A new opponent (or partner?) in the translation game

Once again, Microsoft changes the world we live in.

This time, change comes in the shape of the Microsoft Translator Hub. Released last March, this new translation tool, an extension if you will, of the popular Google Translate (used by more than 200 million monthly users), is capable of deploying customised and specialised automatic translation services.

One of the main differences between Google translate and other major translation providers is that the Microsoft Translator Hub supports (and in fact, encourages) the translation of many native languages of the world, for free.


Tower of Babel
How will the Hub work for users needing a translation?

Users will build a translation system within a private website, initially setting up a project, uploading the corresponding source file and consequently training the system to translate from one language to the other. Guided by a number of video tutorials and online instructions, users will effectively teach Microsoft about the style and terminology they expect to be used in their project, producing a set of documents called, ‘parallel documents’ which will be used by Microsoft to learn the specific translation request and the usage of certain terms in a specific context. Human reviewers will suggest possible ways to improve the translation and once a satisfactory quality level has been achieved, the translation will be deployed.

Why does the Microsoft Hub make a difference?

Linguistic experts predict that nearly half of the 6,800 languages still in existence today will become extinct by the turn of the next century. So, the work conducted by the team of researchers who developed the Translator Hub, might help that trend.

However, a word of caution. Or perhaps even more than one. Once the training phase begins, you will be asked to upload the corresponding aligned segments of source and target languages. And once you click that button, you relinquish your ownership of those texts while Microsoft expands its database of texts in rare languages, something pretty difficult to achieve automatically given the limited availability of these texts on the net. So, if you are keen to contribute towards ensuring that minority and rare languages don’t come to an end, this could definitely be a very welcome addition to your toolbox. But if you are concerned about sharing corpuses that you’ve worked hard to compile, you may want to keep your distance.

How does (and other similar developments) affect the future of our profession?

As much as I do get excited about the giant technological steps we read about, adapt to and have no choice to thrive with everyday, I also wonder how much further can translators and interpreters go?

Do we need to do more than just adapt to these changes and reinvent ourselves and our profession?

Can we go without specialising? Without stretching the meaning of translation to its maximum? Without incorporating a whole new gamut of qualities and requirements to what we do?

Can we keep on struggling for fees are not worth struggling for?

Will the role of the translator and the translation agency become completely redundant in the very near future just to be replaced by multilingual experts capable of controlling the full range of translation technologies needed to achieve what 10 other professionals did before?

These are exciting times to play the translation game but the rules change very fast and we need to move a lot faster than the opponent, be it human or machine.


4 thoughts on “A new opponent (or partner?) in the translation game

  1. I’d expect this technology to take a long time to get off of the ground in terms of replacing anyone or anything. Much like Photoshops new smart-fill feature won’t be replacing graphic designers any time soon.
    For example in order to translate legal documents or any other documents of importance you would need almost AI levels of computer intelligence to take out the human factor in translation.
    However it’s probably unwise to underestimate the speed at which technology like this may develop!

    • Agreed and disagreed. Technology is moving far too fast for us to even be able to grasp what’s next and although I think that the human component in translation is essential particularly to tackle the cultural elements in the communication, I also think that machines will be accumulating sufficient data and knowledge in the very near future to produce a very close approximation to a reasonably good translation, particularly in technical fields where the cultural component is not as important. But I see linguists needed in other areas of expertise, managing of the content produced by machines and ensuring it adheres to the expected standards. I guess it’s all a matter of achieving a balance and discovering new possibilities for professional translators. We will learn to adapt, as we always do. Thanks for your comment, roborepair!

  2. I believe there IS a human element in a translation software. The software is making use of the previous inputs and replicates the best. The more the capable translators provide their input, the cleverer the software will become. So I see the future for the capable translators, but not for the ones who are there just for money. The technology will take over and will help sort the wheat from the chaff.

    • Totally agreed, Halina, (and thank you very much for your comment)- there will always have to be a core person or sets of qualified persons to translate and manage the old and analyse and validate the new. As you say, those that are there for a quick buck (which is not that easy in translation!), and lack the appropriate and updated qualifications will need to move onto something else. An interest in languages might not be enough in a near future, though, because these days, working with languages means working with technology, so the more one is familiar with various software and tendencies, the higher one’s chances of being employed long term. It’s a big commitment and possibly one that not that many people is willing to follow through.But good luck with it all! Stop by every now and then to chat! 🙂 Teresa

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