Blog

Global Voices: For Artists, the World was a Canvas for Change in 2015

Art is a powerful language that can resonate across countries and cultures, and as such, artists picked up their paintbrushes and pointed their cameras in acts of solidarity, protest and reflection throughout 2015. Global Voices authors took you around the world this year covering these inspiring stories of creativity. As the New Year approaches, let’s take a look back at 16 of them.
Read the whole article on Global Voices…

I have just translated the above article, “For Artists, the World Was a Canvas for Change in 2015,” into German for Global Voices. The translation can be found here.

CAT-Tools “for Dummies”

Cat and toy

I hate to disappoint the animal lovers among my readers, but the term CAT-tool has nothing to do with our furry friends. CAT is the acronym for “computer-assisted translation,” which, in turn, has only marginally to do with machine translation. Computer-assisted translation simply refers to software or apps that help translators with the technical aspects of a translation such that the translator can concentrate on what matters: the translation. By technical aspects I mean tasks such as the following:

  • Looking up terms in a dictionary or in a library of previously translated text, a so-called “translation memory”
  • Ensuring terminological consistency
  • Copying numbers in the correct formats from the source into the target text
  • Various QA checks that involve numbers, formats, punctuation, etc.
  • Applying the same formatting as the source to the target text
  • And many more tasks that can be automated in a simple way

Every CAT-tool on the market that I know of accomplishes the automation of some or all of the aforementioned tasks by chopping up the source text into smaller pieces, so-called segments. A segment can be one sentence, but depending on the language combination, the nature of the text, and a variety of other factors, a segment can be a smaller or larger unit than one sentence. This segmentation is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing, because it enables the software to perform the aforementioned tasks efficiently; and a curse, because the segmentation can lead to a target text that reads more like a never-ending bulleted list of dictionary entries than a fluid text that’s enjoyable to read. Therefore, depending on the type of text to be translated, CAT-tools can be either indispensable or an overcomplication. CAT-tools are indispensable to ensure a consistent terminology for texts such as patents, manuals, textbooks, and any text with repetitive content such as annual reports and/or where a consistent terminology is absolutely required. On the other hand, using a CAT-tool to translate literary works may not be the best approach.

Which CAT-tool do you recommend?

This is the question that other translators have asked me recently quite often, although I am no CAT-tool expert. I just know how to use a few of them and learned most of the functionality by doing. There are so many tools on the market, in various price ranges and with various functionalities, for various operating systems that I cannot really answer this question. In addition, I think the answer depends highly on individual preferences, language combinations, and the type of text.

A good tool should at least have all of the following capabilities:

  • A workflow that fits your specific needs and preferences
  • All required functions for source and target language
  • Ability to handle the source file format
  • Terminology management capabilities
  • Ability to export and import translation memories
  • Ability to perform a spell-check, either tool-intern or extern (I prefer the latter because I run the Duden spell check for German externally, which is more complete than any other spell check I have found)
  • Ability to perform a QA check, either tool-intern or extern

Some people have additional requirements such as the ability to work with voice recognition software etc. The above list is the minimum functionality I expect of a CAT-tool. Of course, another consideration is price, as well as frequency of updates and availability of technical support.

Most tool vendors offer fully functional trial versions. Thus, I would recommend to download these trial versions of various tools and spend half a day or so trying out the various tools on a real text to see which tool works best for you.

Here, I want to again emphasize the issue of segmentation. Some tools segment better than others, and some tools have a better layout than others to help you avoid overly choppy writing. I noticed a marked difference in my style between tools, simply because of the different layouts. Some tools require one editing step more for me after the translation to make the text flow more naturally.

This is definitely something to keep in mind when choosing a tool, because after a while, you will be more or less stuck with that tool. Over the years, I have collected quite a few glossaries and created my own termbases with terms that I researched over many hours in total. These glossaries and termbases are in the format of one specific tool, and exporting and importing these into another tool would require too much effort to make it worthwhile. There is a common format for translation memories (TMX) that makes them easy to transfer from one tool to another. Unfortunately, the same is not (yet?) true for translation projects and termbases, which every tool saves in its own proprietary format. Sometimes termbases can be exported as well — however, more often than not this is only possible for the source and target term pairs, but not for annotations and categorizations of the terms. That is, the expertise that went into the creation of the termbases cannot be transferred, which is what makes these termbases so valuable in the first place.

Therefore: Choose wisely, grasshopper!

