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Jan 25, 2015

SDL conquers translation at Universidade Nova in Lisbon


The day started inauspiciously for me, with a TomTom navigation system determined to keep me from the day planned at Lisbon's New University to discuss SDL Trados Studio and its place in the translation technology ecosphere. When the fourth GPS location almost proved a charm, and I hiked the last kilometer on an arthritic foot, swearing furiously that this was my last visit to the Big City, I found the lecture hall at last, an hour and a half late, and managed to arrive just after Paul Filkin's presentation of the SDL OpenExchange, an underused, but rather interesting and helpful resource center for plug-ins and other resources for SDL Trados Studio victims to bridge the gap between its out-of-the-box configurations and what particular users or workflows might require. There are a lot of good things to be found there - the memoQ XLIFF definition and Glossary Converter are my particular favorites. Paul talked about many interesting things, I was told, and there is even a plug-in created for SDL Trados Studio by a major governmental organization which has functionality much like memoQ's LiveDocs (discussed afterward but not shown in the talk I missed, however). In the course of the day, Paul also disclosed an exciting new feature for SDL Trados Studio which many memoQ users have been missing in the latest version, memoQ 2014 R2 (see the video at the end).

I arrived just in time for the highlight of the day, the demonstration of Portuguese speech recognition by David Hardisty and two of his masters students, Isabel Rocha and Joana Bernardo. Speech recognition is perhaps one of the most interesting, useful and exciting technologies applied to translation today, but its application is limited to the languages available, which are not so many with the popular Dragon Naturally Speaking application from Nuance. Portuguese is curiously absent from the current offerings despite its far more important role in the world than minor languages like German or French.

Professor Hardisty led off with an overview of the equipment and software used and recommended (slides available here); the solution for Portuguese uses the integrated voice recognition features of the Macintosh operating system. With Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac it can be used for Windows applications such as SDL Trados Studio and memoQ as well. Nuance provides the voice recognition technology to Apple, and Brazilian and European Portuguese are among the languages provided to Apple which are not part of Nuance's commercial products for consumers (Dragon Naturally Speaking and Dragon Dictate).

Information from the Apple web site states that
Dictation lets you talk where you would type — and it now works in over 40 languages. So you can reply to an email, search the web or write a report using just your voice. Navigate to any text field, activate Dictation, then say what you want to write. Dictation converts your words into text. OS X Yosemite also adds more than 50 editing and formatting commands to Dictation. So you can turn on Dictation and tell your Mac to bold a paragraph, delete a sentence or replace a word. You can also use Automator workflows to create your own Dictation commands.
Portuguese was among the languages added with OS X Yosemite.

Ms. Bernardo began her demonstration by showing her typing speed - somewhat less than optimal due to the effects of disability from cerebral palsy. I was told that this had led to some difficulties during a professional internship, where her typing speed was not sufficient to keep up with the expectations for translation output in the company. However, I saw for myself how the integrated speech recognition features enable her to lay down text in a word processor or translation environment tool as quickly as or faster than most of us can type. In Portuguese, a language I had thought not available for work by my colleagues translating into that language.

A week before I had visited Professor Hardisty's evening class, where after my lecture on interoperability for CAT tools, Ms. Rocha had shown me how she works with Portuguese speech recognition as I do, in "mixed mode" using a fluid work style of dictation, typing, and pointing technology. She said that her own work is not much faster than when she types, but that the physical and mental strain of the work is far less than when she types and the quality of her translation tends to be better, because she is more focused on the text. This greater concentration on words, meaning and good communication matches my own experience, but I don't necessarily believe her about the speed. I don't think she has actually measured her throughput. My observation after the evening class and again at the event with SDL was that she works as fast as I do with dictation, and when I have a need for speed that can go to triple my typing rate or more per hour.

