Whichever way you look at the issue, therefore, there does seem to be an urgent need to restrict the use of the professional title of translator on the basis of professional competence and compliance with a strict ethical code. And any such restrictions must be universally accepted and applied, just as the fight for decent remuneration levels must be extended to translators all over the world. Wherever they live and wherever they practise, all translators have a duty to fight simultaneously for better quality and for higher tariffs. Simply because, like it or not, translators offering the same language combination are now in the same boat if they have access to the same markets and can be reached by the same work providers. Everyone knows that unrestricted global markets can lead to low-cost prevailing over quality. Hence the need for quality-based standards, which could then be used to get fairer tariffs for everyone and reduce market distortion. If the translation profession remains a free-for-all, it will mean lower earnings for everyone in the long run, both at national and international level. It will also mean lower quality, because even good translators will no longer be able to 'afford' the luxury of quality assurance if they want to earn a decent living, or alternatively, because earnings will have fallen to such depths that the best translators will simply have left the profession and the best students will not be attracted to it.
Of course, no one will admit to their livelihood being on the line. Yet anyone who spends a bit of time browsing the Web can find translators willing to work for 1 (yes, one!) euro cent a word or even less. And these sometimes are translators who are every bit as professional and effective as other translators working with the same language combinations who have to charge more than ten times that rate just to 'make ends meet'...
4. The floodgates are opening
In the short to medium term, translation markets are likely to be flooded with hordes of untrained and self-taught translators. Those who think they are not threatened on the grounds that they can offer superior quality (you bet!) and that 'quality always wins through' may then be left high and dry because 'quality' is on the way to becoming readily available to anyone having 'done languages' or having some kind of expertise in any domain.
The fact that resources of every kind are now universally and immediately available is already having a positive impact on overall quality. To take but one example, the universal availability of resources has had a noticeable effect on the average quality of translations done in real-life conditions by applicants taking selective entry tests for graduate or postgraduate translator training courses. The results achieved by those coming from backgrounds where they have received no specific training in translation techniques have improved quite dramatically over the past few years.
This is not surprising, given that the basic resources required for (1) understanding whatever is up for translation - i.e. the corpora of documents and materials in the source language - and (2) formulating the translation - i.e. the corpora of documents, materials and resources in the target language - have become available at a click of the mouse.
The situation obviously differs according to the language combination, but the wealth of translation literature and resources now available (among which no end of terminological databases and knowledge bases) is a boon for the amateur translator. Some might quite rightly object that having access to the right material does not necessarily make everyone a translator. True, but work providers, and the Internet, and ISO, and CEN et al., are seeing to that.
First, work providers have grown into the habit of defining specifications and, in some well-publicised cases, actually telling the translators what to do at every juncture. Such guidelines can steady the hand of anyone who is not too sure about how to go about translating.
Then the resources on the Web. Anyone actually wanting to get information on how to translate will get that information in the guise of dedicated portals, full-blown translation courses, sites that are precisely dedicated to analysing the question of quality in translation, avoiding the common pitfalls and offering the right procedures, plus any translation company or agency site where "our procedures" are described at full length. This in itself is perfectly legitimate, but the implications are considerable in terms of self-tuition.
Lastly, CEN and other standards. Already, anyone who feels so inclined can check out the appropriate quality assurance procedures for translation in any number of published quality standards and dozens of books on the subject. Standards, after all, are designed to tell professionals what to do to achieve perfection in their professional practice. Not that standards should not be set-up, but the implications, again, are considerable.
Finding the right information no longer requires specific know-how, skills and experience. Anyone so willing can gain free access (in every sense of the word) to all the know-how, technical data, terminological and phraseological resources and other information needed to carry out translations - a safe bet being that word- processor based translation memory management systems and huge translation memories made available to the general public are just round the corner. This means that anyone now has the potential to translate far faster and with better results than only four or five years ago. And everyone can really train to be a translator via the Internet or, at least, get information on how to train. The irony of it is that it is the professionals who are collectively responsible for helping the amateurs get a foothold in the industry. All the barriers which used to make access to the resources and procedures and strategies more difficult for people outside the profession and training institutions have now been lifted. Only the tools and technologies still remain beyond the reach of the enlightened amateur, but for how long? And this in itself matters little since any operation that requires using special tools and technologies inevitably becomes fully automated in a matter of months or years.
