Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Internationalization - Part I

Sponsored Links

New media translation tools and technologies

In this article:

1. Professional human translators
2. Web site automatic translation
3. Low cost translation tools

80% of the Internet's content is in English. 43% of Internet users today cannot read English at all.

From The Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy: "small yellow and leechlike... if you stick a Babelfish in your ear, you can instantly understand anything you hear in any form of language". Wouldn't this be a 21st century gadget we would all buy?

While it may be a little early to shop around for the amphibian (water-proof) Babelfish, a new breed of sophisticated translation tools is replacing the old slow machine translation systems of the '70s , '80s and 90s.

These new translation tools are significantly improved in comparison to the traditional machine translation (MT) processes and machine assisted translation (MAT) systems of the past.

These new language translation tools are high-technology hybrids, combining the best of both approaches: the speed of a fully automated system combined with the skills, intuition and ability of the human brain augmented by specialized interactive aids such as translation memory tools or specialized terminology and glossary products.

The benefits that these new tools bring with them are as follows:

a) Improves quality by making translation more consistent and more accurate use of terminology.

b) Reduces cost by recycling existing translated material as well as taking advantages of repetitions.

c) Shortens the translation cycle, and the overall project workflow and complexity.

Translation tools and software have also migrated from large mainframe computers to personal computers and workstations such as Windows, the Apple PowerMacintosh, Sun Sparcsystems and Unix and Linux boxes making these multilingual universe accessible to many of us.

Even after decades of work and investments for tens of millions of dollars, human translations are still better in quality than translations done by a computer.

It is also true that computers can and do translate much more quickly (though less precisely) and they are more cost effective than human translators.

If you need to publish a perfect translation, such as project brief or a programme outline, you need a human translator.
However, if the general meaning of the text is sufficient for your needs, the many high technology tools and services reviewed here below will provide a useful translation for you, and in some cases even at no charge.


h2. What is MT Machine Translation?

Translations done by a computer are generally referred to as "Machine Translation". Because computers do not yet possess the vast knowledge required to be able to express phrases and sentences like a true human being. As such machine translations are still far from perfect.

A computer, for example, does not easily know the many different ways in which the verb "get" may need to be translated in other languages depending on its context. Even the simple expression "I like you" is critically sensitive to translations that are too literal, and the translation may actually change the final meaning across different cultures.

Machine translation is an old and honored part of the knowledge ecology. It has also proven to be one of the most difficult problems to solve.

Existing machine translation systems can work only in certain very limited circumstances.

- There is a large body of very predictable text (syntax and semantics)

- The final goal is to get only a rough idea of what needs to be translated (this is nowdays referred as as "gisting", as it gives you (sometimes) the "gist" (hang, knack, feeling, meaning, main point) of what is being said.

- As part of an integrated translation system that also includes translation memory, glossary/terminology management and workflow tools.

Systems that include Translation Memory, Terminology Management (custom dictionaries and more) and Workflow Tools include:

SDL Int'l -
Trados -
Idiom -
Uniscape -
GlobalSight -
Star -
Language Aut. -
Atril Software -
Alchemy Software -

(all have different approaches and different uses).

Learning seldom meets either of these requirements and I would not consider MT as a solution for localizing eLearning.

There are three major categories of tools currently available to assist or automate the translation process. They are:

a) Terminology Managers,

b) Machine Translation (MT) Tools, and

c) Machine Assisted Human Translation (MAHT) or Translator Workbench Tools.

Each category has inherent strengths, shortcomings and price points that make it necessary to do a careful assessment of which technology, if any, will provide a maximum return on investment.

The unique and major advantage of Machine Translation is speed.
As mentioned above, the trade off for all that speed is quality and precision. But speed means that you can have many pages of content almost instanteously translated, making this solution ideal for those purposes where human translation is simply not feasible or simply too slow.

A so-called "gisted" translation allows readers to understand the basic meaning of the original foreign-language document and to determine its relevance and importance to them.

The best Machine Translation systems available today don't simply translate text a word at a time, but they actually analyze sentences based on the rules of the specific language used and translate the words and phrases in the context of the original document.

Most so-called Machine Translation software just perform dictionary lookups and makes word-for-word replacements.


h2. Automatic Translation Tools

Automatic Translation Tools use advanced computational linguistic analysis to process source documents and automatically create draft quality translations.