In any case, I am very excited that speech recognition is now available to a wider circle of professionals, and with integrated dictation features in the upcoming Windows 10 (a free upgrade for Windows 8 users), I expect this situation will only improve. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this technology for improving the ergonomics of our work. It's more than just leveling the field for gifted colleagues like Joana Bernardo, who can now bring to bear her linguistic skills and subject knowledge at a working speed on par with other professionals - or faster - but for someone like me who often works with pain and numbness in the hands from strain injuries, or all the rest of you banging away happily on keyboards, with an addiction to pain meds in your future perhaps, speech recognition offers a better future. Some are perhaps put off by the unhelpful, boastful emphasis of others on high output, which anyone familiar with speech recognition and human-assisted machine pseudo-translation (HAMPsTr) editing knows is faster and better than what any processes involving human revision of computer-generated linguistic sausage can produce, but it's really about working better and doing better work with better personal health. It's not about silly "Hendzel Units".

It has been pointed out a few times that Mac dictation or other speech recognition implementations lack the full range of command features found in an application like Dragon Naturally Speaking. That's really irrelevant. The most efficient speech recognition users I know do not use a lot of voice-controlled command for menu options, etc. I don't bother with that stuff at all but work instead very comfortably with a mix of voice, keyboard and mouse as I learned from a colleague who can knock off over 8,000 words of top-quality translation per short, restful day before taking the afternoon off to play with her cats or go shopping and spend some of that 6-figure translation income that she had even before learning to charge better rates.

Professor Hardisty also gave me a useful surprise in his talk - a well-articulated suggestion for a much more productive way to integrate machine translation in translation workflows:
David Hardisty's "pre-editing" approach for MpT output
The approach he suggested is actually one of the techniques I use with multiple TM matches in the working translation grid where I dictate - look at a match or TM suggestion displayed in a second pane and cherry-pick any useful phrases or sentence fragments and simply speak them along with selected term suggestions from glossaries, etc. and do it right the first time, faster than post-editing. This does work, much better than the sort of nonsense pushed too often into university curricula now by the greedy technotwits and Linguistic Sausage Purveyors, who in their desire for better margins and general disrespect of human service providers and employees fail to understand that good people, well-treated and empowered with the right tools, will beat the software and hardware software of "MT" and its hamsterized process extensions every time. Hardisty's approach is the most credible suggestion I have seen yet for possibly useful application of machine pseudo-translation in good work. Don't dump the MpT sewage directly into the target text stream like so many do as they inevitably and ignorantly diminish the level of achievable output quality.

After the lunch break, Paul Filkin gave an excellent Q&A clinic on Trados Studio features, showing solutions for challenges faced by users at all levels. It's always a pleasure to see him bring his encyclopedic knowledge of that difficult environment to bear in poised, useful ways to make it almost seem easy to work with the tools. I've sent many people to Paul and his team for help over the years, and none have been disappointed according to the feedback I have heard. The Trados Studio "clinic" at Universidade Nova reminded me why.

Finally, in the last hour of the day, I presented my perspective on how the SDL Trados Studio suite can integrate usefully in teamwork involving colleagues and customers with other technology and how over the years as a user of Déja Vu and later memoQ as my primary tool, the Trados suite has often made my work easier and significantly improved my earnings, for example with the excellent output management options for terminology in SDL Trados MultiTerm.


I spoke about the different levels of information exchange in interoperable translation workflows. I have done so often in the past from a memoQ perspective, but on this day I took the SDL Trados angle and showed very specifically, using screenshots from the latest build of SDL Trados Studio 2014, how this software can integrate beautifully and reliably as the hub or a spoke in the wheel of work collaboration.

The examples I presented using involved specifics of interoperability with memoQ or OmegaT, but they work with any good, professional tool. (Please note that Across is neither good nor a professional translation tool.) Those present also left with interoperability knowledge that no others in the field of translation have as far as I know - a simple way to access all the data in a memoQ Handoff package for translation in other environments like SDL Trados Studio, including how to move bilingual LiveDocs content easily into the other tool's translation memory.


Working in a single translation environment for actual translation is ergonomically critical to productivity and full focus on producing good content of the best linguistic character and subject presentation without the time- and quality-killing distractions of "CAT hopping", switching between environments such as SDL Trados Studio, memoQ, Wordfast, memSource, etc. Busy translators who learn the principles of interoperability and how to move the work in and out of their sole translation tool (using competitive tools for other tasks at which they may excel, such as preparing certain project types, extracting or outputting terminology, etc.) will very likely see a bigger increase in earnings than they can by price increases in the next decade. On those rare occasions where it might be desirable to use a different tool or to cope with the stress of change from one tool to another, harmonization of customizable features such as keyboard shortcuts can be very helpful.

