Machine Translation and the Savvy Translator

Using machine translation is easy; using it critically requires some thought.

Tick tock! As translators, we’re all too familiar with the experience of working under pressure to meet tight deadlines. We may have various tools that can help us to work more quickly, such as translation memory systems, terminology management tools, and online concordancers. Sometimes, we may even find it helpful to run a text segment through a machine translation (MT) system.

There was a time when translators would have been embarrassed to admit “resorting” to MTbecause these tools often produced laughable rather than passable results. But MT has come a long way since its post-World War II roots. Early rule-based approaches, where developers tried to program MT systems to process language similar to the way people do (i.e., using grammar rules and bilingual lexicons) have been largely set aside. Around the turn of the millennium, statistics rather than linguistics came into play, and new statistical machine translation (SMT) approaches allowed computers to do what they’re good at: number crunching and pattern matching. With SMT, translation quality got noticeably better, and companies such as Google and Microsoft, among others, released free online versions of their MT tools.

Neural Machine Translation: A game changer

In late 2016, the underlying approach to MT changed again. Now state-of-the-art MT systems use artificial neural networks coupled with a technique known as machine learning. Developers “train” neural machine translation (NMT) systems by feeding them enormous parallel corpora that contain hundreds of thousands of pages of previously translated texts. In a way, this should make translators feel good! Rather than replacing translators, NMT systems depend on having access to very large volumes of high quality translation in order to function. Without these professionally translated corpora, NMT systems would not be able to “learn” how to translate. Although the precise inner workings of NMT systems remain mysterious, the quality of the output has, for the most part, improved.

It’s not perfect, and no reasonable person would claim that it is better than the work of a professional translator. However, it would be short-sighted of translators to dismiss this technology, which has become more or less ubiquitous.

MT Literacy: Be a savvy MT user

Today, there should be no shame in consulting an MT system. Even if the suggested translation can’t be used “as is”, a translator might be able to fix it up quickly, or might simply be inspired by it on the way to producing a better translation. However, as with any tool, it pays to understand what you are dealing with. It’s always better to be a savvy user than not. Thinking about whether, when, why, and how to use MT is part of what we term “MT literacy”. It basically comes down to being an informed and critical user of this technology, rather than being someone who just copies, pastes and clicks. So what should savvy translators know about using free online MT systems?

— Information entered into a free online MT system doesn’t simply “disappear” once you close the window. Rather, the companies that own the MT system (e.g. Google, Microsoft) might keep the data and use it for other purposes. Don’t enter sensitive or confidential information into an online MT system. For more tips on security and online MT, see Don DePalma’s article in TC World magazine.

— Consider the notion of “fit-for-purpose” when deciding whether an MT system could help. Chris Durban and Alan Melby prepared a guide for the ATA entitled Translation: Buying a non-commodity in which they note that one of the most important criteria to consider is:

The purpose of the translation: Sometimes all you want is to get (or give) the general idea of a document (rough translation); in other cases, a polished text is essential.

The closer you are to needing a rough translation, the more likely it is that MT can help. As you move closer towards needing a polished translation, MT may still prove useful, but it’s likely that you are going to need to invest more time in improving the output.Regardless, it’s always worth keeping the intended purpose of the text in mind. Just as you wouldn’t want to under-deliver by offering a client a text that doesn’t meet their needs, there’s also no point in over-delivering by offering them a text that exceeds their needs. By over-delivering, you run the risk of doing extra work for free instead of using that time to work on another job or to take a well-earned break!

— Not all MT systems are the same. Each NMT system is trained using different corpora (e.g. different text types, different language pairs, different number of texts), which means they could be “learning” different things. If one system doesn’t provide helpful information, another one might.Also, these systems are constantly learning. If one doesn’t meet your needs today, try it again next month and the results could be different. Some free online MT systems include:

— Check the MT output carefully before deciding to use it. Whereas older MT systems tended to produce text that was recognizably “translationese”, a study involving professional translators that was carried out by Sheila Castilho and colleagues in 2017 found that newer NMT systems often produce text that is more fluent and contains fewer telltale errors such as incorrect word order. But just because the NMT output reads well doesn’t mean that it’s accurate or right for your needs. As a language professional, it’s up to you to be vigilant and to ensure that any MT output that you use is appropriate for and works well as part of your final target text.

