Machine Translation 101 – Translators & Interpreters talk a lot (good and bad) about Machine Translation. Few really know what it is.

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19th Century Image: “Tsunami” by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎)

BrauerTraining Newsletter # 1

June 2013

(Subscribe to our newsletter! goo.gl/AAX5K)

 

The world’s first pocket calculator.

The Abacus was developed around 2000 BC. It took humans some four thousand years to create electronic calculators, which appeared in the 60’s (see above). It then took just 10 years to develop and popularize a pocket-size device. Today, calculators are integrated as part of computers, PDAs and smartphones.


Machine Translation 101

by

Claudia Brauer

I will open our first newsletter with a quote from Carl Sagan, a scientist and author who has deeply influenced my vision of the world:

“I do not think it irresponsible to portray even the direst futures. If we are to avoid them we must understand that they are possible. Where are the alternatives? Where are the dreams that motivate and inspire? We long for realistic maps of a world we can be proud to give to our children. Where are the cartographers of human purpose? Where are the visions of hopeful futures of technology as a tool for human betterment and not a gun on hair trigger pointed at our heads?”

― Carl SaganPale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

I have also decided that our first topic needs to be one of the most controversial subjects in the translation and interpreting industry today: Machine Translation. Shying away from the discussion will not resolve the issue of our survival as a viable profession in a future progressively driven into technology. I believe we have to stop seeing technology as our enemy and rather start embracing it, working with it, influencing its development, becoming co-creators of the tools we will be using in the next decades.
If we want to avoid a dire future as professional translators and interpreters, we must understand that such future death by inaction is possible and then set out to create the alternatives.
We must become the new cartographers of our future purpose in the industry. We have to make sure we remain relevant. That we are seen as useful and essential. There are segments of the industry that clearly think we are replaceable. What are we doing to show them otherwise? Staying in our comfort zones will not solve the dilemma.
We cannot continue hiding in the sand and think that just because we do not want it, it will not happen. Rather, we must face the scary challenge posed by progress and run to catch up for the decades we have been complacent while the rest of the industry became digital, mobile and instant.


A pale blue dot

(Above) Earth: A pale blue dot in the immensity of space

In 1990, at the request of Carl Sagan, NASA commanded the Voyager 1 spacecraft to take a photograph of Earth from a record distance of about 3,700,000,000 miles. The resulting photograph was titled the “Pale Blue Dot” because earth is shown as a tiny little dot against the immensity of space.

We, professional translators and interpreters, are but a pale blue dot in the sea of information that needs to be communicated in multiple languages worldwide. We can only control our own response to the sea of change.

It still is the survival of the fittest.


Kaijo no Fuji (Tsunami, or The Big Wave) by Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai

Language & Translation Automation Conference (LTAC) – Proceedings

Recommendation # 1:

Download these proceedings for free at http://goo.gl/zlDFf and read them!

This is an eBook in pdf format that collects the 2011 discussion by “some of the most prominent experts from academia and the language industry worldwide [who] met in the Great Hall of the LUSPIO University in Rome, under the auspices of the Faculty of Interpreting and Translation and the Directorate-General… ” for the European Master’s in Translation (EMT).
This Language and Translation Automation Conference (LTAC) “was convened with the goal of gathering the most innovative ideas and initiatives on language automation, translation technology and terminology, with an emphasis on controlled languages and controlled authoring in academia and in the language industry.”
I have not finished reading the document yet, but still I recommend you all start reading it too. It is a very good window into the present of the translation industry. It collects some important thoughts and visions for what I call our potential future (if we survive as a professional species). It also explains in layman’s terms some of the obscure aspects of Machine Translation.
Ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one). Ignorance of MT is no excuse for you (to ignore the developments happening in the Language Services world).
Step # 1 in your learning curve, therefore, is to learn about the tools you will need to remain relevant in the professional world of tomorrow!

(The picture selected by the authors for the cover, “…describes the modern conflict between the forces of nature and the fragility of man. For us it meant the desire to ride exceptional forces, to win the awe they bring, and draw energy and strength.”
Valeria Cannavina & Anna Fellet)


So…. is Google Translate

“THAT” bad?

