Welcome back to our guest post series! We are already almost halfway through December and the Holidays are just around the corner. Any big plans?
While waiting for the Holidays, why not enjoy another great reading from a dear guest? I met Kirti Vashee at the last Abrates Conference, held this year in Rio de Janeiro. Then I had the pleasure of interviewing him for my podcast, TradTalk. You can watch or listen to the interview here. You can also read the article I wrote (in Portuguese) about this interview for Metáfrase, the Abrates magazine, here. And now you can enjoy the guest post he kindly wrote to the blog.
A Machine Translation (MT) Action Plan for Translators
This is an article for those translators that have some interest in, or at least want to understand how to properly assess MT related work opportunities, or add linguistic value in large-scale MT projects. The need for translation of business content and other kinds of information on the internet continues to grow, but there are also changes that affect translators and agencies alike. The most interesting translation work is increasingly moving beyond the focus of traditional translation work and is likely to do even more so in the future. Thus, the most lucrative and interesting NEW translation opportunities, like at eBay for example, may require very different kinds of skills and competence but would still draw on basic translation and linguistic competence.
The forces that drive the increasing use of MT in the world, are largely beyond the control of the “translation industry,” continue to build unabated and can be briefly listed as follows:
- More Content: The sheer volume of content that global enterprises, governmental agencies and any international commercial venture need to translate continues to grow.
- Content Value: The value of business content increasingly has a very short shelf-life and thus traditional TEP (translate-edit-proof) approaches are increasingly questioned for information that may have little or no value after six months.
- Short Product Life Cycles: The product life cycles in electronics, fashion, and many other consumer products get shorter all the time, so rapid, “good enough” product descriptions are increasingly considered sufficient for business requirements.
- Volume & Cost Pressures: Enterprises are under continuous pressure to translate more content with the same budgets, and thus they seek out agencies who understand how to do this with rapid turnaround.
- Changing Internet User Base: As more of the developing world comes online it becomes imperative for these new users to have MT to be able to get some basic understanding of existing web content.
- Free Generic Translation: The universal availability and widespread use and acceptance of “free MT” on the internet has raised acceptance of MT in executive management circles too. This also drives the momentum for large new types of projects that would never have been considered in the TEP translation world.
So if we presume, that it is very likely that MT is going to be a fact of life for many professional translators in the 21st century, what new skills would a translator need to understand and be considered a valued partner, in a world where MT deployment and “opportunities” will continue to abound?
MT today, has already proven itself in professional use scenarios with most Romance languages, but we are still at a transition point in the use of MT in many other language combinations, and thus the MT experience can often be less than satisfying for translators in those languages, especially when working with translation agencies who are not technically competent with MT.
The New Skills in Demand
At a high level, the skills that matter in working with the professional use of MT, that we can expect will grow in value to global enterprises and agencies involved in large MT projects are as follows.
- Understand the different kinds of MT systems that you would interface with. Translators that understand the different kinds of MT are likely to be much more marketable.
- Understand the specific output quality of the MT engines that you are working with. Provide articulate linguistic feedback on MT output. Being able to provide articulate feedback on error patterns is perhaps one of the most sought after skills in professional MT deployment today. This ability to assess the quality of MT output is also beneficial to a freelancer who is trying to decide whether to work on a PEMT project or not.
- Develop skills with new kinds of tools that are valuable in dealing with corpus level tasks and manipulations. It is much more likely that MT projects will involve much larger volumes of data and data preparation and global pattern modification skills become much more useful and valuable.
- Develop skills in providing pattern level feedback and develop rapid error pattern identification and correction. Being able to devise a rapidly implementable test and evaluation routines that are useful and effective is an urgent market requirement. This paper summarizes the specific linguistic issues with Brazilian Portuguese that provide an idea of what this actually means.
- Develop a corpus view that involves linguistic steering rather than segment level corrections. This is a fundamental change of mental perspective that is a mandatory requirement for successful professional involvement with MT. Understanding the competence of the translation agencies that you engage with is also a key requirement as it is VERY easy to mismanage an MT project and most translation agencies that attempt to build MT engines on their own are quite likely to be incompetent.
What can you do?
- Learn and educate yourself on the variants of MT.
- Experiment with major engines from Google, Systran, and Bing and with specialist tools like Lilt and SmartCAT that allow easy interaction with MT.
- Understand how to rapidly assess MT output quality BEFORE you engage in any MT project.
- Don’t work with incompetent translation agencies who know little or nothing about MT but only seek to reduce rates with crappy do-it-yourself engines.
- Experiment with corpus management tools.
You can find much more information on the eMpTy Pages blog and on many translator forums.
It was a real pleasure to host you here on my blog, Kirti! Thank you so much for accepting my invitation and taking the time to write such an enlightening and useful post!
About the author
Kirti Vashee is an independent machine translation technology and marketing strategy consultant. He was previously VP of Enterprise Translation sales for Asia Online and also responsible for the worldwide business development and marketing strategy at Language Weaver (SDL). He has long-term sales and marketing experience in the software industry working in both, large global companies (EMC, Legato, Dow Jones, Lotus) and startups . He is the moderator of the Automated Language Translation group with almost 5,000 members in LinkedIn and also a former board member of AMTA (American Machine Translation Association). Kirti is active on Twitter and the blogosphere on MT and translation automation related issues. He received his formal education in South Africa, India and the United States. He is also an amateur musician who plays the sitar, bansuri and percussion.