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When translation meets technologies

Written by

Akiko Sakamoto, lead researcher for the Translation Research Group at the University of Portsmouth, discusses the objectives of and key findings from recent research on the current state of use of technology in the UK translation industry.

Portsmouth reportTechnology is unarguably an integral part of our modern lives and so it is the case in translation practice. Many different technological tools are now incorporated in the translation production process and whether you like it or not, translators and LSPs have to live with technology in their day-to-day operations. However, people's feelings about the usage of technology are mixed: some feel excited, some empowered but others may feel daunted. And these feelings are important because how society adopts technologies, or in our case, how the translation industry adopts technological tools, and eventually how that affects the overall development of the industry, is fundamentally influenced by their feelings and perceptions of technology.

This is why we, the Translation Research Group at the University of Portsmouth, decided to hold a focus group study with 16 project managers from translation companies to solicit their opinions about the current state of the use of technology in the UK translation industry. Project managers are such important players in the industry: they decide on a daily basis what technological tools are to be used in their operations and how. They also know very well about both translation users (clients) and producers (translators) and how they are working with technologies.

A focus group, also known as group interview, is a method of collecting people's views on a topic through discussion. The 16 project managers got together to discuss various topics covering six areas of translation technology: machine translation (MT); CAT tools; interpreting-related tools; paid-crowdsourcing business model; communication tools (including social media); and training in technological tools. The participants had a discussion in four groups (with four people in each group) and the sessions lasted for two hours. 

The information the project managers gave us was extremely enlightening, and sometimes surprising. What was most surprising for us was the fact that project managers do not talk much about the use of MT with their freelance translators. There are some reasons behind this, but the main reason is the issue of protection of confidential data. Publicly-available free machine translation systems can be useful for translators in different ways (as a tool to get the gist of the source text, as a dictionary, or to get an output for post-editing), but there is a risk of supplying confidential data to the MT system if used incorrectly. As a result, people seem to be reluctant to talk about it. The project managers admitted that MT is a 'taboo' topic, being a 'don't ask don't tell' kind of thing.

We find this outcome worrying. Brushing the topic under the carpet because they are worried about being caught inadvertently disclosing confidential data is surely not desirable for the healthy development of the industry in this highly computerised society.

So how do we tackle this issue? One answer is to encourage better communication between different groups of industry stakeholders, in this case, translators and project managers. University researchers are keen to contribute to this cause. As an example, we held a public seminar about translation technology on 3 November 2017 at the University of Portsmouth, which also hosted a panel discussion "Who should become machine translation post-editors?". A good mix of people including LSP business owners, project managers, translators (both freelance and in-house), researchers and students discussed the issue in an open atmosphere, which provided a fantastic opportunity for all attendees to exchange opinions from different positions in the industry.

In our report - When Translation Meets Technologies: language service providers in the digital age - you can find many other interesting insights from project managers about the use of technology. It is available to download from the research section of the ITI website.

We'd like to thank the ITI for acting as a collaborator in this focus group study and to the project managers for giving up some of their time in their busy schedules to take part in the study.




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