“Of course!” cry the Translators and Interpreters.

“Actually it is pretty good,” says my american friend working in China, who uses it to get “the gist” of many documents of possible interest to her, written either in Mandarin or any of a couple of dozen dialects. “I use it at least 10 times a day….and it really helps me out to understand what the general content is about.”

“I use it all the time,” says my relative, a top executive at an international logistics company in the port of Miami, one of the busiest in the USA. “We all use Google Translate all day, to know if we are dealing with invoices or purchase orders, to see if it is a request for us to make a shipment or to receive a shipment… I just need to know more-or-less what the words say… I do not need full-text, perfect translations… I understand many terms are wrong, but I really do not care… I do not have the time or the money to pay for a translator… when I really need something important translated, then I send it out, and accept the wait and pay the price. But that is not very often.”

Welcome to the 21st Century. The “gist” and “understand more-or-less what it says” are the rule for the masses. We are increasing quality control in industries such as healthcare and legal. We are having the fight of our lives to at least hold these two industries to a high standard. We are dealing here with lives of people “on the spot”. Quality is of the essence here.

But for most people in the masses, a “kind-of” translation is good enough.

So, another suggestion, if you want to get the “gist” of what Machine Translation is, head on to the vilified Wikipedia (I actually use when I need to get the “gist” of a topic… sounds familiar?)

http://goo.gl/63LSp – Why not dedicate a little time to educate yourself?

(Above) Josh Estelle a Google Translate engineering leader

A recent article published in CNET News by Stepehen Shankland (http://goo.gl/d8zZh) conveys the reality of Google Translate (vs. what some translators would like it to be):

“Google Translate provides a billion translations a day for 200 million users…”

One thousand million translations a day!

That surely is mainstream.

Two hundred million users!

That surely is mainstream.

“The amount of text Google translates daily is more than what’s in a million books, and surpasses what professional translators handle in a full year,” stated Josh Estelle, a Google Translate engineering leader.

He also noted that 92% of usage is outside the United States (that may explain why translators and interpreters in the USA have such a limited view of how extensive its use is in other parts of the world).

The internet is “expanding gradually to other languages, helped in part by technological change … [since] 2008, Google launched the ability to translate any language to any other language,” stated Estelle.

Google Translate is currently working on better quality for Machine Translation as well as ubiquity: “No matter where you are, you should have access to a translation.”

They are also working on real-time multi language communication:

“We want you to be able to translate things instantly,” from and into any language, said Shankland.


So, translators and interpreters….how are WE adapting to this change in the marketplace?

What do we offer today that is a value-added to what people get with Google translate?

How are we marketing such value-added?

How are we differentiating ourselves from Machine Translation and the likes of it?

In a market where everyone (including you, dear reader) likes to save a buck or two,

think about how you are going to face the ever-expanding competition of the likes of Google Translate (yes, there are many), in the next five years.


I believe that just as a potential Fourth Wave of democratization is brewing worldwide, so too there is a Huge Wave of changes related to the democratization of translation and interpreting.


Those in the profession who fail to see this wave may very well perish under its weigh.
Others will learn to ride it.
Others will harness its power.

Claudia Brauer

Happy Translators Day!

“Found in Translation”People often ask me about my job working with languages.  Now, there is a new book out that explains what I do, but in a really fun and entertaining way.  It’s a collection of stories, and takes people behind the scenes at places like Nestlé, Google, Hallmark, the United Nations… even NASA and the US State Department. The book is entertaining and thought-provoking, revealing translation as one of the essential threads that holds together the fabric of our society. It is published by a major publisher, Penguin, but was written by two colleagues of mine. It has been endorsed by Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin and leaders from Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, National Geographic, and even the European Parliament.  They all say they enjoyed it, and I think you will too.

The book is called Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World. You can find more information about it at this link (http://www.xl8book.com). You can find it at bookstores throughout the United States or at this link (http://www.amazon.com/Found-Translation-Language-Shapes-Transforms/dp/039953797X).

Feel free to forward this to anyone else you think might like to know about it.  I’m so excited for more people to see how fun and meaningful translation really is!

