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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 19-11-306
(the three hundred sixth edition)  
1. (How) Do You Use MT?
2. Second Thoughts
3. The Conundrum of Having to Make Money With Machine Translation
4. Text United
5. Yahoo Groups Is Evolving!
6. Follow Up On the Dictionary Exchange
7. New Password for the Tool Box Archive
The Last Word on the Tool Box

I had fun writing this newsletter, and I hope you'll enjoy it as well. You may notice that I was clearly still under the spell of the ATA conference with its myriad impressions and ideas.

Rather than launch right in, though, here are two quotes I found in the last couple of months that I've been looking at again and again. I'm sure some of you will like them as much as I do. (If you follow me on Twitter you might have already seen them.) The first is by British crime writer and translator Ronald Knox:

"Words are not coins, dead things whose value can be mathematically computed. You can't quote an exact English equivalent for a French word, as you might quote an exact English equivalent for a French coin. Words are living things, full of shades of meaning, full of associations and, what's more, they're apt to change their significance from one generation to the next. The translator who understands his job feels, constantly, like Alice in Wonderland trying to play croquet with flamingoes for mallets and hedgehogs for balls; words are forever eluding his grasp."

And then this, by author and theologian C.S. Lewis, which almost seems to build on the previous one:

"As everyone knows, words constantly take on new meanings. Since these do not necessarily, nor even usually, obliterate the old ones, we should picture this process not on the analogy of an insect undergoing metamorphoses but rather on that of a tree throwing out new branches, which themselves throw out subordinate branches; in fact, as ramification. The new branches sometimes overshadow and kill the old ones but by no means always."

(I told you you'd like them!)


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1. (How) Do You Use MT?

That (or a similar) question was posted on a large pin-board at this year's meeting of the American Translators Association (ATA) in Palm Springs last month. I would like to share these with you uncommented (with only one highlighted that was particularly clever: Like two porcupines making love -- VERY CAREFULLY!) because these are all voices of professional and successful translators (visiting the ATA ain't cheap), which implicitly makes them important and reflective of a professional reality.

  • Integrated in my CAT tool. Pre-translation when nothing found in TM. Needs very careful review.
  • To quickly get the gist of a paragraph. As a quick dictionary when I forget the target word in my native language again!
  • For IT messages and informational messages
  • With curiosity! The robots are coming whether we like it or not. We should know what they're good for and what not.
  • To check genders (but we heard that's not 100% accurate...)
  • For kicks
  • To get a good laugh
    • ↑ That
  • To enhance the skill of human linguists to reason over language and content and produce quality documentation of complex interactions
    • Irony, surely?
  • To show how it does NOT work and can never replace the high quality professional work I do
  • Integrated in my CAT tool to assemble segments
    • Me +
    • Me three
  • Like two porcupines making love -- VERY CAREFULLY!
    • ↑ This (if at all)
  • Never for any serious kind of translation work! For laughs -- to get the gist of some Facebook posts and the likes only!
  • To show how algorithms can't make the mental leaps that humans can! #vigoroustranslation #popthequestion
  • As a chainsaw, not a scalpel (i.e., only for a very rough job and not for anything delicate)
  • PEMT of popular TV subtitles -- at first I was incredulous that the domain would process well with MT -- results were surprisingly good!
  • As seldom as possible
  • When I am DTP-ing a translation in Adobe, and I need to understand the target or match it up with the source
  • For triage -- tells me at a glance what the topic of an article is. Will sometimes line-edit MT output if nuance of source isn't important
  • I don't! . . . yet 
    • Me too!! Dinosaurs rule!!
    • Talk to me!
  • Only when requested by the client
    • Educate the client then on MT, CAT & difference
    • . . . and on human translation
  • No; un-user-friendly; terrible HMI
  • Like using a lever to move heavy rock -- you have to do the same amount of work, but you can distribute it more intelligently. You don't have to exert the brute cognitive force of creating words ex nihilo.
  • I don't -- is that wrong of me?
    • Not at all -- very smart of you!