Maybe the last barrier is that of being able to find clients (until even that becomes easy over the Internet) and knowing how to 'set up shop' (but there again, the answer is on the 'Net').
The whole point is that translators must be aware that they are in a constant struggle to keep one step ahead of the field, which means:
- seeking out lucrative niche markets in front of the pack,
- acquiring ever more skills and knowledge through more extensive training and longer years at university or in work placements,
It is interesting, in this respect, to see that some Spanish institutions have recently introduced postgraduate courses in translation - sorry: localisation - that are open to students who have already completed a five-year university course.
- becoming a 'leading edge' specialist, at home with all kinds of sophisticated IT software, capable of updating the work station, managing projects and teams of translators, proof-reading and revising, and undertaking any of the many translation-related tasks but not so much 'just translation'.
The question, which we already touched upon, will soon be: what will extra quality mean from a commercial point of view once it becomes obvious that reasonable quality has become universal (or nearly so). And what will happen if universities keep churning out literally thousands of translators a year? The translator's complaint used to be that just about anyone could set-up shop without having to offer the slightest guarantee as to quality. It may soon turn out to be that that those thousands of anyones setting up shop are actually better informed, better qualified and better trained than many practising translators because the skills and knowledge that used to make the difference have become commonplace and because they have been taught new skills and knowledge. Whatever their backgrounds, these new translators will most certainly squeeze out the shaky operators even among those who think they belong there and, in any case, a surfeit of translators on the supply side will make the demand side even more demanding (and less generous). Pessimists would say this is already the case today.
So, the motto is: keep moving ahead, to even newer, narrower fields of specialisation. Or become a reviser. Or quit translating and go into (quality, project, vendor, client, or resource) management or consultancy.
Evolutions and revolutions
From P & P to WS & ATT
From pen and paper to workstation and assisted-translation tools
The universal revolution in translating is the one that has taken translators from a pen and paper environment to a world of workstations and CAT tools that are getting ever more sophisticated, turning the translator into someone much like an airplane pilot, connected to the outside world by an amazing variety of tools designed to help find information, communicate with others and carry out all the different tasks required.
1. Basic hardware equipment
The translator's workstation starts with a top-of-the-range computer, which needs to be changed every two years, on average, to keep up with technological advances (or marketing tricks?) and software requirements.
Today, the central processing unit is likely to be a PC (for the simple reason that most translation tools are PC compatible), equipped with a dual processor if the translator uses voice recognition tools (one of the processors being devoted to that task) and with two hard disks, one for the software applications and one for the data. The translator's multimedia applications require Maximum CPU clock frequency and RAM size.
Peripherals usually include:
- a scanner, to produce digital copies of the source materials, if the client has only sent a paper copy,
- a fast, high-definition colour printer - because colour is now standard in most documents, because it enhances the subjective quality of the translated version, also because it literally represents a bonus in terms of image. The printer will be used to print out 'distributable' copies of the translated material for in-house or external clients who are not themselves equipped with adequate printing resources,
- an external back-up device to save all the work files and data - because reliable archives are absolutely vital for translators, who therefore will inevitably be looking for the most permanent and efficient storage media,
- a high quality microphone (for use with voice recognition software),
- loud-speakers and/or a top-of-the-range headset (for use for transcriptions in multimedia translation or subtitling for example),
- any multimedia equipment required for specific types of source materials (digital camera, digital video-recorder, webcam, etc.).
One of the most crucial requirements is an Internet connection. Nowadays, this is almost inevitably broadband (ADSL for instance), offering high speed at relatively low cost. Internet access is vital for today's translator. The Internet is a kind of umbilical cord, providing the translator with 'life-sustaining' information on the markets, on source material subject matter, on existing resources, or on changing hardware and software solutions, while enabling the translator to keep in touch with clients and potential informers alike. Quite a few translators have two separate Internet Service Providers, simply because any disruption can have dire consequences.