MOOC Reviews: Online Linguistics Courses (Coursera and VLC Marburg)

In this post I will write some overdue reviews of several online MOOCs on linguistics, the course “Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics” by Prof. Marc van Oostendorp of Leiden University on Coursera and the courses “Linguistics 101: Fundamentals” and “Linguistics 102: Speech Science” by Prof. Jürgen Handke on the Virtual Linguistics Campus of the Universität Marburg.

Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics – Coursera

Summary

The course offered exactly what the title promised, an introduction to linguistics. The level was fairly basic, at the high school to early college level, so none of the topics were covered in depth. However, the two video projects that were part of the assignments were fun and instructive, and Prof. van Oostendorp’s enthusiasm was so contagious that I signed up for some more serious linguistics MOOCs (see below).

Course format

The course was delivered in videos which were a mix of lectures by Prof. van Oostendorp, dialogues with his teaching assistants, and interviews with various linguistics experts. There were fairly easy multiple choice quizzes as well as two fun video projects to complete. There were quite active discussions on the Coursera discussion forums. The course runs over 6 weeks, Coursera estimates an average of 4-6 hrs/week, which is about accurate, factoring in the two more involved assignments.

Rating          ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ 

Overall, the course was a bit too elementary for a professional translator with some linguistics knowledge, but I liked the fun assignments and, as already said above, the lecturer’s enthusiasm for the topic is contagious. Thus I would highly recommend this course to beginning translators and beginning college students. Advanced language professionals, even those with no formal linguistics background, might find the content a bit too basic.

Linguistics 101: Fundamentals, Linguistics 102: Speech Science – VLC

Summary

The two courses were held concurrently, so I signed up for both. The content of the courses necessarily overlap a bit, since the “Fundamentals” also include some speech science. The content of the course is as advanced as one would expect at a professional/university level. The videos are expertly made, and the tests, which are not always multiple choice, not as easy as most of the MOOC quizzes I have taken. Overall, I learned quite a bit, and can recommend the VLC including the more advanced courses to any language professional without a formal linguistics background.

Course format

The courses are hosted on the Virtual Linguistics Campus of the University of Marburg. Both courses run over 2 months, with a pace of about 2 modules per week, although the pace can be chosen individually, so about 15 modules in total. Every module contains a “worksheet” with a test that needs to be completed before the end of the course. The content is delivered via video lectures, hosted on YouTube, and accompanying PDF slides. I estimate the total volume to about 10 hrs/week for one of the courses, to really absorb the content.

The form of content delivery on the front-end is one of my main points of criticism, because navigating at least 3 pop-up windows to get to the course content was quite cumbersome, compared to the ease of use of the Coursera or edX platforms. Many students had technical difficulties, and I also had to try several browsers and adjust the settings to make the pop-up windows work without a browser crash. Another point of criticism is the fact that the discussion forum was hosted on Facebook, which in my opinion, for content of this nature, is the wrong forum. Facebook also does not allow proper academic discussions that a more “traditional” discussion platform would offer, simply due to the length and linking restrictions on Facebook.

Rating          ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ 

Overall, I would absolutely recommend these courses and the more advanced ones to anybody who wants to learn about linguistics. The content is truly excellent, Prof. Handke’s delivery is truly excellent, and the worksheets really test one’s knowledge, unlike most MOOC quizzes I have taken. The only reason these courses only get a rating of 4 out of 5 is because of the aforementioned unnecessarily complicated interface, including the technical drawback of having to navigate 3 separate pop-ups to finally get to the content.

The above linguistics courses and a few others are now made available for self-paced study on the VLC platform.

Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies: Illegal Money or a New Global Payment Option?

Most translators and interpreters, as well as everybody doing international business, know them well: high bank charges, sometimes coupled with exorbitant exchange fees, endless, complicated forms, long clearance times etc. Then there is the archaic way of paying via check. Given that this is the 21st century, one might think that there should be better, cheaper, faster ways for transferring money from person A to person B. There are, of course, Paypal and similar services, which however also involve non-negligible fees, and their newer relatives Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and the like. Neither of the aforementioned options is truly global. However, there are some new players on the global payment market: Bitcoin, or more generally, cryptocurrencies.

Read More

News from ATA’s Science and Technology Division

Starting in November, Lebzy Gonzalez will be the new Administrator of ATA’s Science and Technology Division, and I will assist her in the role of Assistant Administrator, taking over from the current outstanding duo Karen Tkaczyk and Alicja Yarborough. As an introduction to those who haven’t met me or interacted with me yet, SciTech blog editor Amy Lesiewicz featured a short interview with me here.