I ended my talk with a demonstration of how translation files (SDLXLIFF) and project packages (SDLPPX) from SDL Trados Studio can be brought easily into memoQ for translation in that ergonomic environment, with all the TMs and terminology resources, returning exactly the content required in an SDLRPX file. Throughout the presentation there was some discussion of where SDL and its competitors can and should strive to go beyond the current and occasionally dubious levels of "compatibility" for even better collaboration between professionals and customers in the future.

One of the attendees, Steve Dyson, also published an interesting summary of the day on his blog.




Jan 19, 2015

Two years in Alentejo

A little over a week ago I celebrated the second anniversary of my arrival in Portugal with friends, who suggested a trip to town for food and fado. So we went to Casa de Fados Maria Severa in Évora and enjoyed a long night of wonderful music that went on well past the official midnight closing time. This was my first live experience with that musical genre, but it won't be the last. I'm not much of a tourist, so I have yet to experience many of the things that a typical foreign visitor might see in a week's whirlwind tour of Portugal. I came here to enjoy a normal life with good, normal people who respect each other and live as they can with the means available. The famous Alentejan cuisine reflects and amplifies this way of making do and doing it better with its minimalist approach of few ingredients, usually simple and inexpensive, but fresh and sound, with a resulting taste matched or exceeded by few. Life in Alentejo is best savored slowly, like aguardente caseira.


When I first arrived, my intent was only to enjoy a week of vacation, the first real one in nearly a decade. At the time I was living in Germany, where I had been since 1999 and where I expected to remain until my spare parts were harvested by the organ banks. Although I have nearly a 40 year history of close contact with the German language, come from a family of predominantly German heritage and always preferred to speak German at home in the US, and many of my friends in Germany are among the best people I am privileged to know, I never felt at home in the culture there, particularly away from the university environments. Many are concerned today about PEGIDA and other anti-social movements, but as one who usually flew under the cultural radar and passed for German, I find none of this new or surprising. So many things there which are accepted as normal, like the constant police guard on every synagogue, simply do not feel normal to me, and I could never stop taking it personally when imperfect strangers would try to engage me in conversations about how foreigners were ruining the country. Of course, such ugliness is not a majority characteristic there or in my country of origin, the US, but the minority is large and assertive enough in both countries that I prefer to live with a bit more tolerant quiet and hope for pleasant visits from like-minded German and American friends.

I used to think of Portugal as The End of the Earth, a place so far removed from the centers of activity that it was unlikely I would ever visit. Certainly, when I did decide to spend a little quiet time here looking at megaliths and old churches, and a friend spent some 9 hours and 5 bottles of wine trying to convince me not to visit this place where he believed the people were in a deep state of depression over the bad economy and the loss of their colonies (!!!), I did not expect Portugal to be The Journey's End. The sort of place where, after wandering too long on stony paths, you can put your feet up by a fire, like the one behind my office desk, and know you are at home.

Some like it hot!
Of course,  it rains even in paraíso, and the adjustment process, even in a good place, is often not easy. I think the greatest challenge for me, once I figured out where to find bread yeast and pectin, was dealing with linguistic isolation. It still is. For most of the first year I lived here, I kept my head down as I dealt with the administrative details of establishing residence and a business presence and moved house three times until I found a place whose dimensions and character truly met my needs. I spent little time learning more than the rudiments of the Portuguese language in that time, because the more I experienced that beautiful language, the more I knew it would break my heart to have to leave it. After it was clear that I could stay on, for another year at least, I sought out a part of town where the socioeconomic profile made it unlikely that I would encounter a lot of English speakers in my daily routine, and I made rapid progress with the local language for a few months as I fought a plague of mice and cockroaches before moving to a quiet little quinta several kilometers outside of town, a deep, narrow property perfect for training dogs and doing a bit of gardening.

Quinta Branca do Quartel ao Louredo
I'm fortunate to be near the ecopista, a beautiful path for pedestrians, equestrians and bicyclists on what used to be the train route for grain deliveries from the nearby farms. When the weather is nice (that is, most of the time), it's a great way to go to town or much farther out, where your way may be crossed by rabbits and javelis and not so many people.