Image credits: Pixabay 1, Pixabay 2, Pixabay 3

Author bio

Lynne Bowker, PhD, is a certified French to English translator with the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario, Canada. She is also a full professor at the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Ottawa and 2019 Researcher-in-Residence at Concordia University Library where she is leading a project on Machine Translation Literacy. She has published widely on the subject of translation technologies and is most recently co-author of Machine Translation and Global Research (2019, Emerald).

What freelancers can learn from entrepreneurs

Get paid for doing what I love, doing it wherever I want, whenever I want, and however I want. No more bosses demanding unconvincing protocols or mandatory smiles (I’ll never forget those six years at a burger joint where “smiles were a part of my uniform”), and no more needing to be at a specific place at a specific time.

That was the dream I was sold. But then I found myself staring blankly at the computer. Not quite looking at it — my eyes crossed just enough to see the particles of dust floating in front of it.

I had just delivered a month-long project to a regular client. It was a grueling month. The deadline bordered unreasonable and in order to deliver on time I had to work late into the nights. It was August and, despite the respite I found with the air-conditioned interior, I still longed to go out there.

The project finished. Boom. Delivered. It was done. Was that the best work I’ve done? I don’t think so. Did it fill me with joy and a sense of fulfilment? Definitely not. Had I become a freelancer, moved to Europe, and found my “freedom” just to be locked inside an office all summer? Was this supposed to be my calling? Why did I feel so empty?

By that point, the work grind I had invested so much of myself in resulted in a burn out. That night, after I hit the little blue send button with all the deliverables packed cozily in a zipped package, I couldn’t even read an email.

I had to leave. From the next month, anybody trying to get a hold of me would only get an automatic away message. I stuffed a backpack and got the first ticket I could find to a Greek island. I didn’t care which. I had no paid vacation, and I needed to work. But I couldn’t.

For the first time since I’d begun freelancing, I wasn’t excited to get back to work. I didn’t understand why this hustle and grind had left me feeling so depleted. That month of August, I made the most money I have ever made in my career as a freelance translator and writer. But was that sustainable?

All I understood was that there was something that wasn’t clicking about my approach to work. The secret, it turns out, was creating systems.

A new approach

When I reluctantly came back to work, having spent all my money, I spent weeks thinking about how I could rearrange my professional life. I binge-listened to podcasts, blogs, and began my habit of reading three books a month. I would find the solution.

And the message began to manifest itself to me: I had to learn to work like entrepreneurs and corporations do.Focus management, not time management, was the answer. And I had to prioritize what was most important. I wanted to spend more time in my genius zone and less time in everything else. I would find ways to automate, diversify, and scale my income.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial approach to freelancing: I understood it was a business, that I needed to consider marketing, organization, and customer service in my approach. I created content to help people around me. I needed to be reachable, pleasant to work with, and deliver fantastic work on time.

But there had to be a better way than just increasing rates or getting more gigs. Freelancing is a fantastic way to find freedom, follow your life’s calling, and make great money. Which is a viable and perfect business model for many. But there was something limiting me, and I knew that spending all my time on billable hours was not the way to grow.

Bigger and scalable

As Seth Godin put it: “Your labor is finite. It doesn’t scale. If it’s a job only you can do, you’re not building a system, you’re just hiring yourself (and probably not paying enough either).”

So I decided to shift into an entrepreneur mindset. You don’t need to become an entrepreneur, but take an entrepreneurial approach. You don’t need to give up freelancing in lieu of being an entrepreneur, per se.

Entrepreneurs work to take themselves out of the equation; they use ideas to build well-oiled systems to run their businesses. Freelancers do something they’re good at in exchange for money. There are similarities between the approaches. For example, both entrepreneurs and freelancers can have a personal brand, and neither of them have a boss.

I love to write and translate and would like to continue doing it. But we can take examples from entrepreneurs and apply it to our freelance businesses. The most useful thing freelancers can take from entrepreneurs is to create systems for their businesses.

