How will artificial intelligence impact translation?

At the 21st International Federation of Translators World Congress in Brisbane from 3-5 August 2017 there was a lot of talk about neural machine translation and artificial intelligence (AI) and what kind of threat this presented to translators and interpreters. Overall, the message that came through was to embrace technology to improve productivity and accuracy and to rest assured that more data won’t necessarily deal with the complexity of communication and layers of language such as syntax, semantics and pragmatics.

What is all this talk about AI?

Good question. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. A couple of words of AI jargon that you’ll probably start hearing more frequently…

AI complete: the most difficult problems are informally known as AI-complete or AI-hard, implying that the difficulty of these computational problems is equivalent to that of solving the central artificial intelligence problem—making computers as intelligent as people, or strong.

Singularity: the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth.

So translation is still currently considered AI complete.

If you are interested in the impact of AI on all professions in general (especially legal and medical) I recommend the AI Race produced by the ABC.

What about advances in technology?

It is true that despite the technological advances and more contextually sensitive machine translation machine translation still produces unacceptably poor quality content, especially companies and brands that set a very high bar for their content and brand voice. The continuing improvements to machine translation will however have an impact of the role of humans in the translation process.

We need to emphasise the work of the human brain or as it can also be referred to, wetware (human brain cells or thought processes regarded as analogous to, or in contrast with, computer systems). Wetware is the source of contextual understanding, flow and style that a machine cannot produce to the same extent. It is capable of the creativity, understanding, and personality that make for truly effective translation, localisation or transcreation.

Also, don’t forget that there are still languages that google translate doesn’t understand and if you want to be assured that there is significant disparity between hype and reality, just take a look at the nonsensical results of Google Translate Sings (e.g. “Hello” by Adele),

Artificial intelligence and translation

Challenging change

Embrace change as a challenge not a threat and protect your stress levels and your health.

The end of the financial year is upon us once again and when you look back you can probably identify some things that have stayed the same since last year but also many changes. You have probably experienced more change than you think, from software upgrades on your computer or phone, to working with new clients or even changing business models. Change is the only constant in our world so we also need to manage it in a positive way. In terms of translation, from both a client and translator perspective, translation needs are also constantly changing. A business report may need to be translated for shareholders in another country with an emphasis on accuracy whereas a PowerPoint presentation may need to be adapted and localised to train staff in another country with different cultural norms, or perhaps a complete translation of another document is not necessary when it is just the gist of what the content is that is required. All these kinds of things keep translators on their toes and having to ask the right questions of clients.

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4 tips for effective marketing translations

Are you thinking of expanding internationally or entering a new market? One of the first things you are likely to do is to have your marketing materials translated. So how do you get your message and call to action across effectively in a different language?

  1. Choose a translator specialised in marketing

Take the time to find a translator who is experienced in marketing and who understands your business. Think about it. You wouldn’t want a financial translator translating your highly creative marketing copy, you can give them a call to translate your annual report but not your website or brochure. Translating marketing documents requires creativity, cultural competency and an ability to convey ideas whilst at the same time retaining meaning and eliciting a desired emotional response.

  1. Make sure your company name and tagline are appropriate

Your company name, slogan, logo or tagline all feature prominently on your website and marketing materials. I’m sure you’re familiar with some of the more well-known marketing translation fails such as ‘Come alive with Pepsi’ which was rendered in Chinese as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead’. Beware: a brand name or slogan doesn’t always translate well into other languages and cultures. Getting it right the first time around avoids costly corrective action and damaging your reputation.

  1. Provide style guides and glossaries for your marketing materials

Recurring words or phrases are important to your company’s identity and were originally created to make your marketing content memorable and compelling. It’s therefore important to communicate these to help your translator keep these same qualities and style for materials in another language. Your goal should be to maintain brand coherence as much as possible within any cultural limitations.

  1. Educate translators about your brand

The more informed translators are about your brand, the more accurate and effective their work will be. The translator’s role as a linguist is to take on board your brand voice and personality. They do this in order to convey these to your target audience in such a way that the message really speaks to them personally. It’s important for you to be able to present your company’s unique value to your desired target audience through culturally relevant communication.

