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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 16-12-269
(the two hundred sixty-ninth edition)  


1. Borderless Translating

2. Unlimited Finding

3. Measured Compensating

4. A Couple More Things

The Last Word on the Tool Box


I drive a very old and decrepit Buick Park Avenue that used to be -- as you could probably guess from its name -- a rather fancy car. Back in the early nineties, that is. Today I've stopped responding to its many warning lights, I have long ceased covering rust spots, and the oil is changed only by the constant refilling necessitated by its many leaks. But I (and my dogs) love that car, and I think I finally realized the reason for those warm feelings. (The dogs' love was easy to figure out: the Buick takes them to the beach every day!) You see, the car looks and behaves kind of like I feel these days. There are a lot of physical things that don't really work the way they were originally designed, but, hey, that's just the way it is. It's what the actor portraying Churchill's portraitist Graham Sutherland throws at Churchill after he's upset with the painting (in the Netflix drama "Crown"):

"Age is cruel! If you see decay, it's because there's decay. If you see frailty, it's because there's frailty."

The graceful side of this is that age (and, yes, that's where the analogy with my car dies -- literally) results not only in decay but also in experience and -- hopefully -- maturity. And that makes me thankful and gives me at least glimpses of knowledge that even though 2016 was not the best of years for many, there will be a 2017 and it will offer some good for all and much good for many. May you be among the many! 


With MateCat machines and humans are stronger working together

Take care of the creative and highly specialized parts of translation.

MateCat uses Machine Learning to handle repetitive tasks automatically.


1. Borderless Translating

No better time to write about the efforts of Translators Without Borders (TWB) than the present -- especially if the "present" is the joyous season.

Sticking to the theme of this publication -- translation technology -- I will report on exactly that in relation to TWB, but here are some numbers that may illustrate the far reach of TWB.

There are presently 3762 registered translators in the TWB Workspace, a platform for claiming projects (the platform was developed and donated by ProZ, but if you are not a member of ProZ you can still use Workspace), plus a much smaller group of rapid-response translators. TWB works in approximately 190 language pairs and has translated 39.4 million words so far (10 million this year). Some of the hot spots that TWB has been involved in have included the European and Burundi refugee crises, the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, the typhoon in the Philippines, or the Ebola and Zika outbreaks.

I talked with Mirko Plitt, who joined TWB as the head of technology last June, about what technology TWB is using and why things in that area may have been moving a little more slowly than if it were a commercial entity. (Some background to this: At the ATA conference earlier this year, a well-known Canadian EN>FR translator and TWB volunteer complained rather forcefully to me about what seemed to her the backward use of technology at TWB. That conversation and my subsequent contact with TWB finally resulted in my talk with Mirko.)

He described the work of TWB for years as an NGO rushing from crisis to crisis, each with a different set of parameters and requirements. This resulted in essentially no time to breathe and stop and streamline technological efforts, even with basic tools that many of us take for granted like a shared translation memory.

It wasn't that there were no solutions available; in fact, many translation technology companies had offered free access to their technology ("free" as in "no monetary compensation" but not necessarily in "no PR benefits"), so it wasn't finances that stood in the way. Instead, what was needed was the hiring of a dedicated specialist -- Mirko -- who is not necessarily subject to the ongoing operations but is specifically in charge of developing the technological framework for translation and other language-related tasks.

This is where things stand at the moment. Mirko has developed launched the TWB Translation Server, which is a customized version of the same system that MateCat is based on. This system was chosen because a) it was open-source and therefore customizable without having to rely on the technology vendor, and b) it was easy to use without the need of specialized training (unlike some earlier experiences with donated memoQ licenses and accompanying training in Kenya). The TWB Translation Server in connection with the TWB Workspace now enables partners (TWB lingo for NGO clients) to upload translatable documents (in MS Word, PowerPoint, OpenOffice and text formats -- for other formats a project manager has to be involved at this point), have translators in the right language combination claim and translate the docs while using the language resources of MyMemory (a mixture of contributed TM resources, aligned materials, and machine translated data) -- if those are available -- and store and share TM data with other TWB translators in an otherwise private translation memory.

These are not TWB's only recent technological achievements. It has, for instance, been involved in the translation of Translation Cards, an app by Google and Mercy Corps that consists of audio snippets in various languages that can be used by aid workers. It recently launched machine translation systems for Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) and Sorani (Central Kurdish), which are the main languages for Kurdish refugees. I was particularly intrigued with the Kurdish MT solution. Neither of those languages had existing workable offline solutions, so Prompsit (which recently was mentioned in the Tool Box Journal in connection with neural machine translation) took three weeks to prepare the open-source rules-based machine translation system Apertium to prep it for the training of Kurmanji and Sorani and then guided 10 Kurdish translator for a week via Skype for the data and rules entry.

Can we expect great results from that engine? Linguistically speaking, I would say likely not. But from a humanitarian perspective? No doubt.

There are other aspects aside from the humanitarian side that I found meaningful when talking to Mirko, including this: As Mirko correctly noted, the technological gap between languages has increased even more just this year. Neural machine translation has propelled languages that are deemed as "more important" into a territory that seems unreachable for the other 99+% of languages. It's organizations like TWB who try to give some of those languages a technological underpinning that they are unlikely to get elsewhere

If you are interested in contributing to TWB, you can find information about becoming a volunteer right here and about financial support right here.  



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2. Unlimited Finding

The Swedish dictionary/thesaurus tool extraordinaire WordFinder will be changing its business and service model come January 1. Rather than selecting individual or specific group of dictionaries to search through either via its web interface (WordFinder Online) or via Windows, Mac, Android or iOS applications, you will now have access to all dictionaries available for one price (9.99 euro/month).

