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The Changing Face of Translation

May 8th, 2011 | by LTD | No Comments

(from L-R) Carmen Vargas, Leonard Morin, Sergio Valdeon,
Emily Tell having dinner after the presentation

Author: Emily Tell


Jon Ritzdorf, adjunct instructor at NYU and globalization architect, gave a lively and engaging presentation at the monthly meeting of the New York Circle of Translators on Monday, February 28th, at the ANSI in New York City before an audience of multilingual professionals at diverse stages of the translation profession.

Jon opened the presentation by addressing the “clash of realities” between technology and translation. To illustrate the fact that technology can’t be stopped and is taking over every industry, he pointed out the number of internet users in China today as compared to 10 years ago, as cited in the blog, Global by Design.

He emphasized the need for translators to upgrade their skills and adapt to evolving technology, so that they can stay competitive in the market and be ahead of the curve entering the next decade. He then posed the following questions to the audience:

  • How are you going to make your service model last into the next decade?
  • How current are you in your specialization, technologically speaking? If you specialize in the financial industry have you worked with XRLB files? If in the legal industry, are you familiar with XML files?

Jon compared translators working in the field for 20 – 30 years to younger translators and concluded that the former group is facing more challenges because of lack of preparation. The younger group is willing to adapt to new technologies, try new areas, offer a wider range of services, and work for less money.

I think that this trend places translators of all ages and skills in a difficult position: If we are going to invest our time and resources in learning new tech skills, we should be compensated at respectable rates that correspond to those skills. However, this trend toward CAT tools gives clients – languages agencies and direct clients – an excuse to demand that translators work essentially for free, at least when it comes to repetitions (term designated for words that are repeated throughout a document). Clients fail to realize that although a word has already been translated and doesn’t require further translation, we still have to edit the translation and should be compensated for those repetitions. We also have to be aware of the different terms clients use to differentiate between words that are translated for the first time and words that have already been translated and are repeated throughout the text. I have more experience with Trados than with any other CAT tool and have always referred to those classes of words as unmatched words and repetitions. However, recently I was offered a project in which the project manager referred to them as new words and old words, even though the CAT tool required for the project was Trados.

We also have to carefully evaluate projects on many levels—financially, technologically, and in regard to specialization and deadline—in order to determine whether they are even worth our time. Sometimes declining a job or not being offered a job has little to do with whether or not we possess the tech skills. The internal dynamics of the client’s organization, their payment terms (or lack thereof), their tech experience/knowledge/capacity and our own experience in the industry are all factors which may dissuade us from accepting a job, even if it is financially lucrative. Also, the working relationship (communication, availability to answer questions and clarify doubts) is important. Clients may prefer to work with translators who are easy to work with, whether or not they have the tech skills or charge more.

I believe that translators need to adapt to technology within their own timeframe and budget, and pursue reasonable objectives that make sense to them personally. Otherwise, the process can be overwhelming and not worth the expense. We also need the support and guidance of colleagues, clients and organizations in the industry in light of our freelance lifestyle, because the lack of a traditional office environment, job training and interaction with co-workers on a daily basis can have an isolating effect. We are our own bosses and are responsible for our own training. So while we do need to adapt to the changing face of translation, it is not as easy and automatic as one might be led to believe upon hearing Jon’s presentation.

Trend #1 – CAT TOOLS

OJ & Lyndon – Emily’s CATS

The first and most widely prevalent trend among translators and big businesses is the move towards Computer Assisted Translation tools, better known as CAT tools. CAT tools are essentially computer programs that act as a database for storing source words, phrases and other segments together with their corresponding translation. When the database or CAT tool is used during a translation, it detects whether a segment has been previously translated and automatically inserts the stored translation into the current text. This saves the translator time that might otherwise be spent in searching for the translation.

While certain CAT tools are more popular than others, Jon basically recommended learning several tools. These can be set up via operations like “sandboxing,” “virtual computing,” and “partitioning drives,” which make your one computer act and perform like multiple computers . Once you learn one tool, you can learn them all, because internally they essentially function in the same way.

