Business, Linguistics, Translation

The evolution of the translation

I occasionally do mentoring for translators. Rather than language lessons or how to translate, I help people to use CAT tools.

Usually the software, which is known enough to be used by a large amount of people, is easy to handle (if it is thanks to all the beta-testing or because the software, like shopping malls become all the same for each other’s sake, I don’t know).

Anyhow there is something interesting, what I understood, since I help people.

1. People, who are not used to work with software, think, that software thinks.

2. People, who are writing the software, think that people, who are using their product, think.

Who is right? Obviously the second group of people.

If the second point was so easy to check, let’s talk about the first.

I don’t intend to offend anyone. Obviously software developers had a huge advantage in this “challenge”, since they know, how computer programs are built, what you can expect from them and how they have to react on your clicks. They can differentiate between the behavior of the software and the computer, they probably know, which error was launched by which one.

On the other hand we have the translators, who just need something to work with. Easily said, but believe me, there is a mental ocean between lots of translators and CAT tools. Why?

Historically translation was made on paper with a pencil – or pen obviously (mechanical typewriter counts into this era as well). The only thing, you needed was in your head and in the dictionaries.

Then the internet connected computers came and the translation business lost a portion of their members, because people didn’t want to use computers and emails and internet.  (People just don’t like changes… how many people are proud of saying NO to one or the other technical news and want to continue using old interfaces, don’t trust new plugins, damn the machine translation, like people once did with the trains? I even read about a translator, who still expects from his clients to send him the PO with the material by fax!!!!).

Some years – more than just some – a CAT tool was born, which took out the art of the translators’ hands. What is this CAT tool? 

Imagine Apple launching the X version of Y device. Obviously Y device will have a brand new function – or two – which will be described in its manual, while some other functions will be changed, because the developers got some helpful feedback from the users, so the describing part of these functions will be changed in the manual too.

Now give the two manuals to the translators and tell them, that you only will pay for the parts in the new, which were not translated previously, you want to have all the changes and obviously the completely translated manual back.

Translator has two options: 

1. starts to think about a career as a baker

2. buys finally a CAT tool and does the job as required

What does a CAT Tool do:

I. The “thinking” part

a. it is capable to read an external file and compares the sentences in the current translation to this external file. If it finds a sentence, which is already contained in the external file – let’s call this external file a translation memory – it displays the previously translated sentence to the user. How big or small the equal portion between current translation and translation memory is still good enough to be displayed is a value, which the translator can set up on his own (usually in percentage between 1-100).

b. Obviously this translation memory will be updated with every sentence, which you translate in your current translation, which will increase the memory and will give you more possibility for good or even perfect matches during future translations.

II. The “showing” part

a. It shows you every format of every translation in the same way. You won’t have to think anymore about formatting the documents, the CAT tool does it for you. Do you need to translate a power-point presentation? Ok, just load it into your CAT tool (following a project creation wizard), and in the middle of the translation you even will forget, that the original was a powerpoint, you only see on the left side the source text, on the right side the target (be sure, when you save the target file, it will be reconverted into powerpoint).

Isn’t this combination brilliant? Well, brilliant enough for me, not brilliant enough for people, who think, that a tool could/should do more.

What is important in the previous message?

1. The translation memory is only a stupid comparison, it is not a person seeing the meaning of your translation, so even if two sentences seem devilishly similar FOR YOU (I installed a new software. <–> The CAT tool has been installed in the computer), the translation memory just counts the characters, how many of them are the same between the two sentences, and if the percentage of the equal words falls under the limit, which YOU defined, there will be no match!!! That’s it. Easy and depends on your previous translations and your settings. There is no room for opinion, it is maths.

2. Although there are some CAT tools, which now try to do the trick for almost every problem, which is IMHO not necessary – like editing the source text – it is not doing other things, which would be necessary – creating a third  translation memory from two existing ones (from a GermanHungarian and Italian-Hungarian a German-Italian), a CAT tool basically won’t do everything!

It works on the same principle, like a pencil:

– yes, you can write with it,

– yes, you can scratch your back with it,

– yes you can clean your ear with it,

– NO, you can’t eat it!

It is important, that translators understand, what they need to expect from using the computer and computer software. It is there to help, but it won’t work for you, it has NO BRAIN.  (I think, the marketing people are responsible for this. I heard it already more than once that: “they said, that the auto-suggest dictionary fills it in automatically”. I would say, we should be very careful, what we understand with the word automatically and what names we give to software. Auto-suggest and translation memory can be associated with thinking machines, but it is just not true).

I am confident enough to say, that nowadays a translator can’t live without a computer and without the computer-assisted tools. The companies don’t want to pay more than what needs to be translated, there is actually even a direction to write the manuals with super-consistent terminology, reusing everything previously written, so my advice is:

Use the CAT tool you bought and be curious about its functions, but don’t expect, that it will do the job for you!


2 thoughts on “The evolution of the translation

  1. Pingback: ABBYY Lingvo 12 European « Qb

  2. Pingback: A famous literary mistranslation between Hungarian and German | Learning and teaching English in the Netherlands

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