Create a system for your work and stick to it

Entrepreneurs are masters at building systems. That’s the premise of their whole business plan. Build a system, implement it, and turn it into a cash machine. Freelancers can create systems to increase productivity and performance:

  • Email templates
  • A customer management system
  • An onboarding sequence (pre-call questionnaire, a brief created to make the most of your client call, and follow-up)
  • A feedback system (creating a client questionnaire asking for feedback on specific stages of your service – outreach, onboarding, customer service, deliverables, and the actual work itself)
  • An automated social media plan
  • Outsource what you do not want to do yourself: accounting, bookkeeping, social media, etc.
  • A specific quality assurance system that you follow for every job
  • Terms and conditions designed to save back-and-forth and hassle
  • Defined objectives and steps to reach them
  • A set schedule that includes non-billable work (marketing, growth and development) PLANNED in. Your work as a freelancer is not only your client work. Plan for it. Plan time to plan. Build your business continuously. There will never be a moment when you have “free time”.

The list goes on.

Creating these systems builds your personal brand as a professional, increases leads, sales, and makes happier customers. You’ll become better at attracting the right clients and repelling the ones that are not aligned with you. Ultimately you’ll better respond to their needs because you’ll have a system for understanding what they are.

Now, tell me, do you have systems for your business?

Image source: Pixabay

Maeva Cifuentes is a digital nomad, blogger, content strategist, writer and translator. She helps entrepreneurs grow their brands and find freedom.

Promoting the Craftsmanship of our Profession

1944. Wartime France. No fabric. The norm had been 100. They were down to an index of 26. There was not even enough material to make socks! Paris, the world’s fashion capital, had lost hope of reviving its precious haute couture.

American photojournalist Lee Miller came to France as a war correspondent. She connected with Edmonde Charles-Rouxe, a French war correspondent. As they were occupied with war reporting she revealed her true purpose. A group was secretly planning an exhibition of haute couture in Paris that was expected to have tremendous impact, and she wanted Charles-Rouxe to be involved. A month later, Paris flocked to see a display of miniature dolls created by the great artists of haute couture, put on display for their pleasure. The French Resistance was even involved in bringing haute-couture back to Paris with British support!

The exhibition was so successful that it continued until after the war was over. To promote the exhibition abroad at that time, a French government official wrote to the Ambassador of France in Britain: “France has little, alas to export, but she has her appreciation of beautiful things and the skill of her couture houses. “In 1946, it went to New York and San Francisco, where the mannequins were left languishing in the basement of San Francisco’s City of Paris department store. In 1990, the mannequins were transferred to Maryhill Museum of Art. Haute couture had always been the domain of Paris. During the war, New York had survived without the inspiration Paris provided. Paris was back in its rightful place!

Who was part of this movement to show the world the capital of the fashion industry had survived the war? Some 60 couturiers worked together. Among them, Nina Ricci, Christian Dior, and others.

What made it successful?

They worked together. 60 couturiers who normally were competitors set aside their rivalries to reestablish their national industry.

They did the unexpected. Too hard to make shoes for these dolls? Then we will! Bags? That too! The dolls, measuring one-third the size of human scale, even had specially made jewels and lingerie. All difficulties became challenges to show off their skill in a friendly and fierce competition.

They did it despite hardship. This was done while the average Parisian could only eat 1400 calories per day!

They contributed selflessly.The artists donated their services; the couture houses contributed labor and material and made a contribution for each costume provided for the exhibition. All the proceeds went to a central organization: L’Entraide Francaise, set up for the Theatre de la Mode.

They went where their market was: Barcelona, London, Vienna, then New York, and San Francisco. They made themselves known.

Their work was excellent. It was truly artistic, enough that in 1952 the Maryhill Museum of Art acquired the collection from San Francisco and set about restoring it. In 1990, the museum did an extensive restoration.

What can we learn from them as translators and interpreters?

Just as the Theatre de la Mode artists made specially sized shoes for their costumes, we can focus on the details our clients care about and no computer can replicate.

Work together. Teamwork is important, and there is enough work for all of us. We can promote our profession without being concerned about competition because each of us has different strengths and skills to contribute.