The language combinations of those dictionaries are between English and Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. The corresponding resources differ significantly, with Swedish clearly being particularly blessed with nearly 140 dictionaries going from Swedish into another language. You can find a list of 199 dictionaries and thesauruses right here, but you should be aware that this list is not complete. For instance, I noticed that the massive Langenscheidt's Muret-Sanders English <> German dictionary is missing in the list but is actually included in the offering.

You can find a good video of the advanced functionality of WordFinder's Windows app right here.

I'm impressed that WordFinder was able to negotiate this deal with the most prestigious dictionary makers in the world, and I hope they will be able to continue to grow their list of languages and language combinations.

I also hope, and I have talked about this a number of times with Ola Persson, WordFinder's CEO, that they will find a way to bring the data even more closely into our translation environments so that we don't even have to search anymore -- much like data from termbases that is displayed automatically. 



DTP Translations: New Plug-in for InDesign CC 2017

STAR Group has expanded its plug-ins for DTP applications, and now supports InDesign CC 2017 (Windows and Mac).

The plug-ins simplify the translation of InDesign projects through a smooth data exchange with the Transit NXT translation memory system.

For more information, please contact:


3. Measured Compensating -- A Reader's Perspective

Mats Linder, the author of the widely-used and just updated Trados manual, sent us some thoughts on new compensation models that I had mentioned in a couple of Tool Box Journals. Here they are:

"In issue 255 of the Tool Box Journal, Jost wrote about new compensation models, and in issue 267 he continued the discussion [Premium subscribers can find these issues in the archives]. The point he stresses is that with new technology extending the useful source segment repositories from the usual TMs to more and more advanced uses of machine translation (MT), plus -- as Jost added at the recent Translating Europe Forum -- better uses of TM fragments (or subsegments), we will arrive at a situation where the so-called Trados rates grid is no longer valid as a measuring mechanism for calculating a fair compensation.

"The solution to this, says Jost, is to 'completely move away from pricing by the word, line, or page and learn how to quote by project and/or time, which, after all, is something that virtually everyone in the professional world (outside of translation) does.' And, 'I can't wait to throw off the shackles of word counts and operate like a professional who can figure out how much to charge for a project, just like my electrician or lawyer does.'

"While I'm all for this, and hope for such a development, I'm not sure of the rationale for this, nor that it will happen very soon.

"For one thing, how will clients, or even translation agencies, be able to tell in advance (as is possible with the fuzzy matches analyses) the effect of fragment matches for the translation efforts? For some time now, both Déjà Vu and memoQ have been giving statistics for 'internal repetitions'/'homogeneity,' that is, possible usage of such matches not only in TMs but also within documents (something which Trados Studio does not, for some reason). But as far as I know, no clients or even translation agencies have tried to base payment on such statistics. The fact that Trados Studio, as a result of its job analysis, now gives the number of 'fragment matches' in TMs is not likely to change that. Even more problematic would be to base payment on the possible use of MT, however advantageous that may be for the translator.

"Thus for the foreseeable future, I believe only fuzzy matches statistics may be used as basis for payment in the old style, i.e. 'per word.' Which means we shall be able to use the other improvements without detrimental effects on our compensation; oh happy days!

"But of course, many of us refuse to accept the 'Trados grid' as basis for payment even though they charge per word. And furthermore, many clients who are not translation agencies may very well still be unaware of both the fuzzy matches mechanisms and the improvements and hence not require use of the 'Trados grid' as payment structure.

"So I think the technical development is not likely to necessitate new methods for measuring the work we do -- except for ourselves, when we try to estimate the work load before we start.

"But as I said, I still agree with Jost that charging per hour of work, or per job, would be preferable. And I believe the 'per job' alternative is by far the best method. Many clients -- perhaps even translation agencies -- may find paying what we really make per hour (my guess is that for a translator in, e.g., UK, Sweden, or the US, USD100 per hour is far from unusual) too high a price, even if they actually do pay that when they pay per word (i.e., per job). Also, charging per hour without a top limit is probably not going to be popular, even if we pay the plumber according to that principle.

"Charging per job 'hides' our income per hour and, being a set price, is probably more palatable to all clients. However, as we are able to use all these new methods, such as 'fragment matching' and even better MT, we shall need to spend some more time calculating the actual job effort needed. But that may also have the advantage that we force ourselves to investigate in depth how best to utilize the new methods; in particular, MT. (The alternative is of course to continue to base our offers on a per-word charge.)

"And all this means that post-editing of MT (PEMT), in the strict sense -- i.e., not 'post-editing' the suggestions we get from MT while translating -- will be less and less attractive, since none of the technological advances described above is applicable there. Yet we hear that PEMT is the fastest-growing type of translation, or so the Common Sense Advisory research tells us -- while at the same time, there seem to be signs that PEMT may nonetheless be a passing phenomenon... At least we live in interesting times."

Mats is right, we do live in interesting times, and there are a lot of things we need to continue to talk about.



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4. A Couple More Things . . .

Quite a few of you have written to me about a broken link in the article about morphology in the last Tool Box Journal. The correct link is

You might consider following me on Twitter or at least checking into my Twitter feed occasionally to keep abreast of updates such as these!

Also, I wasn't able to give you detailed information in the last journal about API access pricing for the new Google neural machine translation (which you will have to use if you want to use it within a translation environment tool). The answer to that is that there is no new pricing yet. If you've applied for and been given a new API key, you'll have to pay the same as you have so far. Until January 31, that is. After that it'll be more, though nothing specific has been announced yet. And, yes, the API key is usable in any translation environment tool in which you can enter one. I'm indebted to Samuel Murray and Cenk Yalavaç from TranslationHUB for this information.  



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