Computer aided translation. Premises and issues

The advent of the localisation industry in the nineties resulted in the need to facilitate the task of translators who were now being urged to perform repetitive work at a much faster rate. The translator workstations that became available in 1992 combined access to dictionaries and terminological databanks, multilingual word processing, terminology resources, appropriate facilities for the input and output of texts but above all, they include Translation Memory facilities. These tools enabled translators to create, align, store and access existing translations (whether their own or others’) for later (partial) reuse or revision or as sources of example translations (Hutchins 1999: 29).

Further Explorations of the Relationship Between Human and Machine

Easy to use and maintain, Translation Memories (TM) follow one simple prerogative: Never translate or edit the same translation unit twice . And this is exactly what localisation experts needed since, in the typical update situation around 70% of the text can be translated automatically using text segments previously translated and made available automatically through the TM (Schäler 1999:29). This instrument not only resulted in consistent translations, making the life of translators involved in the localisation industry a lot easier, but saved companies time and money.

The simplicity delivered by Computer Aided Translation has emphasised the role of the translator as an invisible instrument, a somewhat alienated human pressed for time to convey equivalent meanings in different languages. Today’s scientific pragmatism, rational economic exchanges, the high value placed on time and the technological advances discussed above, contribute to relegate the role of the translator to that of a mechanical and invisible channel of meaning.

Besides, in most localisation projects, translators find themselves removed from the decision-making centre. This means that the standardisation requirements for most projects have to be tighter and the final products must adhere to extremely strict regulations as regards both form and expression. But the concern of the translator goes beyond linguistic aspects as they also have the responsibility of achieving the economic goals sought by their employers. Thus, in a manner of speech, not only are they subordinated to the author, as they always have, but they are also responsible for their work and decisions to project managers, chief executive officers and the forces of the global market.

The question we could then ask is, should that be the case? As much as we would like to agree with Guidiere (2000:9)’s claim that the translator does not need the “advertising International” for his living, but the advertising International needs him to survive, reality often dictates otherwise. There are innumerable translators, some more professional and skilled than others, unremittingly competing for assignments, many of them charging increasingly smaller fees for their services or no fees at all just to be able to expand the experience section in the cvs.. In order to be at the forefront of the industry, translators are often forced to invest their own time and money in furthering their education and skills.

We would like to consider the relationship between translators and the technological advancements brought by the globalising market as a zero-sum game. Although multinational corporations are surely bound to gain from the application of CAT tools to their localization projects, translators can also benefit from the wide range of computer-based translation tools that enable them to increase productivity and to improve consistency and quality. Automation and CAT tools do not have to be a threat to the livelihood of the translator, but can be used to be the source of even improved working conditions.

We would also like to think that the quality and communicative intent of the work of professional translators will distance itself from the less than perfect work produced by machine translators. The presence of automatic translation facilities on the Internet will expose a wider public to the importance of translations as essential to global communication. People using online machine translators will unquestionably realise the coarser result of their work, indirectly benefiting the profession and standing of human translators. Plus we must not ignore the cultural component of a translation. The marketing and advertising industries have recently recognised the importance of this element and invested in having their materials ‘transcreated’ to properly adapt their message from one language to another resulting in the same set of emotional result expected in the source language.

So, it is essential that human translators are well equipped and understand the nature of this ‘adversary/partner’. How?

Education, for a start. Tertiary courses on translation should focus on providing a thorough understanding of technologies, processes and tools related to computer-assisted translation, creation and management of terminology databases, translation projects, software localisation and website localisation and audiovisual translation. In doing so, universities will be offering students the chance to enter an already saturated market with a better understanding of one of the largest job providers in the industry.

In order to do so, instructors at these institutions need to recognise the advancements in this field and avail themselves of the knowledge and expertise required to familiarise students with these tools. Universities need to be aware of the rapid developments in the job market and at least introduce students to these trends, preferably furnishing them with a solid knowledge of translation software, corpus linguistic, stages and management of localisation projects, translation memories, markup languages, character encoding, alignment tools and how to use all these instruments in a collaborative manner in order to successfully and efficiently work with other translators and employers.

Students, and by default their instructors, must know and understand the tools on the market, both free and commercial, and know how to choose the most suitable option according to the characteristics of the project and the availability of the tool. My personal experience says otherwise, and many tertiary institutions are falling far behind in providing up-to-date material that is relevant to today’s professional experience for most translators.

Guidère (M.), 2000. Publicité et Traduction. Paris: Editions l’Harmattan.
Schäler, R. Machine Translation, Translation Memories and the Phrasal Lexicon: The Localisation Perspective, in European Association for Machine Translation Workshop (Proceedings), 29 – 30 August 1996, Vienna, Austria.

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