Working with the allied professions makes us better. The artists worked with sculptors, editors, and publicists. We can partner with desktop publishers, web designers, publicists, and professionals in the copy editing field.

They worked as a professional association. Today, we have several professional associations to support us. ATA, for example, stands ready to help members set up partnerships to promote the profession.

Do the unexpected. Taking a risk can be beneficial. We still know Nina Ricci today. Christian Dior was not famous at that time, but today it is a well-known brand.

Chip in. The proceeds of the artists’ cooperative effort went to a common fund. That helped set aside any rivalries. When we do volunteer work for an association, we are not promoting our own brand, but the profession.

Keep quality a priority. Will our work stand the test of time?

Today, the collection is featured in art collections around the world (see here and here). Will our translations be read and mentioned in the future?

Author: Helen Eby

Contributing Editor: Paula Irisity

For further reading: Theatre de la Mode: Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture, by Charles-Roux, Edmonde et al, 2002, published by Maryhill Museum of Art, Palmer/Pletsch Publishing: Portland, OR, ISBN 0-935278-57-7

https://www.maryhillmuseum.org/inside/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/theatre-de-la-mode

Glossaries for Translators: Why You Need Them

Photo Credit: Alex Read via Unsplash

This post was originally published on the Ben Translates blog. It is reposted with permission from the author.

If you are a translator and you haven’t made your own translation glossaries yet, you need to create one right now. You are not just missing out; you are doing yourself a disservice. The benefits of creating and maintaining your own glossary(ies) cannot be understated, from increased productivity to better translation quality. They are essential tools for all translators that should be put to use on every single project. Need a little convincing? Below are five reasons you shouldn’t spend another minute without creating your own glossary (or glossaries!).

Glossaries are worth their weight in gold

Conservatively, let’s say your first glossary has about 100 terms in it and that you spent an average of five minutes researching each term. If your hourly rate is $50, that glossary is “worth” just over $400. Now, picture this: my personal Chinese to English glossary, which I use for every project that crosses my desk, currently has 1,258 terms. One SAP glossary that I accessed had 16,383 terms in five languages. Imagine how much a glossary like that is worth! By maintaining a glossary, you are capturing value, like a bank account whose balance never decreases.

Glossaries help you work better and faster

Now imagine how much more quickly and accurately you could work with the help of an impeccably-researched 16,000-term glossary. As we all know, time is money. If you never have to research the same term twice, you will be able to work faster, more consistently, and ensure higher quality. Translators who want to stand a chance of competing effectively in our ever more discerning market must compete on quality, not price, and glossaries are an effective way to work both better and faster.

Glossaries are not difficult to create

Actually creating the glossary is the easy part. If you use a CAT tool, it will have an integrated feature for adding terms and their equivalents. Some products, like SDL MultiTerm Extract, will identify and extract terms from a corpus of texts for you (at a cost) while tools like memoQ QTerm, as one reader pointed out, have a free integrated term extraction feature. Don’t use a CAT tool? That’s OK! A glossary can easily be made in Excel or in a free version of an Excel-type software, such as those published by OpenOffice or Google. A glossary can be made with just three columns: source language, target language, and notes, in which you can include an explanation of one or both terms, definitions, etc. If you like, you can add any number of additional columns for context, definition, where you found the term, and the date that you added the term. You can then alphabetize the column by either the source or target language column and search for specific terms as needed.

Glossary creation can be monetized

In addition to being a great resource for yourself, glossaries are a great product that you can sell to new or existing clients. Glossaries provide you with a host of benefits, and you should be able to sell your clients on those same benefits: increased accuracy, better consistency, and the creation of a valuable asset that they own and can control (with your help, of course). Want more help convincing a client to purchase terminology management services from you? Have them read my post on glossaries for translation buyers.

Glossaries evolve

Glossaries, like languages, are living things. You will never be able to take your glossary, put a bow on it, and call it done. As you, your clients, your areas of expertise, and your knowledge evolve, your glossary will undoubtedly grow, change, and improve, too. New realities will become new glossary terms. You very well may find a better term for that entry you added last week or even last year, and that’s OK (in fact, it’s great!). As time passes, it will become an increasingly valuable asset for you and for your clients.

