Impressions from Translating and the Computer 38

The 38th ‚Translating and the Computer‘ conference in London has just finished, and, as always, I take home a lot of inspiration. Here are my personal highlights:

  • Sketch Engine, a language corpus management and query system, offers loads of useful functions for conference preparation, like web-based (actually Bing-based) corpus-building, term extraction (the extraction results come with links to the corresponding text, the lists are exportable to common, reusable formats) and thesaurus-building. The one thing l liked most was the fact that if, for example, your clients have their websites in several languages, you can enter the urls of the different language versions and SketchEngine will download them, so that you can then use the texts a corpus. You might hear more about SketchEngine from me soon …
  • XTM, a translation memory system, offers parallel text alignment (like many others do) with the option of exporting the aligned texts into xls. This finally makes them reusable for those many interpreting colleagues who, for obvious reasons, do not have any translation memory system. And the best thing is, you can even re-export an amended version of this file back into the translation memory system for your translator colleagues to use. So if you interpret a meeting where a written agreement is being discussed in several language versions, you can provide the translators first hand with the amendments made in the meeting.
  • SDL Trados now offers an API and has an App Store. New hope for an interpreter-friendly user interface!

All in all, my theory that you just have to wait long enough for the language technology companies to develop something that suits conference interpreters‘ needs seems to materialise eventually. Also scientists and software providers alike were keen to stress that they really want to work with translators and interpreters in order to find out what they really need. The difficulty with conference interpreters seems to be that we are a very heterogeneous community with very different needs and preferences.

And then I had the honour to run a workshop on interpreters workflows and fees in the digital era (for some background information you may refer to The future of Interpreting & Translating – Professional Precariat or Digital Elite?). The idea was to go beyond the usual „digitalisation spoils prices and hampers continuous working relations“ but rather find ways to use digitalisation to our benefit and to boost good working relationships, quality and profitability. I was very happy to get some valuable input from practicioners as well as from several organisations‘ language services and scientists. What I took away were two main ideas: interface-building and quality rating.

Interface-building: By cooperating with the translation or documentation department of companies and organisations, quality and efficiency could be improved on both sides (translators providing extremely valuable and well-structured input for conference preparation and interpreters reporting back „from the field“). Which brings me back to the aforementioned positive outlook on the sofware side.

Quality rating: I noticed a contradiction which has never been so clear to me before. While we interpreters go on about the client having to value our high level of service provided and wanting to be paid well for quality, quality rating and evaluation still is a subject that is largely being avoided and that many of us feel uncomfortable with. On the other hand, some kind of quality rating is something clients sometimes are forced to rely on in order to justify paying for that (supposedly) expensive interpreter. I have no perfect solution for this, but I think it is worth some further thinking.

In general, there was a certain agreement that formalising interpreters‘ preparation work has its limitations. It is always about filling the very personal knowledge gaps of the individual (for a very particular conference setting), but that technologies can still be used to improve quality and keep up with the rapidly growing knowledge landscape around us.

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About the author:
Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.