of competence they feel comfortable with, they consider themselves well equipped and stop looking for improvements.

On the other route, the self-trained translator looks for technology solutions by searching the web, newsgroups, and translator portals and by going to conferences or talking to colleagues. They find a first set of technology that they settle on, though in the early years they continue to change or tweak it as they learn more about the industry. Once they've assembled a suite of tools that work for them, however, they feel well equipped and stop looking for improvements.

You won't have missed the commonality between the two: In the "end" they feel well equipped and see no room for further improvement.

"Feel well equipped..."

For many years it's been easy to share a wide variety of opinions in topic-oriented discussion forums, going all the way back to the LANTRA-L list and CompuServe's Language Forum (FLEFO). Today, it's actually hard not to express ideas through all-pervasive blogs (and responses to blog posts), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others. For our "successful and technically adept" translator, it's even harder to abstain: after all, good translators also have above-average writing skills and know how to express themselves very effectively. When they persuasively describe the technology they use as one of the cornerstones of their success, they quickly realize that it earns them admiration and a leadership position among their peers.

"...stop looking for improvements"

They readily embrace gradual change in the technology they're already using because they're able to integrate it quickly into their expertise portfolio, thus retaining their position as one of the public champions of "their" technology. But the more fundamental paradigm changes -- where the existing technology is completely replaced by something new -- are more difficult. Really difficult, in fact. These threaten to challenge their hard-earned status and identity as a community leader, and might even imperil the important business opportunities that arise from that identity.

So what do they do? They uses their status to rail against the new technology, converting the perceived identity threat into a platform that allows them to predict doom for the community as a whole. Since they do indeed have considerable influence, especially among less experienced translators, their rallying cry becomes the rallying cry of many, with the result that the natural and ever-ongoing development of technology gets stuck.

Remember: This is a caricature. Still, if we're honest, do we not recognize a kernel of truth in the midst of my hyperbole? And since I'm calling for honesty, I'm very specifically not excluding myself from the same guilt.

What can be done to avoid these knee-jerk responses that have the potential to technologically stagnate an entire generation of translators? I can think of three things.

First, we need to de-politicize the situation. The Oxford Dictionary defines "politics" as "activities aimed at improving someone's status or increasing power within an organization." If even some of my exaggerated illustration is true, we are dealing with politics rather than arguments based only on fact. Once we recognize the difference between politics and fact, discussions about the future of translation technology should become much more productive.

Second, we might need a change of values. Expertise should be rewarded, but only if it does not promote stagnation. By its very essence, technology undergoes constant development. Those intrepid translators who master today's technology while continuously exploring new possibilities -- embracing some and rejecting others -- should be rewarded with the most prestige in the community.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly and practically, I would love to see technology developers reach out to the language community -- and language community leaders in particular -- to make them part of the development process. Not only will this raise the likelihood of creating a successful product that benefits the community, but it will develop technology champions in the process.

(Versions of this will also appear in the ATA Chronicle and ITI Bulletin.) 

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1. New World Localization (Premium edition)

Recently I stumbled on the folks from Lingohub, an Austrian/German tool and company that is offering a platform for the localization of mobile and web applications. I'll have more to say on the tool later, because the reason I stumbled on them was not the actual platform but a number of very interesting and well-written articles on app localization on their blog. At about the same time, Sebastian Haselbeck from Lingohub contacted me because he wanted to share with me (and with you) a survey that Lingohub had just completed among translators about a whole range of issues ranging from billing to marketing to translation technology.

It won't surprise you that I found the answers on technology the most interesting. According to the survey app, 62% of all translators use a translation environment tool (yes, the survey still uses the term "CAT tool," but they too shall see the truth at some point) and 34% do not use a TEnT. I would guess that if the survey represented the worldwide community of translators, the "yes" percentage would be significantly lower.

. . . you can find the rest of this really important article (if I may say so myself...) in the premium edition. If you'd like to read more, an annual subscription to the premium edition costs just $25 at www.internationalwriters.com/toolkit. Or you can purchase the new edition of the Translator's Tool Box ebook and receive an annual subscription for free.

