Feb 21, 2015

CAT tools re-imagined - an approach to authoring and editing

I am often asked about the monolingual editing workflows I have used for some 15 years now to improve texts which were written originally in English, not created by translation from another language. And I have discussed various corpus linguistics approaches, such as to learn the language of a new specialty or the NIFTY method often presented by colleague Juliette Scott.

However, on a recent blitz tour of northern Portugal to test the fuel performance of the diesel wheels which may take me to the BP15 and memoQfest conferences in Zagreb and Budapest respectively later this year, I stopped off in Vila Real to meet a couple of veterinarians, one of whom is also a translator. During a lunch chat with typically excellent Portuguese cuisine, the subject of corpus research as an aid for authoring a review paper came up. I began to explain my (not so unusual) methods of editing and existing document when I was asked how the tools of translation technology might be applied to authoring original content.

The other translator at the table said, "It's a shame that I cannot use my translation memories to look things up while I write", and I replied that of course he could do this, for example with the memoQ TM Search Tool or similar solutions from other providers. And then he said, "And what about my term bases and LiveDocs corpora?", and I said I would sleep on it and get back to him. In the days that followed, other friends (coincidentally also veterinarians) asked my advice about editing the English of the Ph.D. theses and other works they will author in English as non-native speakers of that language. One of them noted that it would be "nice" if she could refer to corrections made by various persons and compare them more easily. I said I would sleep on that one too.

A few days after that the pain in my hands and feet from repetitive strain injuries and arthritis was unbearable, aggravated by a rope burn accident while stopping an attack on sheep by my over-eager hunting dog and by driving over 1000 km in a day. I doubled down on the pain meds, made a big jug of toxically potent sangria and otherwise ensured that I was comfortably numb and could enjoy a night of solid sleep.

It was not meant to be. Two hours later I woke up, stone sober, with a song in my head and the solution to the problem of my Portuguese friends writing in English and Tiago wanting to author his work in memoQ for the convenience of using its filters to review content. Since then the concept has continued to evolve and improve as others suggest ways of accommodating their writing or language learning needs.

After about a week of testing I scheduled one of my "huddle" presentation classes, an intimate TeamViewer training session to discuss the approach and elicit new ideas for adapting it better to the needs of monolingual authors. The recording of that session is available for download by clicking on the image of the title slide at the top of this post. (The free TeamViewer software is needed to watch the TVS file downloaded; double-click it, and the 67-minute lecture and Q&A will play.)

I'm currently building Moodle courses which provide more details and templates for this approach to authoring and editing, and it will be incorporated in parts of the many talks and workshops planned this year.

I am aware that SDL killed their authoring product, the Author Assistant, and that Acrolinx offers interesting tools in this area, as do others. But I'm usually hesitant to recommend commercial tools in an academic environment, because their often rapid pace of development (such as we see with memoQ) can play serious havoc with teaching plans and threaten the stability of an instructional program, which is usually best focused on concepts and not on fast-changing details. So I actually started out my work and testing of this idea using the Open Source tool OmegaT, the features of which are more limited but also more stable in most cases than the commercial solutions from SDL, Kilgray and others. But as I worked, I noticed that my greater familiarity with memoQ's features made it an advantageous platform for developing an approach, which in principle works with almost every translation environment tool.

Part of my motivation in creating this presentation was to encourage improvements in the transcription features available in some translation environments. But the more I work with this idea, the more possibilities I see for extending the reach of translation technology into source text authoring and making all the resources needed for help available in better ways. I hope that you may see some possibilities for your own work or learning needs and can contribute these to the discussion.

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