Have I convinced you yet? The bottom line is that glossaries are invaluable resources for all language professionals. If you don’t have one yet, make creating one the first thing you do after you are done reading this. The effort you put in will pay you back ten times over, guaranteed.

Please consider subscribing to this blog for more content like this. If you absolutely love your glossary(ies), please like this post and tell me about it by tweeting me at @Bentranslates.

The Monterey Institute: A Translator’s Tale

The purpose of this post is to help you answer the question: Is it worth it for me to get a degree in translation? By degree, I mean a formal, one- or two-year academic program that teaches the theory and practice of translation. Clearly, the answer to the question will depend on the individual and their circumstances. To help you decide, I will describe my experiences at the two-year master’s degree program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California (MIIS), way back in the late eighties.

Two caveats come with this post. First and foremost, as I’ve just said, I attended the institute back in the Jurassic Period, when it was still known as the Monterey Institute. I’m sure the school has changed its curriculum and its entire program to some degree. Yet I still think it will be valid for me to talk about the teaching methods, the organization of the program, and the benefits I derived from attending.

The second caveat is that you should not assume I believe that a specialized degree in translation is the only way to go. A fair number of us have arrived at the destination of professional translation through many a winding turn and side road. I am certain that plenty of excellent translators out there never attended such a program. For me, however, the experience proved essential.

When I was at the Monterey Institute, the translation and interpretation program was divided into two years of two semesters each. Candidates had to pass a screening process that included demonstrating fluency in at least one other language, their B language. Your A language is your native language (not necessarily English), a third language is your C language, and so on.

The first year was devoted to honing English skills through exercises that taught us how to analyze a text, and introducing us to the various methods of interpretation: sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting. We also learned how to translate. Translators who learn on the job can certainly figure out an approach to their craft, but I am grateful that I had experts teaching me exactly how to read a text, how many passes to go through to produce a final translation, and what each pass should consist of.

At the end of the first year, I opted for the translation-only track. Classes consisted of small groups of six or seven students; we would go around in a circle reading aloud one section of a translation we had prepared in advance as homework. One class was technical translation into and out of the foreign language; the other was general texts in the same two directions. “Technical” texts included anything from an article on local area networks to a description of the Chernobyl disaster. “General” texts tended toward international affairs and politics because many of the teachers worked for the European Union. They were practicing translators and interpreters, able to give us critical exposure to real-life skills and methods.

Meeting in small groups meant everyone had to participate, and everyone was able to receive feedback from professionals. Working into our B and C languages provided useful insights into why those languages use the styles they do, and how to go about molding them to fit the usage norms of our native languages. I think it would be difficult or impossible to reproduce these aspects of the program on your own.

The Monterey Institute teaches students to be generalists, on the theory that if you know how to research a topic and how to translate, the specializations will come as you build your career. This training contrasts with that of translators who have received degrees in a specialized field such as law or biology, most likely in their native language, and then learned how to translate as they went along. Ideally, a student would have both types of education, in a much longer academic program combining undergraduate and graduate studies. But life is rarely ideal. A college education requires a great deal of time and money. My own view is that while a master’s degree in translation is not essential to becoming a translator, a bachelor’s degree certainly is. Four years of undergraduate work provide the exposure to the wide breadth of basic knowledge that translators need to understand the texts they are translating.

Another benefit of the Monterey program is what I think of as the network effect. Because of the professional connections with the EU and Brussels, graduates often moved to Brussels with their degrees to begin work. When a friend from my class and I did the same, we had three instant contacts in the city to show us the ropes. As with any college program, you get to know a group of people, and they become potential job connections, along with the school’s alumni.

A graduate degree program is not feasible for everyone. I was fortunate to have attended the Monterey Institute; I learned lessons and gained experiences that I never would have otherwise. Luckily for all of us, a plethora of online and in-person training programs and courses also exists to help us perfect our craft.

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

After graduating from the Monterey Institute, Diana Rhudick worked briefly in Brussels as a translator before returning to the States to teach and start her freelance career. Following a short stint as a translation agency project manager, she began her own translation and editing business.

Currently, she divides her time between her freelance work and project management for a boutique translation company.