Darn it! I said "uncommented," but I can't help myself. Here are some further thoughts in the next article:  


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2. Second Thoughts

First of all, I thought it was very interesting to see some outside-the-box ideas in the comments (and the comments on the comments). I liked the idea of using MT as a quick aid to know where to place text in a document if you can't read the language, or for gisting, or as a quick terminology resource. I also like the mentioning of different strategies for MT for different projects and, again, I like the porcupinian approach (you just learned a new word!).

Here is what I hope for -- and this ties in very well to a couple of other discussions and presentations at the ATA: I hope that next year and the year after and the year after that there will be changes in the answers on similar pin-boards. There will surely always be the "dinosaur"-like answers (and here I'm actually quoting a word rather than using a descriptive term myself). And there will also always be the answers that reflect the typical post-editing approach (editing one suggestion from one MT engine) as the chosen way to using machine translation. Percentages might shift a little toward the latter, but generally speaking those two voices are going to stay unchanged. But I so long for more outside-the-box ideas.

I hope to see answers like using not one but several MT engines simultaneously (or several suggestions from one MT engine); or using auto-complete to just use fragments of MT suggestions; or using your termbase or a glossary to automatically correct or flag MT suggestions; or using your TM to give an MT match a reliability rating (or vice versa); or using voice recognition to work alongside and together with MT; or, or, or. (And here neither I nor anyone else knows what could possibly follow those open-ended "or's.")

The data generated by machine translation is a resource that can be used with varying levels of success along with other resources; in fact, it can be combined with other resources. Elsewhere in this Journal I will talk about what we as translators have in common, but there are so many things that make us different. In fact, one thing we do have in common -- our creativity -- specifically makes us different in the ways we approach our work. This work is so diverse, and that very diversity requires different approaches for every translator, and maybe even every project.

I want us to be creative in the way we use our resources. Think about the way we use and maintain our termbases. While it's true that overall we probably don't use them enough ("too tedious and therefore too expensive to create and maintain"), we have very individual approaches to using them, even as to what kind of data we're entering, how we're using the data, and what our hopes are for it. I think one reason is that, while again it's sometimes underused, there won't be many professional translators who will argue that terminology work is useless or has a nefarious purpose. It's laughable to even think that way. When I talk to translators about terminology maintenance, I generally get only two responses. One is the slightly embarrassed admission that "I'm not using it nearly enough, even though I should," and the other is "I love it and I can't imagine how I could work without it."

Now, there is no value in a terminology database per se. There is value in what we make of it. And while this is not a perfect parallel to machine translation engines, the "what we make of it" part of it is. Why aren't we as adventurous in finding new and better ways to work with that resource as with other resources? (Which, as in the case of termbases, might mean that many don't use it.)

Here are some things that might help us: First we need to understand that every situation is different. While it's great that large companies train their MT engines and therefore have no problems with erratic terminology in the MT output, that's not the case for the vast majority of translators. There are many translators working for TransPerfect and Lionbridge on the supplier side or Microsoft and GM on the buyer side, but many, many more do not. This means that the experience of one kind of translation does not necessarily "translate" to another set of experiences. We need to really understand this in how we talk to each other about machine translation -- and any technology. (Anne Goldstein, the translator of Elena Ferrante and many other Italian authors, was asked at the ATA whether she uses any kind of technology for her translation, and before she answered "No" you could kind of see her processing what the question even meant.)

Then there are real differences in language combinations. While neural MT has leveled the playing field a little bit when it comes to the quality of languages that are syntactically very different and were therefore a difficult nut to crack for previous kinds of MT, it has for instance not solved the problem of low-resource languages. (I regret not asking for the language combination of the respondents to the ATA prompt.)

Then there is the kind of technology we use, both on the MT side and the environment via which we access the MT (aka "translation environment tool").