September 30 – Translation and Interpreting Day

This is a wake-up call to the future. Technology is transforming the profession at the speed of light. Instead of resisting technology, translators and interpreters must embrace it and learn how to use it to further their professional advancement and intercultural communication. Embracing constant change is vital for survival in the global village of the 21st century.

If translators and interpreters do not become part of the digital revolution occurring in the second decade of this new millennium, we will be left out of the loop of progress… just what happened a few decades ago to those office workers and freelancers (including translators) who refused to learn how to use a computer … they quickly became professionally obsolete because they were no longer able to interact in the modern interconnected world. Today, we need to learn about the new tools that have been quickly becoming an intrinsic part of the modern world.

If we do not move forward, we will be moving backward.  Doing nothing is not an option.  If we do nothing, we will be left behind the loop of progress

Do something today to improve the technology at your disposal. Stop whining. Be the change you want.

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Our Tribal Mentality in the Global Village of the 21st Century – Part 1

I train translators, interpreters and bilingual personnel. As such, cultural competency is at the root of our profession, where we transfer content from one language into another, either verbally or in writing. In that context, I stress my alignment with the thought that we humans STILL today function under a “Tribal Mentality“. This Tribal Mentality is a trait that was extremely useful for the development of the species, but which should have become progressively obsolete in the 21st Century. But that has not happened yet, or at least not to the level that our presumably civilized society should require .

Such Tribal Mentality is, in my opinion, one of the largest triggers of conflicts, wars, hatred, and injustice. The “us” Vs. “them” mentality is an “inherent” and “inherited” trait that today prevents our growth as human beings in our interconnected, multicultural world.  We must therefore consciously work to expose this trait, if we want to overcome it one day. There are very strong underpinnings of thought and subconscious beliefs, attitudes and feelings that are reflected in our Tribal Mentality, many of which are indeed taught to us by our childhood tribes: family, school, neighborhood, church and the like, to ensure their own continued existence.

Since Culture represents the “models” of things we have in our mind (how we perceive the world, relate with it, interpret things, and even understand ourselves), the fundamentals of Culture may be found in the collective programming of our minds, which differentiate the members of one group of people from another.  We are of different races and many ethnicities, different genders, social classes, nationalities, and religions.  We have thousands of mother languages. We have huge ideological differences and if we were to talk about something like politics or religion, we might end on opposite sides of the discussion.   Some of us might have beliefs and behaviors that are totally unacceptable to others.   And yet, when we go out into the world and have to relate with each other, we must find common traits that unite us.   Or we must understand the sources of our differences and the origin of our thoughts and our “gut feelings” about others.

What is it about our mind that makes us believe so strongly in the “right” and “wrong” of categories such as race, gender and ethnicity?   Why do we feel kinship towards some groups of people and aversion towards others? Why do we sort everything into groups, or kinds of things or events? The answer is that we are “hardwired” to associate in categories.  Like computers, that is the “software” we are born with. By default. Our nervous system is predisposed to organize perceptions into groups. This is at the core of one of the fundamentals of humanity:  We mostly think in terms of WE vs. THEM (“we” the xyz Vs. “them” the abc — fill in the blank with anything and you will find “opposing” groups we could come up with).  As noted earlier, this at the center of most religious conflicts, political adversities, and most rivalries.  It is at the core of the concepts of country and culture.

Concepts that denote “my” group or “my” religion or “my” race or “my” country are the true root causes of an incredibly large proportion of conflicts in societies past and present, where mostly one group believes that their “my” is better than the other group’s “my” (known as “their” position).  Now then, these issues exist because a long time ago, the Tribal Mind was vital for our survival, because we were surrounded by wild animals and needed to hunt, so group identification and cohesion was important for survival.

But by carrying these thought processes into the 21st Century, what are we really “preserving”? Whose thoughts are we expressing, provided to us in our formative years and remaining with us without challenge? How can we overcome this hardwired structure of thinking in terms of “my” tribes and choose our own way of processing our perceptions?

