Guest post: Languages & The Media

This is our last but one guest post before the holidays, so enjoy! Our guest today is João Artur Souza.

Welcome, João!


From November 5 – 7, 2014, I had the opportunity of representing ACME E-learning and Genius Soft at the 10th Languages & The Media Conference. Some fellow participants were amazed at how far I had travelled to be part of L&M. I am really glad I was able to make it there so that now I can share a little bit of my experience with you.

One of the main qualities of Languages & The Media is to bring together the most varied range of people in the field of AVT: academics, practitioners, distributors, big and small companies and associations. All these profiles form a unique synergy and the perfect environment for collaboration and networking. Some of the most important researchers in the field were present: Jorge Díaz Cintas, Anna Matamala, Pilar Orero, Yves Gambier, Josélia Neves, Mary Carrol and Aline Remael were among them.

Professor Jorge Díaz Cintas, the chairman in the opening panel “Smart Technologies – Smart Translations”, introduced the event briefly to the audience, pointing out  it was the 10th edition of the conference. Then, he mentioned some of the topics that would be encompassed during the next two days: The newest trends in Dubbing and Subtitling, the challenges of Machine Translation, Accessibility, Crowdsourcing and User-Generated Subtitling, Sign Language, Semiotics, HbbTV, Market Approaches and Innovations and Video Game Localization.

In this post, I will highlight the talks on accessibility, machine translation and crowdsourcing while bringing some insights on the 10th Languages & The Media.

            Accessibility and the speech synthesis case

Accessibility has always been a challenging topic in AVT due to the fact that most broadcasts see it as “a necessary evil” instead of a right of a large number of individuals with hearing, visual or cognitive impairments or disabilities. Wojciech Figiel, from the University of Warsaw, Poland, a VIP (visually impaired person) himself, voiced his dissatisfaction with the growing use of speech synthesis in audiodescription in substitution for real actors on Polish TV and appealed for broadcasts, investors, software and site developers to always bear in mind the need to make every media accessible. Wojciech said visually impaired people do realize synthetic voices are being used and that it affects the immersion experience people search for in audiovisual products. Wojciech added speech synthesis might be the future, however, he does not believe it is good enough to be implemented in AVT right now.

Machine translation

Machine translation has become an increasingly interesting topic due to the recent technological advancements in the field. With the growing need for faster turnarounds, machine translation combined with post-editing efforts arise as a possible solution.

Aljoscha Burchardt, from DFKI (the acronym stands for German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence), presented the talk An analytic approach to Machine Translation evaluation and Improvement, introducing state-of-the-art technology and methodological approaches from the QTLaunchPad, a project aimed at kickstarting a new generation of MT that is capable of encompassing different elements like: closer cooperation between translators and system developers during research process, the development of new quality metrics and tools for quality assessment and automatic quality estimation of human as well as machine translations.

After all the excitement from the latest novelties and insights on Machine Translation, Tiina Holopainen, from the University of Turku, Finland, presented a more critical perspective on the role of MT, The machine translation of subtitles – a contribution to language and cultural diversity? She started out bringing some amazing data from a research by Yves Gambier that estimates that people in the so-called “subtitling countries” watch an average of 1h30min of subtitled TV per day which is equivalent to reading around 50 novels a year. Such numbers undoubtedly pose certain questions at the core of the culture of these countries, like: to what extent can we say subtitles are becoming the new Literature? What is the role of subtitles in the acquisition of a language? What about (second) language learning?

Tiina is a contrastive and clearly skeptical voice when it comes to the use of Machine Translation in subtitling. During her presentation, she pointed out some of the flaws of MT systems to base her arguments, like their inability to deal with semantics and textual coherence; to account for target communicational factors like target audience, norms and conventions and most importantly to deal with the multisemiotic nature of AVT. Tiina left the audience with two hard questions: What would be the consequences for languages that take mostly the role of the target language, if the language of subtitles would be subjected to the reductionist logic of the machine? And how to regulate it once the technology is out there?


Emmanouela Patiniotaki was responsible for some of the most exciting talks of the conference for two reasons, I believe: her enthusiasm and overall skillfulness as well as the topic she was dealing with, which is classified by some, mainly professional subtitlers, as a “threat”. This threat is one of the main trends in Subtitling nowadays: crowd-subtitling, that is the process of providing subtitles through crowdsourcing. In her talk Crowd-Subtitling Platforms: Avenues & Pitfalls, Emmanouela Patiniotaki pointed out some of the reasons for academic skepticism around the topic and what may be the reasons why subtitlers are concerned with their jobs, like the involvement of non-professionals and its consequent association with fansubbing, the medium of production and distribution which often are cloud-based translation technologies, the use of machine translation and text-to-speech converters and last but not least the inherent problems that arise from such a practice concerning consistency of means and processes.

Emmanouela Patiniotaki showed that due to the rise in demand for accessible audiovisual content what was just a trend has become a business model for the Web, where fans, enthusiasts and professional translators coexist and the later are forced to adequate themselves to cloud-based platforms and a completely different way of dealing with norms and rules. I believe it is important to highlight the atmosphere of uneasiness created a couple of times when a subtitler raised his hand to ask about the threat crowd-subtitling poses to professionals like him. All in all, one thing is quite clear: we are in the middle of a huge change in the way we produce, distribute and consume audiovisual products. In my opinion, due to the inherently technological quality of the field, professionals will never experience periods of complete lack of changes. At best only fewer moments of restlessness.

Languages & The Media undoubtedly is a one-of-a-kind event that helped me grow as a professional. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to be back to Berlin in two years time for the 11th L&M Conference. See you soon!

Thank you, João, for accepting my invitation and kindly taking the time to write your impressions on the conference for us. 🙂

As I said in the introduction, next week is our last guest post before the holidays. After that, the blog will take a three-week break for Christmas, New Year and… my birthday! Yay! But before that, we’ll wrap 2014 up with an amazing guest. If I were you, I would definitely not miss it! Stay tuned! 😉

About the author
P.002João Artur Souza is the Pedagogical Director at ACME e-Learning, where he teaches on-line courses, webinars and workshops on a regular basis. He is a visiting professor at Universidade Veiga de Almeida (UVA) teaching an Audiovisual Translation non-degree graduation course. João Souza has been a translator since 2009, having translated more than 150 hours of different genres for major TV broadcasts. His abilities extend to QC, proofreading and subtitler’s training.
He is a graduation student at PUC-Rio working on his dissertation on subtitle processing.

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