In summary, when you are looking to translate your marketing materials for a new market, it’s important to choose a specialised translator, check the cultural relevance of your brand name and tagline, provide or develop a style guide and educate translators about your brand. Putting these recommendations in place will go a long way to ensuring that your translated marketing content retains its original compelling message and stand-out qualities.

Effective marketing translation tips

3 reasons why you should translate your website

If your product or service is only promoted in one language on your website, non-native speakers of that language may have difficulty understanding it fully. The nuanced features and benefits of your product or service may go unnoticed, resulting in reduced engagement with your brand. For many companies, time and budget limitations can be obstacles to not getting a website translated. Too many companies rely on English being the so-called “language of business”. Don’t forget that SEO can only work in another market if your content is translated.

Can’t read, won’t buy

According to  Common Sense Advisory, 72% of consumers spend most of their time online on websites in their own language. Even though many people around the world understand English to some extent, it is estimated that half of these do not have a good enough command of English to successfully navigate a website. 55% of respondents only buy from websites where information is presented in their own language. As a result there is a reduction in browsing rates for English sites, non-consideration of a product or service and a limited desire to buy. Put simply, people prefer to purchase from a site that is in their native language.

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What makes Australian English and American English different?

So you’re going global and need a translation into English but you have to choose between Australian or British and American English. This will of course be dependent on your audience and where you are selling your product or service. I’m going to focus here on Australian English as I live in Australia! Let’s have a look at the main linguistic differences between the two.

The 4 main differences are:

  • Spelling
  • Dates and times
  • Vocabulary
  • Punctuation

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Purpose in Practice: what do you want to do with your translation?

What is translation purpose? Most common definitions would agree that the purpose of translation is to “convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking into account cultural and regional differences between source and target languages” (Globalization and Localization Association), but how does this reflect the relationship between translator and client in practice?

“Skopos” is a Greek word for “aim” or “purpose” that was introduced into translation theory in the 1970s by Hans Vermeer. This went on to become the technical term for translation purpose and the act of translating for that purpose. It refers to the understanding that each text is produced for a given purpose and as such should be translated in a way that enables it to function in the situation in which it is used, with the people who want to use and in the way they intend it to function. Translators create texts for clients who may be around the corner, in the same city or on the other side of the world, but these clients are not always good at communicating with translators in terms of explaining what they want or need when asking for a translation (sometimes they don’t actually know themselves!).

So in terms of translation purpose, the most important and basic question it seems is: what is it that you want to do with your translation? The second most important aspect to consider is how will a translator help you achieve your purpose?

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5 ways translators can take time out (and why it’s important)

Translators need to take time out!

Translators can easily fall into the trap of sitting at the computer for ten hours a day or more! This is detrimental to our health and well-being. Putting in place habits to make time for yourself will allow you to experience greater gratitude, happiness and meaningful interactions in both your professional and personal life.

Here are five ways that translators can take time out to look after themselves.

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Why celebrate International Translation Day?

International Translation Day

Connecting Worlds

International Translation Day 2016 is just around the corner! This special day for translators is celebrated every year on 30 September on the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered to be the patron saint of translators. I believe we have reason to celebrate: think of all the places, books and movies we access thanks to translation. Our lives would be much less interesting without translation!

The role of translators and interpreters in connecting worlds is to open up the whole world to all of us”.

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Book review: Found in Translation

Found in Translation: How Translation Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

A book dedicated to translators, gasp! Is this book here to publicly recognise that it is because of us the world communicates? It would seem so. Jost Zetzche, a German translator who has written a doctorate on translation in history and Nataly Kelly, a Spanish interpreter and scholar in sociolinguistics, paint a vivid canvas of just how many aspects of everyday life are profoundly affected by translation. Well researched and presented, Found in Translation reveals the extent to which the products we use and the freedoms and pleasures we enjoy are made possible by translation. Above and beyond world politics and global business, the book is divided into chapters that cover areas as diverse as space travel, legal cases, battlefields, fashion, medicine, terrorism, marketing, the European Union, Ikea, Dr Seuss, the Simpsons, Twitter, Shakespeare, cinema, sport, religion, love, porn, the airline industry, food and more. Each chapter is interspersed with highlighted text boxes that provide examples of funny diplomatic and marketing mistranslations, linguistic facts or quirky stories such as being able to access the ATM in Latin at the Vatican. Read more

Priceless words

Translating for free! Gasp!