To learn more about their capabilities, check out the whitepaper on: An Introduction to Computer Aided Translation (CAT) Tools center/whitepapers/catinto.htm


h2. Translation focus

Most of the tools reviewed below offer fast, decent to high quality instant translation. But they are tuned to translate a wide variety of content types. The best quality Machine Translation is generated when the translation server is created for the specific topic area of the material being translated.

Using dictionaries, translation rules and "translation memory", supervised and coordinated by an expert human translator specifically targeted to your organization and interest area can be quick and together they can cost-effectively increase the quality and speed of your translations.


h2. Translation Memory

Many new technologies and strategies have been recently adopted by the leaders in this sector. Among the is the adoption and development of Translation Memory mechanisms and tools.

Translation memory is provided by a specific software translation tool to memorize how different phrases and sentences are or have been translated in the past.

By memorizing a translator's past work, you can increase productivity and improve efficiency of future projects, at the same time thus, raising the bar for quality and consistency.

The database relieves translators of repetitive work and time-consuming searches for changes in revised documents, archived work and terminology.

Utilizing this knowledge the software automaticallyreplaces all those segments of the text to be translated according to the choices and rules used successfully before.

Such a functionality perfectly complements the custom dictionary database that each translation software comes with. By utilizing the two elements in combination, one can be sure of obtaining the best translation results possible and to save a significant amount of time in doing so.

Finally, it is essential (unless your translation needs are rare and small) that a translation workflow is implemented and possibly supported by software that can help you do that.

Some of the more sophisticated tools in this roundup provide content management and translation workflow facilities, making it easier for translators to follow review, approval, revisions and final publication steps in an orderly fashion.

In this light, I could say that many international organizations do not even realize the wealth of information and knowledge locked away in their existing translation archives.


h2. Localizing your Web site through a strategic partnership

Alternatively, I advise considering strategic partnerships with your international affiliates to reach the same goal in a much more cost-effective way.

If your organization or company publishes content that is of high value and interest to many people in countries where ohter languages are spoken, you can seek local online partners that in translate parts (or the whole) of your web site, in exchange for customizing and adding local content and leveraging their communication interests to it. By giving just some ownership to other people, you will find that many would be willing to take on your good work, and to leverage it further at their local level.

In the end you have already developed the content and they can support you in making it accessible to more interested people.


h2. What is localization then?

Localization (as opposed to more rudimentary text translation) provides a much more complete conversion to a native culture, not just a native tongue. Costs more, though; but worth it if you plan to sell the material.


h2. Do I need Machine Translation or Human Translation?

Only human translators can consistently produce perfect translations of complex language. If you need a perfect translation, only a human being can assure you of that. On the other hand, human translators cannot do instant translations. Only a computer ("Machine Translation") is able to do that. Although human translators can perform free translations, the best of them rarely do so.

For reasons of speed or price, many of the fastest-growing needs for translation can only be met by Machine Translation.

Machine Translation excels in various applications such as, real-time translation of e-mail, chat, forums and web pages.

Machine Translation is also great for searching document archives in other languages for the document you need, and then getting a quick, rough translation of that document once you've found it.

Human translators excel at creating perfect translations. For documents on general topics, one needs a great translator adept at the appropriate language direction (English to French, for example.)

For documents on specialized topics (translators call them "domains"), one also needs to find a translator who is also adept and experienced in the terminology and style of that domain (chemical engineering, for instance.)

If you are going to disseminate your translation to others, you usually want a human translator to at least look it over and edit it.

Use the right tool. You can't afford a human translator sitting next to you as you look through the Internet or your company Intranet for the information you need. On the other hand, you don't want to use Machine Translation to translate your company brochure from English to German, then have it printed and distributed to a prospective clients in Berlin.


h2. Basic features needed in an "ideal" translation system

1. Machine translation

2. Translation memory

3. Workflow tools

4. Project management tools

5. Budgeting and analysis tools

I have subdivided the possible translation solutions in several categories to facilitate your access and use of this resource list. They go from human translation to professional software tools to free online services.

In Part I of this report I am reviewing:

A) Human Translation services

B) Web site automatic translation tools (Tools and services that make your Web site accessible in other languages automatically).

C) Low-cost Translation Tools


In Part II (November issue #12) I will report on:

A) Free translation Tools

B) Professional Desktop Tools

C) Complementary Tools

D) Translation Resources

Readers' Comments    
blog comments powered by Disqus
posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, October 31 2001, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

Search this site for more with 








    Curated by

    New media explorer
    Communication designer


    POP Newsletter

    Robin Good's Newsletter for Professional Online Publishers  



    Real Time Web Analytics