2. Basic functions
The translator's workstation is designed to let him:
- generate and manage files,
- save, copy, merge and archive translations, and retrieve them instantly,
- store data and files,
- transfer and exchange files and data, receive the files to be translated and forward the translated material,
- network with other users (via intranets or via the Internet),
- digitise documents for partly or fully automated processing,
- access on-line documentation instantaneously and without limitation,
- use e-mail,
- implement various software applications designed to facilitate ancillary operations such as client data base or file management, accounting procedures, invoicing, etc.
- translate, proofread, revise, print, etc.
3. Text processing and desktop publishing
As far as translators are concerned, IT is first and foremost about the use of word processing and desktop publishing applications. To all intents and purposes, this type of software has more radically changed professional practice than any dedicated translation software, and new capabilities are being developed all the time.
The reasons why word processing and desktop publishing have had such an impact on the profession are well known.
- Dealing mainly with text, translators welcome any development designed to speed up word-processing and improve its efficiency.
- Word processors and desktop publishing applications have made life considerably easier for translators, by:
- improving typing speeds,
- doing away with the nightmarish task of having to correct typed pages or, worse still, having to type out whole pages again,
- allowing 'cut and paste' type changes,
- allowing text changes and rewriting to be carried out as an ongoing process.
- Word processors and desktop publishing applications have opened up new translation markets, because the flexibility that word processing offers has had an exponential effect on the volumes of documentation produced, and, therefore, on the volumes that need to be translated.
- Word processors and desktop publishing applications have opened up new markets by enabling translators to offer new types of services, such as:
- document assembly and layout,
- desktop publishing,
- creation of dictionaries,
- quick updates,
- document integration.
- Word processors and desktop publishing applications have improved working conditions insofar as the translator now generally receives a ready-to-use digital version of the source material instead of a badly printed or sometimes barely legible copy or faxed version of the material, as often used to be the case.
- Word processors and desktop publishing applications improve the quality of the translators' work by allowing them to provide professionally laid out, perfectly readable translated texts, which can easily and readily be adjusted to the client's requirements via the style sheets.
- Word processors and desktop publishing applications give the translators end- to-end control over the documentation production chain by allowing them to insert screen captures, graphics, digital images or video sequences, to design pictograms, implement full graphic and multimedia integration, carry out automatic formatting, draw graphs, and take care of many other miscellaneous tasks which the translator is now expected to carry out or wishes to carry out as a way of enhancing the service provided - and the cheque that goes with it.
- Even more importantly, word processors and desk-top publishing applications have brought about considerable increases in the translator's productivity by allowing translators to re-write, type over the source text so as to keep the original style and format (tags), compare versions, modify a translation in mid-sentence after a change in tack, automatically or semi-automatically search and replace items, implement corrections, and much more. Word processing has undoubtedly at least doubled or trebled translator productivity since the days of the typewriter. We must remember that the only way a translator could improve productivity in the pre-IT days was by dictating the translation, which would then be typed out by a specially trained typist before being proof-read and corrected by the translator. Incidentally, the first 'victims' in the IT revolution in the world of translation were the typists working in, or for, language services.
- Word processors also have revolutionized revision, whether for professional purposes (by making it possible to type over the changes so these can be tracked by the translator) or pedagogical purposes (by making it possible to insert unrestricted commentaries).
Yet there is still room for improvement: it is generally estimated that translators only use 30 to 40% of the word processor's capacity on average and that, given a few days of training, they would easily be able to exploit the potential more to the full, for instance by programming macro commands to automate certain tasks. But this is another story.
4. Web site editing/creation software
Given the increase in Web site localisation, all translators would be well-advised to learn how to use Web editors and learn a few things about HTML, XML, XSL and the rest. Being able to 'get into the code' is certainly an advantage marketwise. At the same time, the more advanced way of getting translated contents disseminated is, of course, Web site creation (with or without localisation). No wonder more and more translators are including Web site creation in the services they offer and the standard workstation is increasingly becoming loaded with all kinds of Web editors [including graphics editors] to process and put content online. Anyone wishing to keep up with Web editing must constantly be on the lookout for new Web tools.