It is also important to be open to learning the tool that your client uses, as it will increase your chances of being hired for more jobs. Your client may even provide you with their tool of choice for free, in addition to training. Be sure to ask!

Jon went on to provide a little bit of background on the key CAT players.

Key player 1: Trados
The history of Trados, an early CAT tool can be traced back to 1993. At that time, it was created as a plug-in for MS Word because MS Word was the first editor translators were using.

Key player 2: SDL
SDL’s original product was SDLX, a CAT tool and competitor of Trados. In 2006, SDL bought out Trados, which at the time owned 95% of the market share. SDL discontinued SDLX (2007 was the last version) and launched SDL Trados Studio 2009. Agencies don’t want to use the “new Trados,” because it’s too complicated and no one wants to upgrade. In addition, SDL is a translation agency and is seen as a competitor of its clients.

Other Key Players: Déjà vu, Memo Q, Wordfast, Omega T
With SDL losing market share, currently it is the most exciting time ever for CAT tools. Several players have emerged on the scene to compete with SDL: Déjà vu, Memo Q, Wordfast, Omega T and Across, tools that are less expensive and in some cases free.


According to Jon, machine translation or MT is the best thing to happen to translators! The reason? Anyone can go online, throw anything into Google Translate for example, post it and get instant feedback on the poor quality. They then realize and understand the value of human translators and are willing to pay for professional translations.

Is MT useful in light of the questionable quality? It is useful in the following situations: reading an article, translating posts on Facebook and Twitter, data-mining and translating random sentences used in the correct contexts with the correct level of expectations.

Jon Ritzdorf presenting on the Changing Faces of Translation

Jon went on to refer to Laurie Gerber’s presentation, “What Do You Tell your Clients When They Propose MT,” given at the 50th Annual ATA conference, on October 30, 2009. Laurie encourages translators to find out what the perceived value is for their clients who want to use MT. For example, is the translation for information only? Is it a 200,000 word legal text? Will it be disseminated to the public? Based on the client’s answer, translators should adapt to the client’s needs, be flexible and learn how to use MT. Since the goal of MT is to reduce translation costs, clients need to use it, but anything of high value such as a diplomatic speech shouldn’t be touched by MT.

As a result of MT, new positions have emerged, such as quality control managers and Post-MT editors. These positions may not be highly compensated, but they at least present an opportunity for translators.

Jon’s final point with regard to MT was to keep ahead of trends in your specialization. For example, MT has killed certain sub-specializations like automobile industry translation, which is an area of manufacturing and industrial translation. However, there are emerging areas such as high-speed rail and renewable energy. These haven’t been touched yet by MT, because human translators first have to create a multilingual corpus from which MT functions.


Localization is defined as the translation of web content and websites, which have formats above and beyond simple Word documents. It is not enough to know how to translate MS Word, Power Point and Excel files! Here are some examples of new formats to learn:

  • Web formats: HTML aka the language of the web.
  • XML: the “lingua franca” for everything. “X” in .docx stands for “XML.” Ebooks will be done in XML.
  • Search Engine keywords. People buy keywords to serve them up in SE marketing results. When a client wants to take a product global they need to have keywords translated so that a global user will find their product. Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns need both translation and adaptation to be locally relevant. Translators can ask clients if they do keyword marketing and then charge per keyword.


Because more and more people are creating their own videos and posting them to YouTube, Jon sees subtitling of educational videos as an emerging trend for translators.


Social media monitoring and management is the fifth and final trend presented by Jon. It is a booming topic that can greatly benefit translators seeking new opportunities to hone their craft. For example, if a French company does an English marketing campaign and has a Facebook page in English, translators can charge to monitor the posts, read through everything to eliminate slander, translate quotes and report positive feedback in a Word document. Translators can also translate Twitter and Facebook feed for clients.

No doubt the shift in technology in recent years has changed the face of translation. However, it doesn’t have to be “adapt or die.” Instead, translators can incorporate new technologies into their practice at a pace that best suits them. From newly emerging CAT tools to Twitter, navigating this new arena can be overwhelming. Though approaching it with optimism and enthusiasm will encourage translators to take a breath and just jump in!