  • Is the MT adaptive or not?
  • Am I allowed to use certain kinds of machine translation?
  • Does my translation environment tool or my external plugin allow me to access one or several suggestions and, if so, how?
  • Do my TM, my termbase, and my MT suggestions "talk" to each other?
  • And so on and so forth

To the point on the technology we use: I realized in an ATA session on the future of translation technology how certain choices by translation environment tool providers play a pivotal role in how we can or cannot use all kinds of things. SDL's Paul Filkin, for instance, mentioned that while he felt really strongly about improving voice recognition in Trados Studio for a long time (in particular the interplay of Dragon and Studio), he no longer feels this is so necessary after the recent improvements of machine translation. I cannot disagree more! One of the reasons why I have been very insistent on using the term "translation environment tool" is that "environment" comes with the concept that all kinds of features are available and can be used to the user's liking. It provides wide open rooms that I can decorate as I like. And, yes, it's true that at this point voice recognition and machine translation are unhappy bedfellows (file that under "porcupinian"), but there's no reason why they have to be, why there could not be better approaches for these two technologies used in tandem. And it's unhelpful if a technology developer steers the users' processes by essentially cutting one avenue off (especially if the same developer is also selling access to MT services). Now the truth is that every developer does this to some degree, and they assuredly need to set priorities, but what we need to communicate then is that we don't want to have our creativity and individuality stifled by having our environments cut down.

And that brings us to . . .


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3. The Conundrum of Having to Make Money With Machine Translation

This heading doesn't refer to translators. Instead, I'm talking about machine translation developers. I have a strong feeling that I will receive a number of emails from said developers after this lands in their inboxes, telling me that I'm oversimplifying matters greatly, but here it is: I suspect that no one who is developing machine translation is making real money from selling those products or services. The exceptions are likely Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Yandex, Naver, and (soon) Apple -- but only because the machine translation products they produce are just one part of a greater strategy. However, I doubt whether even their MT departments would be profit centers if they looked only at selling access to the data to translation provider and buyers.

The same certainly is true for companies that specialize in machine translation, with the likely exception of companies that get themselves sold (such as when eBay acquired AppTek's, Amazon bought Safaba, TransPerfect swallowed tauyou, or SDL picked up LanguageWeaver).

It's a really tough business, and the fact that now not only Microsoft but also Amazon and Google offer customized versions of their engines doesn't help the more specialized players.

A really interesting example might be a machine translation provider that goes back to the sixties: Systran. First of all, they are among those who hopefully made a profit when they were sold to Korean CSLi, a move that many thought was related to CSLi's client Samsung's interest in machine translation, but we have not seen much of that yet, especially when it comes to a Samsung-branded end user product. Systran itself has come out with a number of new product offerings over time, including the short-lived SYSTRANLinks, an offering for proxy translation services (see elsewhere in this Journal for more information on that). Now they are coming out with a new and, I think, potentially interesting concept; whether it will be profitable for them remains to be seen.

I talked to technical account manager Philip Staiger and Carolina Pinto from Marketing at Systran's San Diego office about their hopes for the new Marketplace product/service. It turns out that they might have announced a tad early and/or we talked too early, though the timing might have been good because I think they may have had some unrealistic expectations about their product and its pricing. Here is what they know already: They will be offering the possibility for you to create machine translation engines from your translation memories that you can then sell access to (or simply use yourself). They seemed less sure about the legal underpinnings (minor things like data ownership, etc. ;-)). The pricing also seems to be less than crystal clear. They will also be selling API-based access (usable within translation environment tools) to their generic machine translation engine in and out of 42 languages (you can test it right here, and you will likely find a similar translation quality to Google Translate or DeepL). There is already API-based access, but it's on a scale that is not affordable to freelance translators (between $700 and $1200 a month), so the whole pricing scheme will be overhauled. When I talked to Philip and Carolina they seemed to have unrealistic ideas about what is affordable to translators, and I encouraged them to look at some of their competitors to get a slightly better idea of what would be reasonable.

Because we want everyone to make a living, right?

(I'll talk more about Systran's offering once it's released in its entirety.) 


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4. Text United

Six years ago I wrote about a tool called Text United that is developed by a Viennese-based company. I recently had a chance to have a second look, prompted partly by a number of changes in how the tool is being marketed and positioned.