It's been 16 years since I've lived on a farm, and it's slow going to figure out how to do what I want to with the land when the conditions are so different from what I knew before and I struggle to find the right words for conversations with neighbors about chickens and manure. Most of my attempts at a vegetable garden so far have been greeted with enthusiasm by legions of snails, who may someday adorn my dinner plate as penance for their voracious crimes. I've taken only a few random, neglected fruits from the land so far; a lot of careful thought and rehabilitation will be required, but this is a welcome break from the daily challenges of German translation, technology consulting and teaching for clients and colleagues at the other ends of the Earth. However, I was fortunate to find guidance for what to do with the crop of the dozen olive trees scattered about my six acres:

Home-cured olives and Alentejan white bread to fuel the next memoQ tutorial
I never would have imagined that my own cured olives, spiced as I like them, would be so much better than the ones I've eaten from store-bought jars, in restaurants and bought at farmers' markets and other places for years. Perhaps by next autumn I'll have figured out how and where to convert the bulk of the crop to oil, which was a staple in my kitchen long before I came to Portugal.

Life here is good, but unpredictable, even less predictable than the changing tides of translation in the past half decade. But where the general environment is a healthy one and the culture is tolerant, friendly and mostly flexible, unpredictability often means nice, or at least amusing surprises. When I wake each morning, I am not certain what to expect from the day aside from my usual work routine. Most days are uneventful - a visit by the husky bitch from a neighboring farm, who plays with my dog and hopes for a handout, a few pleasantries exchanged with neighbors about potatoes or rain, um galão at the taberna, conversations with my dog to convince him that the neighbor's sheep are not to be hunted - the usual. But anything could happen, and I always look forward to that here.

Jan 11, 2015

A dangerous agitator starts a new year of trouble

Another typical day in social media....
For those planning to attend the upcoming university event for SDL technology in Lisbon, be aware that the imams and imamas of the bulk market bog have issued a fatwa against it for the dangerous agitation expected among wordworkers in attendance, who may discover better ways to master a leading translation environment tool and free themselves from the local piecework slavelancing conditions. In particular, revelations that one can collaborate with users and abusers of other translation tools and challenge the divine infrastructure of Linguistic Sausage Producers in orgies of interoperability caused considerable controversy in meetings of Board Members Without Boundaries and Transwordling, who have worked hard to spread the needed money and manure in the field to ensure rich corporate yields for years to come. His Hendzelness the First and Only, pope of the Premium Church of Translation, decried this and other heresies, such as calls for professional translators associations freed of the commercial guidance of their betters at the production of linguistic sausage, in his New Year's sermon to an admiring crowd of underage Czech and Bulgarian colleagues. Those who hope to have a real future should boycott events such as the one planned at Universidade Nova de Lisboa on January 22nd and instead do some real good for the world and volunteer free translation of materials to inform the world that Robert Mugabe is the greatest defender of African dignity against colonialist aggression.

It's been two years and two days since my first arrival at The End of the Earth, prodigal Portugal, immersed in the agony of grief over its lost colonies, where the people still stubbornly refuse to understand how worthless an Agrarland is and that the world needs the machines made in small German villages to run at the tempo dictated by the Bundesbank, Siemens et alia, and flawed human hearts still beat in defiance of the better-engineered alternatives implanted in Merkel and her cronies. Since my transplantation to this Unworthy Place of sun, sangria and sex, I have conspired with other unworthies to continue producing the propaganda of futile resistance to the Borg juggernaut of machine pseudo-translation and the undeniable value it offers as evidenced by the breathless exclamation of leading translation technologits that some translators are actually using it.

In the spirit of that tradition, in 2015 Translation Tribulations hopes to expand its range of heresies to include cartoons honoring the Prophet Mohammed, thepigturd, Mantis/Orbe, Lyingbridge and other Great Leaders who show us how life can be if only we would submit. To that end, the office at Quinta Branca is working to acquire two young goats to provide the necessary therapy for those who dispute the power of the pen as opposed to Le Pen.

Comfort for a frustrated artist forbidden to draw people, about to embark on a new career as a wannabe terrorist