Mar 15, 2019

Interview with an Across user

After some recent controversies on social media concerning the experience of bearing... uh, working with Across and the sort of translators who wax enthusiastic about the platform, I thought it an appropriate time to take another look at this premium tool and what it offers to premium translators. So I asked around to see who had experience and was directed to Ima Newbie, CEO of Redlight Translations LEC.

TT: Thank you for joining me this afternoon, Ima. How are things going for you?

IN: Just great! Lotsa runnin' on the wheel, keepin' fit! My coach says I've got a winning attitude and if I drop my rates and maybe my pants some more, soon I'll be too busy to sit down!

TT: Let's talk about translation tools. You use Across, don't you?

IN: Oh yes I do, and it's wonderful! So much work out there, and rates so much better than I deserve! I am truly grateful for the opportunities it gives me.

TT: Really??? That's not what I hear from others.

IN: Oh, well, don't listen to those arrogant ivory tower assholes with their elitist attitudes about work and all their bragging. They just don't understand. It's about freedom. And work. And freedom to work. And work that makes you free!

TT: Yes, don't you love the smell of freedom in the morning? I know I do. So how did you get here?

IN: Same as it ever was, really. I sent out thousands of CVs, translated for free without borders, even did some great stuff for ProZ to help spread the word for Robert Mugabe at One World University in Mozambique, dropped my rates so far I was paying to translate, but nothing helped. All the agencies wanted was linguistic skills and subject matter experience. And then I found my InstaGuru and Enlightenment  and the key to unlock my success!

TT: How's that?

IN: Well I met this guy on LinkedIn who told me that CAT tools aren't for dogs and that each species must seek its ecological niche in servitude. That was really profound. He woke me up to smell the cherry blossoms, and I realized where to go!

TT: Where?

IN: To Hell, of course, but not by the highway. Everybody does that. It's the easy way. But you know what they say, "No pain, no gain!" And the pain of bearing Across really nails it for me and ensures that I'll be saved the trouble of competing on the basis of skills and knowledge I don't have.

TT: Sort of salvation through damnation, I suppose?

IN: Exactly! No more elitist bullshit from those who have it easy after decades of perfecting their knowledge and technique and learning to optimize productivity with a fine-tuned balance of appropriate technologies for the task. That's so Victorian. I'm a modern kinda guy, and I'm gonna party like it's 1934!

TT: Uh... I hate to tell you, but it's 2019.

IN: Same thing! Just ask the experts! Donald Trump! Viktor Orban! Jair Bolsonaro! Stalin! Uh, I mean Putin. All this cosmopolitan propaganda has clouded your mind. Real men get really productive and maximize their freedom through work entirely controlled by real or virtual barbed wire fences and helpful guidance from guard towers to watch over us and keep us safe from the corrupting influence of rational thought or software inspired by such thought. Working for my masters with Across, I no longer have to worry about managing all my reference resources and data. I don't have any of that  it's all on massa's server. This gives me the freedom to exercise and stay fit on the work wheel.

TT: What was that? You are mumbling. What's that stuffed in your cheeks? 

IN: Chicken feed. Want some?

TT: No thanks.

IN: How about some peanuts instead?

TT: Uh, no. Let's get back to the topic. Why Across? Why not memoQ? Or OmegaT? Or Wordfast, for example.

IN: Oh, anyone can use that stuff! It doesn't take any patience, and it leaves clients with too many choices.

TT: I don't understand the problem. What's bad about choices? 

IN: Well, you see, working with Across, the job is in the bag, so to speak. Nobody else wants it, and the companies that rely on Across servers for their translation management are grateful to find anyone who will put up with the abuse. So all that elitist nonsense like qualifications doesn't really matter. It's a win-win situation!

TT: I've got a feeling that someone is losing something....

IN: Yeah, all those ivory tower translators spoiled for work because they can take their pick and use tools that enable them to take on nearly any technical challenge in translation and collaborate easily with colleagues when they need to based on the principles of tool interoperability. Those losers always have to think of what to do next. Not me. Across has no interoperability. It's where translation data goes to die, like a virtual Auschwitz. And that's great. I don't have to think about all that complicated stuff, just do what I'm told and enjoy the freedom of my work free from planning and full of gain from pain.    

TT: OK, I've got just one more question....

IN: Sorry, I'm out of time. Daylight come and me wanna go home. 

Mar 4, 2019

What evil lurks in the results from your language service provider?

Let me start by disclosing that although I have a registered limited company through which I provide translation, training and technical consulting services for translation processes, I am essentially a sole trader who is not unreasonably, though not correctly, referred to as a freelancer much of the time. I have a long history of friendship and consulting support with the honorable owners of quite a few small and medium language service companies and of a few large ones. I vigorously dispute any foolish claims that there is no such need for such companies, and I see a natural alliance and many shared interests between the best of them and the best of independent professionals in the same sector.