Text United is (mostly) a hybrid tool. In this case, hybrid means a locally installed Windows-based desktop application that connects to data (including translation files, glossary, and translation memory) sitting in the cloud. The desktop application has an Outlook-like Home screen, with the translation displayed in a translation grid like so many other translation environment tools and TM and terminology matches on the side. By default you'll need an Internet connection to work in the tool, but it's possible to download a local copy of your project and your resources (if you know you'll be offline for a while) and continue to work offline. Once the connection is restored, everything is synched and you can continue to work online.

There are, however, additional alternative interfaces, including a browser-based interface that can be used instead of the desktop app. A key distinction is that you cannot work in the offline mode with this browser-based interface and, if you are a project manager rather than a translator, the browser-based interface does not give you access to many PM-related functions.

On a side note: I emceed a session at the ATA last week where the future of translation technology was discussed. The people on the panel were representatives from SDL, memoQ, and Wordfast, all companies with tools that have been around for a long time. One of the questions we discussed was whether the panelists felt they were missing the boat when it comes to online translation interfaces. In that context (and to strengthen my point), I asked the audience to indicate who among them likes to work in a browser-based interface for their translation environment. Maybe 10 or 12 raised their hand (out of a couple hundred). I was really stunned (and obviously miserably failed to make my point). After all, virtually all of the tools released in the last five years or so are completely (or almost completely) browser-based, and it's not hyperbolic to say that the majority of our other computer activities happen in the browser. But I guess no one ever said that translators are the most progressive bunch when it comes to our work environment....

Back to Text United.

There is also a third option for a translation interface, the so-called Overlay Editor. This interface allows you to translate directly in a website (so you can see context and sizing, etc.). This makes sense because Text United not only supports a large range of file formats (including MS Office -- notably Publisher! -- FrameMaker, InDesign, all the tagged and software development formats you can think of, and subtitle formats, but oddly not package formats of competing translation environment tools) but also uses proxy services to translate websites, ecommerce sites, and various other content-managed sites. This method of translation takes a website in its original language and produces it without actually getting into the source of any of the translatable materials. Instead, the user browses in a cloud-based version of the site without actually realizing it. The cloud-based site continuously sends queries to the original, untranslated website, which in response serves pages that go through the cloud-based layer where they are translated on the fly and appear in a different language. The real benefit to companies offering this service is that they typically continue the hosting of the proxy sites which assures an ongoing cash flow. The benefit to the translation buyer is a potentially quick turnaround of their translation project and an ongoing monitoring of any new content that needs to be translated. Many of the larger LSPs offer this service with their homegrown products as well as a number of largish and smaller technology vendors, now including Text United.

All this said, Text United's greatest hope might not lie so much in its technological offering but in its new marketplace and infrastructure plans. Freelance translators use the tool for free (their only payment would be for the use of MT services that Text United resells, which presently consists only of Google Translate but will include other engines). The company also provides a marketplace of sorts where translators can publish their profile and offer their services as well as a quasi self-contained infrastructure that allows not only the use of the technology but provides options for billing, reporting, and project dashboards as well.

In the six years since the last article, Text United has run a dual business by offering technology and services. It has built up a base of about 600 customers that buy translation through them and use their technology to do that (the customers are primarily but not exclusively in the DACH area). It's that growing network of buyers that's supposed to tap into the freelance translators who are offering their services so that they can directly contract with them.

Marek Piorkowski, Text United's CEO, is convinced that the translation industry is in the process of changing to where "translations are integrated as part of the process platform." That process platform as a tool as well as a manpower resource could (and he would say: should) be Text United.

Naturally I voiced some skepticism when we talked ("Do you know that virtually every tool vendor has at some point tried to build a translation marketplace and so far no one has succeeded?"), but we'll see what happens. In a sense, they are in a similar position in relation to the marketplace with an existing number of translation buyers as Across with crossMarket (which has not taken off as much as was hoped) and with a business infrastructure that reminds me of Smartcat.

Either way it's a reliable tool and even has some automated feature that others don't offer as a standard feature, including an automated terminology extract of your files' content that can serve as the base glossary for the translation of the project. (Of course, you're free to ignore that.)

