The changing face of translation
Of course, translation has been around for many centuries as a means of communication between people who speak different languages. However, it is an ever-evolving discipline and it is not just translators who need to keep abreast of the developments; clients should also be encouraged to follow the changes in the industry so that they have a full understanding of what’s involved and how translation should be approached in order to get the most accurate service, whilst still keeping cost and time constraints in mind.
Whilst a translator’s only aid used to be a huge dictionary and perhaps some grammar books, the late 20th Century saw the rise of Computer-Assisted Translation tools, also known as CAT tools. Although these started life as expensive software systems that only larger businesses could afford, they have since become more affordable investments that many modern-day translators wouldn’t be without. CAT tools equip the user (which may be a project manager or translator) with a variety of tools to speed up the translation process and improve consistency across projects.
Perhaps the most significant element is the Translation Memory (or TM), which stores previously-translated segments (text strings) and appear to the translator during their work on future projects, accompanied by the match rate. This match rate varies depending on the similarity of the new piece of text with the stored one but can be up to 101% if the context is identical, i.e. the same segments also come before and after the one in question. Translation agencies, such as ourselves, may pass on discounts for the higher matches so clients don’t pay out every time an identical or highly similar segment is included in their text for translation.
Other useful features are termbases (TBs, glossaries of specific terms used by the client), alignment (automatic linking of a previous source and target text to create a TM, which can then be edited manually), and templates for use during project creation.
CAT tools have undeniably led to a new relationship between translators and the text but many see this as a positive advancement as they use the tools available to their advantage, and the vast range of CAT tools out there means they are spoilt for choice with different user interface designs and new features appearing all the time. Unlike with machine translation (MT), a human is always involved during computer-assisted translation, whether that’s building TMs/TBs or editing the instant matches that are signalled by other memories attached to the projects.
Nevertheless, many CAT tools now include MT plugins and so matches from engines such as Microsoft Translator with Feedback may be shown in the Translation Results pane and either inserted automatically or edited by the translator as appropriate. The idea is that words or phrases are pulled from the Internet and offered for use in translations, in exchange for new, human-generated target text, which is fed into it.
Cloud-based tools have also entered the world of translation and their invention has meant resources can now be shared more freely online and translators may avoid having to fork out for multiple tools depending on the agency or client’s preference, as some Cloud ones, such as Memsource, are free to use. There have been reports that such tools lack the functionality of their more feature-rich counterparts but it seems this is improving all the time and could make translation more accessible and efficient for everyone. Integrating other tools into their workflow can also have added benefits for translators, for example using a speech recognition tool like Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate their translation and then simply editing it where necessary.
Finally, machine translation is rumoured by some to be the future. Whilst there is little doubt that computers will take over in a number of industries in the coming years, they should not be considered as a threat to human translation. Even CAT tools require human intervention, which is crucial because it is only the human brain that can truly handle all the aspects of translation.
Whilst some may think it’s a simple transfer of words from one language into another that can be performed by anyone (or anything) with knowledge of two languages, that is far from the truth. Translation requires an in-depth understanding of the source text and the message it conveys. Translators may need subject-specific knowledge in order to ensure they have the right understanding of the words in that particular context. A complete grasp of their native language is essential so that they can transmit the full meaning to their new audience, even when that involves moving away from a literal translation because of linguistic or cultural reasons.
It is possible to write for machine translation and therefore increase the probability of getting an accurate target text in return but this means avoiding all the linguistic devices that make up the language used in many fields, and particularly marketing. MT does not handle puns or colloquialisms very well and often struggles with words that have multiple meanings. Take, for example, the simple question ‘Who is running it?’. If you were to feed just this into a MT programme, the computer would plump for one of the meanings it has stored for the verb ‘run’ and translate accordingly. However, the human translator would consider the context before taking this piece of text in isolation, translating it differently in a text about a business to one about a marathon.
It’s important that clients are aware of these points so that they can understand the task facing today’s translator. Whilst they do have a number of great online tools at their fingertips, they still rely on well-written source texts in order to see the maximum benefit from a CAT tool and are less than pleased when given a substantial piece of text, generated purely by MT, to proofread! It’s impossible to say what the future of translation may look like but one thing’s for sure – it’s not going anywhere.
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