Jan 7, 2019

"Unprofessional translation" and CAT tools

Those who came to this post expecting more ammunition for the war against the deprofessionalization of translation by the exploitative practices of the bulk market bog inhabited by the worst of (dis)service companies like Lionbridge, TransPerfect, thebigword and others will be disappointed. Nor will they find anything useful to combat the many technophobic misunderstandings and actual abuses of professional tools by sometimes less than bilingual wannabes whom some hope to keep away from translation by building some sort of virtual wall.

Tools are as useful as what we do with them. Hammers are good to drive nails or posts, depending on their design, weight and other factors, or they can be used to commit grisly murder, as one reads occasionally in the papers. But they can also make nice doorstops or play a part in exercise and sports. Computer-aided translation (CAT) tools or (as they are better known) translation environment tools (TEnTs) are versatile and often useful to solve problems and processes for which they were not originally conceived. The E-Learning, Translation and Ideas Bakery website and blog (included for years now in the blog roll here on the left of the page) by a Romanian colleague who teaches at university in the UK shares a number of concepts that can be described thus, and the Unprofessional Translation blog (also in the list here) which I also follow shares many stories of situations where the usual working tools of my present profession can be applied well to situations beyond the usual commercial or literary borders that most of us set for our work.

I continue to be excited by the possibilities of using TEnTs as an aid in language learning. The fact that these are so seldom used in that way is, for me, evidence of great opportunities missed by teachers and students around the world and perhaps also by the providers of commercial tools, though for the broad market of teachers and learners everywhere I would encourage the use of several excellent free and open source tools like OmegaT and the Heartsome Suite, even the web-based tool of that axis of evil, the Google Translator Toolkit.

I have documented some of my own efforts to use my main professional tool, memoQ, to support my own progress of learning Portuguese since I moved to Portugal six years ago. This was essential for getting a grip on the terminology and expressions needed to pass my weapons license exam in Portuguese when I could barely speak well enough to order breakfast, and I continue to use it as a means to track vocabulary and expressions I encounter in the newspaper, magazines and public notices such as the warning about deadly Asian wasps here (in the graphic at the top of this post). many years ago when learning German, Russian and Sumerian I kept a thick deck of flashcards for reference and practice, and at various times I have used online sites like Duolingo, Livemocha or Memrise to get farther with Portuguese or Spanish vocabulary, but none of these have proven as effective for focused study of a written language than the tools I have on my desktop computer, which enable me to compile corpora and glossaries which are adapted best to my personal situation and needs for language acquisition in a new country and culture.

One welcome difference of using TEnTs for personal projects as opposed to professional work is that one can focus on the parts most needed and need not worry about completing an "assignment". Thus I will maintain corpora with only partial translations or perhaps only simple comments to explain grammatical aspects of particularly challenging sentences. And if there is some useful external quiz engine I want to use for virtual flashcards (or I want to make printed cardstock ones or a cheat sheet to help with discussions at the tax office or sporting goods store) that is easy enough to do with the many data exchange options in memoQ, SDL Trados Studio, OmegaT or whatever.

In the same way that understanding the use of word processing software does not make you a writer, students of language who use translation environment tools are unlikely to become viable translators en masse, even if they may have that as an objective for some reason. As a professional translator, I see the attempts of bulk market providers to engage even competent bilinguals as translators and note with depressing frequency that a fool with a tool remains a fool and that language mastery will go nowhere professionally without mastery of concepts and subject matter details as well. But most people can, I think, get on farther and faster with the many challenges posed by a new language in areas of interest and necessity with the "unprofessional" aid of professional translation tools.

1 comment:

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