Plus, free access to technology is good, right?

5. Yahoo Groups Is Evolving!

Such was the message from Yahoo that many of you received in your inboxes. That's complete nonsense, of course. Yahoo Groups, in my opinion the only worthwhile part of Yahoo, is simply going away as we knew it. That's noteworthy for translators in the context of this newsletter because there are dozens of groups that particularly deal with translation technology, and many of them have long been really important backbones to the support for their respective tools and technologies. (The support is/was typically of the peer-to-peer kind, but some groups also have/had direct developer involvement.)

Many groups have already moved to or Google Groups, but I would encourage you to look at your old and soon-to-be discarded Yahoo groups and make sure you download all the content you might find valuable in the Files section. You just might find some helpful macros or tutorials there that may soon disappear.


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Festival spotlight: SDL Trados Studio Q&A webinar on November 28.


6. Follow Up On the Dictionary Exchange

I want to give a shout-out to my tribe! We're all different (oh, so different!), but I think it's safe to say that some things unite us. We all love language. We all think of ourselves as relatively creative. We don't mind working by ourselves. And: We like books!

In the last couple of Tool Box Journals I promoted the Dictionary Exchange at the ATA. And, really, Dictionary Exchange is sort of a misnomer that doesn't really do justice to the generosity that underlies the event. Although it's certainly possible to leave some dictionaries and pick up others in exchange, in its essence it is experienced translators and interpreters bringing their treasures for younger, less experienced translators to equip themselves. (And when I say "less experienced," I mean anything from translators who are just starting out in the profession to translators who might be new to a particular subject matter or maybe even a new language.)

I knew last year's inaugural Dictionary Exchange would be a success because people had mailed me large boxes full of dictionaries to offer to their colleagues long before the ATA. Not so this year, so I was a little apprehensive. Well, I shouldn't have been. It turned out that conference participants had seen last year's success and just brought the goods themselves. We ended up having hundreds of dictionaries! (You can't actually see them all in the picture. There are numerous boxes underneath the table of dictionaries that we initially didn't have room for on the table, plus the first large batch had already been taken.)

Dics ATA

The photo below shows the meager remainder (which ended up going to the library system of California State University-Fullerton, thanks to local ATA president-elect Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo, who had one of the remaining dictionaries taken out of the box by an enthusiastic Russian translator as Madalena was walking through the hotel lobby):

Dics Jost

(Note that the guy in the picture is not Madalena. I'm not typically in the habit of publishing pictures of myself -- but after someone took a selfie with me last week so he could post it on Twitter and then afterward told me he didn't post it because I looked so terrible in it, I feel like I have to make a point...)

There are two three reasons why I love the dictionary exchange so much. First, because it is so low-tech. Clearly I'm not a techno-phobe -- you wouldn't read this Journal if I were. But loving one does not mean hating the other. Many dictionaries are available digitally (either hard-drive-based or online), and if I have the choice I prefer that method -- it's just a lot faster. But much specialized or historical dictionary data is not as easily available, and for that we have to use physical dictionaries. And (the second reason for my enthusiasm) we do need to get to that specialized data because we're actually serious and passionate about delivering high quality translations -- exemplified by the oversize luggage fees many of you had to pay upon leaving Palm Springs. Lastly, I love the fact that the Dictionary Exchange is one of the great showcases for why and how we don't compete with each other. It's because we don't have to. (What are the chances that you have the same language combination plus specialty that I have?) And even if we do: what a great opportunity to cooperate in that niche field! When there is work for one translator pursuing excellence, there'll be work for more.

Start assembling your dictionaries for next year's extravaganza in Boston at ATA 61! (And if other associations want to do something similar for their meetings: Feel encouraged!)

7. New Password for the Tool Box Archive
As a subscriber to the Premium version of this journal you have access to an archive of Premium journals going back to 2007.
You can access the archive right here. This month the user name is toolbox and the password is ata60DictionaryExchange.
New user names and passwords will be announced in future journals.
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