5. Translator tools/tools for translation
Translators now use a number of software tools specifically designed to speed up or improve the translation process. These include:
- dedicated resources,
- search engines and portals,
- terminology management and phraseology extraction software,
- 'translation memory systems' designed to set up, manage and exploit so called 'translation memories',
- specialist software (e.g. for subtitling, Web site cloning, videogame localisation or software localisation),
- voice recognition or voice synthesis software,
- translation management software (mostly for quality control),
- translation flow management software (workflow),
- translation systems requiring some degree of human intervention, given that any automatic translation system requires human assistance in the sense that someone has to feed in and update the algorithms and the dictionaries.
5.1 Dedicated resources or 'passive aids' to translation
Dedicated resources or 'passive aids' to translation consist of various documentation resources which the translators have at their immediate disposal. These may include:
- documentation specifically designed for translators,
- documentation available via a number of different media (CD-ROMs, Internet, intranets, mass storage devices, or other media),
- documentation the translators can access without necessarily being able to use the information directly in the translation.
Dedicated translation resources include:
- terminology data bases such as Le Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique, IATE, Lexpro-CD Databank, and many others,
- translator information data bases and portals,
- glossaries accessible via the Web,
- online forums and specialist mailing lists.
Translators are also quite good at 'colonizing' specialist forums, where domain specialists discuss their own matters. These can in effect be a source of specialist information, and, in some cases, a way of finding the informer needed to answer a specific query. Unfortunately many such forums are password-protected.
As regards terminology resources, the Web has led to major changes, in that:
- translators can access them directly via their work stations;
- available resources grow exponentially;
- the number of publicly accessible Web sites that list and index known terminology resources is also growing exponentially;
- a growing number of increasingly efficient search engines are available to find useful information - with a special mention for Google, which has given rise to a whole range of'googlisms', e.g. 'to google', 'to re-google', 'to 'back-google' or 'to cross-google', meaning to look up a term on the Web, to do a second search, to do a reverse search, and to check out a guess.
At the same time, one can regret that there is no longer any guarantee that the available terminology resources are reliable, as most of them - with the notable exception of monolingual glossaries created by professional organisations - are no longer vetted by scientific or editorial committees.
Translator forums and mailing lists have also been developing over the past few years.
Mailing lists are a simple way of organising electronic mail so that all the subscribers to the list receive any questions from, and answers to, any other member of the list. All subscribers are free to leave or (re)join the list at any time. Such lists can be an extraordinarily useful tool for translators who need an immediate answer to an urgent question. Experience shows that questions addressed to professional mailing lists never go unanswered. The list becomes a kind of virtual professional 'club', making freelance translators feel less isolated and gaining a life of its own, according to the ebb and flow of questions and answers. The issues discussed go far beyond simple questions of terminology, even though the latter account for a large part of the online exchanges. The effect of these lists is such nowadays that we could speak about S.A.T. or'subscriber-assisted translation'. Mailing lists definitely deserve to be included among 'aids to translation' under the name of 'Mutual assistance tools'. Generally, subscribers to discussion lists:
- provide permanent assistance in solving terminology problems (a kind of terminological help line that translators call routinely when they do not understand a text segment or cannot find the name for something or are not quite sure about their translation);
- occasionally engage in in-depth analyses of terminological or linguistic issues;
- provide systematic assistance and advice in the use of translation tools;
- regularly discuss questions relating to tariffs and content of the service provided to clients;
- launch or revive major discussions on perennial questions such as punctuation, the use of upper case letters, style, etc.;
- discuss issues relating to translator status;
- exchange information on notoriously unreliable clients (Payment Practices is a dedicated list that deals exclusively with bad payment practice);
- discuss what attitude freelance female translators should adopt vis-a-vis their clients when taking maternity leave;
- keep each other informed of their travel arrangements, and organise informal but quite festive meetings;
- create an on-line portrait gallery to be able to put faces on the e-mail addresses;
- discuss a wide range of technical questions, such as computer platforms, equipment (backup systems), software (voice recognition applications), Internet access providers, etc.;
- compare the respective merits of different search engines;
- pass on to fellow subscribers extra work that they themselves are unable to carry out;
and much more.