I know that many translators out there might balk at the idea of doing a translation “for free” in what is already a highly competitive marketplace that can all too often be driven by price not true value. But even in translation some things are priceless. Much more than Mastercard. Pro-bono translation is one of these invaluable things. It struck me the other day whilst doing some work for Translators Without Borders (TWB), yes for “free” for an NGO working to fight malnutrition in Chad in Africa, that despite our globalised, virtual and connected world there are still very real physical borders experienced by people living in Africa in particular. People who are struggling to access even the most basic needs including food, let alone quality healthcare services. Most countries in the Sahel region in Africa, experience a severe rate of overall malnutrition which was around 30% at the start of the 2000s is now around 40% (Bureau d’Appui Santé et Environnement). For me, this aspect of my work, this jolt back to another’s reality, lifts my eyes above my laptop screen in my comfortable home office to the world at large. Even though people might think that translators bridge cultures all the time in their work, the reality is that often we can fall into the trap of just translating and not reflecting on the impact of our work. Read more

5 things I wish I had known starting out as a translator

5 things I wish I had known starting out as a translator

Starting out as a new freelance translator can be exciting and daunting at the same time.

Finally you have the freedom and flexibility to do what you love but you also have to run a business and manage your time. Whilst you can get advice before you start out, it’s sometimes difficult to see how that advice will apply. With time to look back, you can identify the things you should have perhaps paid closer attention to. So, after a couple of years of hindsight here are 5 things I wish someone had told me as a new freelance translator:

  • Don’t underestimate the amount of effort, planning and organisation required
  • Think in terms of the problems your clients face not just about your skills
  • You can’t be everything to everyone. It’s ok to say no
  • Never stop learning and share what you learn with others
  • Measurement is king in everything you do – hours worked, words translated, marketing activities, accounting

As Seth Godin says in his book, Purple Cow, “Remember you can only improve that which you can measure, so in addition to thinking about the effectiveness of an action, you should always also consider how much it will cost you to measure it.”

I’m still not very good at this although I am improving, little by little. It takes time, discipline and the motivation of potential clients to help you stick with it.  

Risk in translation

Risk in translation

I am a translator. I translate texts from one language to another. Sounds easy doesn’t it?

But to get from one language to another, or from source text (ST) to target text (TT), requires a translator to go through a process. Firstly, this involves the translator making a number of choices about how to interpret the ST. Secondly, it requires the translator to use resources and to apply technical skills in order to thirdly, re-express the message in the TT. From this description, we can conclude therefore that translation is a decision making process. Any kind of process has inherent risk. The Business Dictionary defines inherent risk as “The probability of loss arising out of circumstances or existing in an environment, in the absence of any action to control or modify the circumstances.” In translation, we could say that risk equates to the possibility of not fulfilling the translation’s purpose as proposed by translation theorist Anthony Pym in his 2010 paper Text and risk in translation. I think that this is only a partial view of what we could consider as risk in translation.

Within the decision making process of translation, I see three sets of risks to be managed and minimised. Text, technology and trade risks.

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Translating happiness

Today, March 20, is the UN International Day of Happiness. I don’t know about you but I have always thought of happiness as a relatively abstract concept, but as an individual one.  I acknowledge that its synonyms – contentment, satisfaction, jollity (seriously we don’t use this word enough!) or enjoyment – are easily understandable. As I did some reading, however, I began to wonder about the UN definition of gross global happiness. Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General stated that the world

“needs a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development, social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness”.

I’m all for measuring gross domestic product but gross global happiness…is this a step too far? As a translator, I’m happy when I’m translating because it makes me happy that I can gift someone with the possibility of reading a text in their own language. As Mandela so eloquently said,

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart”.

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