Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Why Does Google Translate Produce Such Funny Texts?

March 25, 2010

Machine translation so far does not deliver satisfying results for texts that must evoke a certain emotional effect in the reader, such as marketing collateral, websites, brochures, product descriptions, and so on. Not to mention works of art or literature.

The reason is that we still don’t fully understand how our brains work and language appears to be one of the most sophisticated inventions of the human mind.

In highly specialized technical fields, such as aerospace or other technical documentation, contracts and formalized legal texts, or some medical types of documents automatic translation requires a considerable amount of preparation, both of the source text and the terminology used. The reason is that a limited set of words and meanings must be set up in order to render terms unambiguous. Usually, the upfront effort to establish such an approved terminology by far exceeds the costs of conventional translation. Such endeavors only pay when the text volume to be handled is in excess of billions of words. Therefore, most business-critical translations are still done by human translators, sometimes with the help of comparably simple translation memory tools.

For private purposes, for example, when you want to read the Greek website of your summer holiday accomodation, feel free to use Google Translate any time (or any other machine translation tool, for that matter). As a side benefit, you will probably get a good laugh for free!

However, when it comes to “official” texts, such as websites, handling instructions or image brochures, it is better to let a human translator do the job.

mind the machines


What is a Translation Memory and How Does it Work?

February 4, 2010

Luckily, a translation memory is not a mental ability that translators must develop to be able to do their jobs. Rather, it is a computer based software tool that facilitates and supports translation work.

Working with translation memories does not mean machine translation. This is something entirely different. A translation memory retains the translations done by a human translator along with the original text and stores both in its database for later reuse. The tool itself is not actively involved in the translation process. A human translator still does all the job.

The screenshot shows how translation memories work: They chop up the text in little segments (sentences mostly), which are translated consecutively by the human translator. When the translator is satisfied with the solution, s/he confirms the segment by selecting the corresponding function and proceeds to the next segment. Both, the sentence of the source document and the translated sentence of the target document are stored in a database.

The advantage of translation memories clearly lies in the faster and easier processing of texts with a large number of recurring or similar sentences and phrases. This is the case in technical texts of all sorts, such as contracts, user manuals, process documentations, and so on. For creative, artistic or aesthetically pleasing texts, however, translation memories must be used with excessive care to keep the unique and original nature of such texts alive.

keep it in mind

Terminology Matters

January 28, 2010

In translation it is very important to use the right terms. Terms are words that have a certain meaning in a certain context. For example, when I say “coil” what do you think I mean? Right. It might be an electromagnetic coil, or an inductor, a winding of any kind, a poetic word for troubles, or even a contraceptive. It depends entirely on the context you are putting it in.

Therefore, a translator must know the exact context of a text to be able to pick the correct terms. Otherwise, communication fails.

Many translators use terminology databases to collect technical terms of different subject areas and for disambiguation.

always pick the right words

Using CAT Tools

October 21, 2009

009_CAT_ToolsAs a translator you don’t have to like cats, but it helps. In translation, CAT stands for computer aided translation. This is not machine translation. I will cover that topic another time.

CAT tools basically are databases that store a translator’s work and terminology for later reuse. The translation is made by the human translator. Only the result is then commited to the database. Most translators today use two types of CAT tools: translation memories and term bases.