All discussion lists eventually create some kind of virtual extended family. Messages from subscribers who suddenly feel lonely late at night, or stressed out by impossible-to-meet deadlines or furious over software bugs or outrageous client behaviour, prompt messages of solace and support in return. The subscribers come to represent a living, closely-knit community, and in cases where a member is in dire trouble, everyone comes together to provide psychological, moral and even financial support, which in some cases has gone as far as helping a subscriber keep clients which he might otherwise have lost due to protracted illness. Friendship is no less supportive for being expressed via cyberspace. At the same time, as in any other community, there is also indignation, violent contradiction, passionate debate and even outrage at times - usually starting from some trivial linguistic question.
There are now many such lists for translators or on the subject of translation. Most of them are restricted or 'moderated' lists:
- Restricted lists, by definition are not accessible to all and sundry. Many of the mailing lists for translators have been set up and are managed by professional associations, and are, for obvious reasons, open to members only.
- Moderated (From the word moderator = chairman and referee in a debate) or 'regulated' lists are supervised by a kind of editor-in-chief, who receives all the messages sent to the list, sorts them out, sometimes synthesises them and forwards them on the list. The moderator can thus vet certain requests or offers and filter some of the information on the list in order to avoid unwanted messages.
Discussion groups/mailing lists on translation can be accessed from www://groups. yahoo.com (go through the usual queries) or by contacting the translators' association in the country of reference (addresses from www.fit-ift.org/en/news-en.php /members) or by asking Yahoo, Alta Vista, Google, Copernic, etc.
5.2Search engines, directories, blogs and portals
Search engines, directories and portals are particularly useful tools for any translator in her/his quest for focused information in specific fields.
Search engines are software applications designed to seek out in previously indexed Web pages information relating to the keywords that the translator (or anyone else) has defined. The search engine returns as 'hits' the titles or identification and URLs for the relevant sites. The way the queries are entered or the strategies used to narrow down the search may vary from one engine to the next, and this makes it highly advisable to always start by reading the user guide and by doing a little test on a number of set keywords.
Another way of approaching this kind of search is to use a 'meta-search engine', i.e. an application which itself uses several different search engines to scan the Web before compiling the results. So far, the translators' favourite search engine is Google at http://www.google.com.
There are quite a number of 'portals' and blogs dedicated to professional translation. These usually offer various resources and services: glossaries, predefined links to online glossaries, a translator data base where translators can enter their details (working languages, specialisms and particular skills) in the hope that it will catch the eye of a work provider on the look-out for translators, a data base with translation contracts put out to tender (a brokerage system which helps keep the portal afloat), and various kinds of information and advice for translators or even, in many cases, an online magazine [keywords: translation exchange, translation forum, translators'forum, translation blog].
5.3Terminology and phraseology management software
Terminology management software refers to applications designed to process the terminology required for an ongoing translation or the client's in-house glossaries. These are to be distinguished from full-blown database management systems that allow users to create generic or specialised terminology databases.
Terminology management and phraseology extraction applications can be used to:
- import the appropriate terms into the translation (i.e. by extracting terms
from terminology bases),
- extract useful phraseology from target language corpora.
Terms can be imported in either automatic mode (without human intervention) or semi-automatic mode (with the translator selecting the most appropriate term by accepting or rejecting what the system suggests). So called terminology management systems often simply interface terminology management applications or 'automatic dictionaries' with a word processor. The simplest one is a macro command that extracts the terminology from a table that the translator has created with all the terminology to be used in the translation and integrates it into the material for translation.
Phraseology extraction applications can be used on a set of documents in the target language relating to the subject matter dealt with in the source material and found via the Internet. The extraction software identifies all the occurrences of keywords in the phrases the translator is looking for, and then displays them with their context. The translator can then use this phraseology 'bank' to find appropriate phrases for the ongoing translation. For instance, the translator will ask to see all the collocations and phraseological combinations of the term bandwidth in the digital corpus, and will then be able to choose the most appropriate one in the given context. Acrobat ReaderTM6.0 and upwards unquestionably qualifies as a decent phraseology extractor from PDF files.
Dictionary creation software enables the translator to produce dictionaries for his clients, whenever this is required. Dictionaries may be created using a word processor, a spreadsheet application or a data base management system (either commercially available or purpose-built). These applications can be considered as 'translator assistance devices' insofar as they help translators perform dictionary creation more speedily and more efficiently.
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