But as Sturgeon's Law states so well, "ninety percent of everything is crap", and that would apply in equal measure to translation brokers and translators I suspect, though of course this is influenced by context. But what context can justify this translation of a data privacy statement from German to English? Only the section headers are shown here to protect against sensory overload and blown mental circuits:

The rest of the text is actually worse. This is the kind of thing some unscrupulous agencies take money for these days.

Why, pray tell, was the section numbering translated so variously into English? Well, if you know anything about the mix-and-match statistical crapshoot that is SMpT (statistical machine pseudotranslation) and its not-as-good-as-you-think wannabe alternatives, it's easy to guess the frequency of certain correlations in English with German numbers followed by a period.

And clearly, the agency could not even be bothered to make corrections, and the robotic webmaster put the text up, noticing nothing, where it remained for about a year to embarrass a rather good company which I hold in high esteem.

What's the moral of this story? Take your pick from the many reasonable options. "Reasonable" does not include doing business with the liars and thieves who will try to sell you on the "value proposition" of machine translation to cut costs.

A skilled translator knowledgeable in the subject matter and trained in dictation techniques paired with a good speech recognition solution or transcriptionist can beat any human post-edited machine translation process for both volume and quality. And a skilled summarizer reading source texts and dictating summaries in another language can blow them both away as a "value proposition".

One thing that is too often forgotten in the fool's gold rush to cheap language (dis)service solutions is - as noted by Bevan et alia - exposure to machine-translated output over any significant period of time has unfortunate effects one the language skills (reading, writing and comprehension) of the victims working with it. This has been confirmed time and again by translation company owners, slavelancers and other word workers. Serious occupational health measures are called for, but to date little or nothing has been done in this regard.

And when human intelligence is taken out of play or impaired by an automated linguistic lobotomy, the results inevitable gall in the lower quartile of the aforementioned 90%. Really crappy crap.

As another of my favorite fiction authors used to comment: TANSTAAFL. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. And trust is always good, but these days you need to verify that your service providers really give you what you have paid for and don't pass off crap like you see in the example above.

Feb 24, 2019

There ain't no such thing as original sin at SDL!

Exhibit #1 memoQ graphic
Exhibit #2 memoQ graphic

Sometime last year, memoQ Translation Technologies Ltd., the software artists formerly known as Kilgray, aka mQtech, released their "Trend Report 2019" including the graphics above and more. I have studiously avoided blogging about the trend report up to now, because enthusiasm comes hard for a document that was clearly prepared by an industry outsider (consultant) with little understanding of issues faced in the translation sector, so that some of the "questions" proposed and discussed are really quite irrelevant to the present and future state of translation.

But Kilgray... oops, mQtech is the de facto technology leader for advanced desktop and client/server translation environment management, usually introducing the truly innovative tools for improving translation processes and quality so that others like SDL can copy them at some later date. This, of course, doesn't account for everything, for example the underappreciated bilingual review tables of Déjà Vu, which probably resulted in one of the biggest boosts for memoQ when that feature was adopted in version 4.2 before it was copied by so many others later, including the flawed Fluency, SDL Trados et alia. The "monolingual review" feature of memoQ, which allows edited translations in certain formats or portions thereof (to avoid mangling formats of parts which have not changed) to be re-imported to facilitate TM updates, is one example of memoQ leading the way for SDL (who implemented that feature about two years later) and others, as is the long history of optimization for speech recognition with Dragon NaturallySpeaking (with editing controls unavailable when that tool is used with most other CAT tools), which lately has gone farther in the somewhat bleeding edge but interesting implementation of speech recognition in Hey memoQ.

There is a long history of SDL looking to its main competitor to find its way in the darkness of translation sector tools competition. But one rather obnoxious advert that keeps cropping up in social media feeds makes it clear that the leadership of mQtech extends beyond mere technology for SDL:

These days, translation memories are better forgotten!
It seems that in the horrors of preparation for Brexit, UK-based SDL is unable to find original service providers internally, domestically or internationally to produce the artwork needed to market their questionable technology and concepts. What we have above is the same thing in terms of style and construction as we see with mQtech, but in green.

This gives me no little worry, really, because the underlying symbolism is deeply disturbing. Range and Green... Brexit... I fear that the situation between the two leading tool providers for translation technology is degenerating into a situation like we find at the Irish border:

It's an ugly situation. With Cromwellian arrogance, SDL has appropriated the colors of the political underdog, ravaging not only the translating Irish countryside with its confusing pathwork of features, but exporting the conflict internationally as dark powers so often do. And mQtech, unfortunately, bears Unionist colors into the battle at the wordface, though the symbolic interpretation of that is anyone's guess. We can only pray that some compromise, some peace accord can be achieved before the looming Brexit deadline, when things at the border and at translation conferences around the world may escalate into the Unthinkable.

A wise man once said, "SDL should copy memoQ's features or its artwork, but not both", but I would argue that in the current political climate, doing the latter is a bad idea in any case!