 

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2. SDL's Language Cloud

A few years ago I gave a workshop at the AMTA conference (Association of Machine Translation in the Americas) on the various ways that MT can be utilized by translators. (It's interesting to imagine what I would say today, two years later, considering how technology to utilize MT proposals has changed. It would certainly be quite different.) Back then I had asked SDL to give me access to the customized LanguageWeaver (now: BeGlobal) engine for travel sites. I wanted to see for myself and share with the workshop participants whether a customized engine performs better on an industry-specific text with rather uncontrolled language (user complaints with lots of colloquial expressions and typos) than something like Google Translate (which is often used for this kind of data). I ran the test in German, French, and Spanish, and our (very unscientific) impression was that the SDL product clearly outperformed Google. This still doesn't mean that it produced a satisfactory translation per se, but it was more easy to understand as a gist draft. (You can see for yourself right here.)

There has been lots of talk in the industry about SDL's ongoing efforts to improve its BeGlobal MT engine. A relatively large number of folks have apparently been working to clean and update data for their baseline engines (the non-specific MT engines) so they can now offer about 100 baseline languages. When I asked SDL's Paul Filkin and Sinclair Morgan about some specifics of these efforts, though, they weren't able to share any details.

Regardless of the extent of the effort, it has to pay out at some point, and we are now seeing some first attempts to make that happen.

Users of SDL products know that the generic SDL BeGlobal engine has been part of products like Trados Studio for some time (alongside a number of other machine translation offerings that can typically be accessed with external plug-ins), but with the Studio 2014 update that was just released, users of all kinds will now have access to an overhauled system. Access to the generic baseline engines will continue to be free for the supported language, but there will also be chargeable access to specifically trained engines for industries like automotive, consumer electronics, travel, IT/high tech, and life science. The fee model will most likely not affect the freelance translator (up to 600,000 characters/month will be free, so most freelancers will be exempt), but it will be a different story for LSPs and translation buyers.

In my conversation with Paul and Sinclair, I pressed repeatedly for assurances that all the source and/or target data would stay confidential and won't be used in any way by SDL, and they assured me that SDL would indeed not save or use any of the data. After the interview they again confirmed that in Trados Studio, the machine translation data is not stored beyond the duration of a request for machine translation for a segment or file.

>Still, this is only the first step of the "Language Cloud" offering. At a recent conference, SDL introduced the XMT moniker for "eXtended Machine Translation," a new platform for statistical machine translation that incorporates their previous MT technologies but also enables SDL to roll out improvements to baseline quality more quickly. BeGlobal is a statistical machine translation engine (it's based on the analysis of large amounts of data), and SDL's machine translation teams are attempting to improve the output of that kind of processing with language-specific rules and terminology that might override or complement the data-only-based MT output of their machine translation engines.

This is part of a long-term rollout that will include self-training with your translation memories (on top of the specialized engines). These will automatically go through cleaning routines and upload of glossary-like TBX files to further train the engines. (This last point is particularly difficult for other statistical-based engines, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.) All this happens right from inside Trados Studio and is available with the latest update to Trados Studio, which was just made available this week. You can see the current list of available specialized engines right here.

Access to the Language Cloud module is also available through an API, so I wouldn't be surprised to see access in other translation environment tools, as well. 

 

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3. The Canadian Response (Premium edition)

Most of the talk about machine translation these days is either about the free MT engines by Google/Microsoft, rules-based engines like Systran and PROMT, SDL's LanguageWeaver/BeGlobal, or the many different statistical MT systems based on the open-source Moses platform. There are some others as well, not surprisingly including one that was developed by the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. It's "not surprising" because historically Canada has had a tendency to be very independent-minded when it comes to translation technology (for instance, Canadian translation environment tool have had a much stronger emphasis on corpora rather than translation memories, and there has been more emphasis on alignment than anywhere else).

I recently met Eric Joanis, one of the developers of NRC's MT system Portage, and I continued my conversation with him and other NRC representatives as well as folks from Terminotix, the company that is now selling commercial installations of the system.

Now, when I say that the development was "independent-minded," I don't mean to say that it happened in a vacuum. In fact, the developers who have worked on the system since 2004 are eager to describe their indebtedness to leading MT researchers such as Philipp Koehn of the Moses project and Asia Online and Franz Och of -- I was almost going to write "Google Translate," but it was announced last week that Och has left Google to join genome scientist J. Craig Venter since "understanding the human genome at the scale that we are trying to do it is going to be one of the greatest translation challenges in history." While Och is not the only smart guy working on machine translation, when I talked to him in preparation for the Found in Translation book, I was blown away by his combination of smarts and humility. As a result, I would venture to guess that the speedy development of Google Translate will either slow down or, more likely, has already slowed down sufficiently so there were no longer enough challenges for someone like Och.

. . . 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 www.internationalwriters.com/toolkit.

 

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