Our Tribal Mentality should progressively start to serve no purpose in the world of tomorrow – which is already here today. In our Global Village, we need to consciously reflect on our responsibility of owning the US-Vs-THEM concept instead of allowing it to dictated our way of seeing the world. Much of “common sense” is actually totally contrary to nature; for example, in the past, slavery was “natural”; and it was “normal” for women to be the property of their husbands; and more recently, only heterosexuals deserved “respect”. All these concepts were created at one point in history to preserve the “superior” position of a group over another, and later became a prevalent attitude (with corresponding actions) among large groups of people or, as I like to call it, large tribes.

Therefore, in our Global Village of the 21st Century, where our Tribes should be much more homogeneous, in many ways the Tribes have multiplied and have become more aggressive and “territorial”. How many of the “common sense” thoughts and attitudes we hold today as dear are really outdated, unjustified, unfair, and detrimental to our relationships as human beings?  How much of our Tribal Mentality is simply wrong? Culture is in essence how we “perceive” our world and how the world “perceives” us.  How much of our Cultural perception needs to be revamped?

Remember that our perceptions are hardwired as part of our Tribal Mentality, which is fostered and fed in our earlier years by our family tribe, our religious tribe, our neighborhood tribe, our school tribe, our social-class tribe, our race and ethnicity tribes, our country-of-origin tribe, our language tribe, our gender “ tribe… Each of these tribes is interested in its own survival and thus, in time creates a series of concepts that transcend reality and which serve to define that tribe in society.  How many of these concepts do we carry as truths that we never even question, that we are not even aware we have in the background of our mind? Remember it is kind of the “software” that we came into life with by default, which keeps running “in the background” of our heads unless we “update” it to the new values and concepts that we may develop on our own.

Because there are, of course, other tribes we “subscribe” to, either personally or professionally, voluntarily or forced by circumstances, such as our higher education tribes (university students, for example); trade and business tribes (associations, clubs, coalitions, corporations, and the like); country-of-residence “tribe”; social class tribes (chosen in adulthood); technological tribes (user of landlines Vs. smartphones, for example); our secondary languages tribes, our age tribes (Veterans, Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z), and even the tribes we associate to on the basis of our personality types (Extroverts vs Introverts, etc).

The Tribal Mentality tells the members of that tribe what is and what is not possible within the structure of their reality.  Since it ensures the survival of the respective group, it strongly imposes values, rituals, symbols, heroes and shared memories to promote group identification and thus loyalty to the “tribe”.  In today’s world,  the purpose of the Tribal Mentality is no other than to “indoctrinate” each member of that specific tribe on the tribe’s beliefs and rules, to make sure that ALL members of the tribe believe, and agree, and behave accordingly.

There are many other tribes besides those mentioned above, to which we belong by birth, by choice, or by circumstances.  What is important is to start understanding and identifying the different tribes that are influencing our “perception” of our reality.  Once you start identifying this, you will be able to understand your world much better, and then make your own choices about your own thoughts and actions.

Interpreters in the 21st Century

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In an interconnected world, the ability to communicate in “my preferred language” (whatever that may be) has become a crucial component of our world. In less than a decade we have gone from simultaneous or consecutive interpreting, to over-the-phone and remote video-interpreting (simultaneous or consecutive), to web-based instant message delivery. Technology is transforming our profession at the speed of light, literally. The term “medical video interpreting” is so new that many in the profession don’t even know of its existence, yet the technology it is based on (and already commercially available) is sure to change the entire profession. Professional associations are scrambling to get to speed with the changes to better serve their members; certification and credentialing is becoming more urgent than ever; education and training are flourishing; and technology surprises us with so many and fast innovations, that it is hard to keep up with it.  I believe there is an urgent need for us to be extremely aware of the world in which we live and the fascinating digital revolution taking place around us at the speed of light. I stress the fact that instead of resisting technology, we must embrace it and learn to use it to further our professional advancement and intercultural communication.  If we do not become part of the digital revolution, we will soon be left out of the loop of progress… similar to what happened a few decades ago to office workers and freelancers (including translators) who refused to learn how to use a computer … they quickly became professionally obsolete because they were no longer able to interact in the modern interconnected world. This is an attempt to be a “wake-up” call to current and future interpreters about the state of the industry in our Global Village of the 21st century