What are the Internet/CATs/TMs doing to our translation skills?
Thread poster: Susan Welsh

Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:33
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Jun 16, 2010

Request for an informal survey (if you don't want your answers made public here, feel free to send them to me privately c/o my profile).

Motivation:

I am collaborating with another translator to write a review of the new book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Here's one review that gives the gist of his argument:

http://www.linkedin.com/redirect?url=http://www.salon.com/books/what_to_read/index.html?story=/books/laura_miller/2010/05/09/the_shallows&urlhash=Ivj4

I decided to read the book because of a recent observation of my own memory process with respect to translation work. I worked on a job for which I had a very good bilingual electronic glossary of relevant specialized terms, which I used within my CAT tool (along with Google Translate), all of which was quite helpful and increased my productivity. I did not have a useful TM.

When I got to the end of the job, I realized that there was a certain phrase in the source language that had occurred over and over again. Each time, some very stupid and shallow part of my brain saw it in the glossary and said, "Yes, I'll use that," and my fingers popped it into the target text segment. But the part of my brain that remembers things (long-term, i.e., more than 2 seconds) was an innocent bystander: at the end of the job, I could not remember what the relevant source language phrase was. Conversely, if you had told me the source language phrase, I would not have been able to tell you the target-language translation. This was all done on "autopilot."

That quite dismayed me, making me wonder if all this technological help--which seems really indispensable--is actually IMPEDING my ability to improve my translation skills. And if so, how I should counteract it, without "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

Carr does not address issues of translation directly. He does report Socrates' dismay, that people in his day were veering away from the oral tradition and starting to write things down and read them. He feared this would destroy the memory. Carr also cites the 2003 work of a Dutch clinical psychologist, Christof van Nimwegen who had two sets of volunteers do a tricky "logic puzzle." One group had helpful software to give them visual and other clues as to how to find a solution; the other group used a program that gave no hints at all. As time went on, the second group excelled, and these results held up 8 months later with a different puzzle. The groups were matched by cognitive abilities. The researcher found that those who were using the "unhelpful" software were better able to plan ahead and plot strategy, while those using the helpful software were found "to aimlessly click around."

The author (Carr's) conclusion; "The brighter the software, the dimmer the user."

Here's my question:

Have you had any experiences in which you thought that online dictionaries, TMs, machine translation, and other technology were detrimental to your abilities as a translator? That they perhaps eroded your memory; or got you to think in pre-packaged "segments," in which the broader context is lost; or made you less imaginative in thinking of appropriate words in the source language? Any insights into the matter are welcome. If I get some interesting answers, especially if some are sent to me privately, I will post a summary here.

Thanks!
Susan


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Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:33
Danish to English
speech recognition opened my eyes to this Jun 16, 2010

I have been switching over to using speech recognition, and I am very pleased with the results. But one of the first things I noticed was, that while in typing mode it seemed natural to use electronic dictionaries, and Google, it does not seem right when speaking out a sentence. I often have to think a lot before being able to flip a sentence around in my head, and then speak it out in the target language. I have been determined to try to do this with a minimal input from reference materials. And that has made me realize the degree to which "looking up" had become natural, even with words that I knew very well. So now I try to avoid doing that. I try to maintain the natural flow of the language. Of course, sometime I do have to stop and think, or even "look it up", but at least this has given me a very strong incentive to use my own memory, and the effort is paying off.

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philgoddard
United States
German to English
+ ...
. Jun 16, 2010

I heard an interview with Nicholas Carr on the radio a week or so ago, and all the way through I was thinking "Yes, this is me".

I think we're suffering from an epidemic of attention deficit disorder, flitting around on our computers all day, back and forth between work, emails, Facebook - and of course in our case ProZ. We sit around in rooms full of people staring at their laptops instead of talking to one another. I'm sure I work longer hours than I used to - I rarely finish at 5 these days, and it's because there are so many more distractions. So what computers give us with one hand, they take away with the other.


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xxxMarkAlexande
Local time: 07:33
. Jun 17, 2010

...or what they take away with one hand they give back with the other.

There was a time 15 years ago when I had to teach myself differential equations to do work in my particular corner of linguistics. I wasn't a total loss mathematically but neither was I the most numerate person on the block. But using a program (Maple) that allowed me to visualize the flows the equations were describing, a door into a fundamental realm was opened for me that would have otherwise remained closed.

I've felt the negatives: before I started using voice recognition, I counted myself a "perfect speller". Now, when I'm forced into a corner and actually have to type something out with my own ten fingers, I struggle to call up the image of words that, in many cases, I no longer see clearly. (Then again, spellcheckers taught me years ago that I was never such a perfect speller, after all.)

I do think that to the greatest extent, the good or bad of the machine depends upon its user. Does someone using the computer to run simulations or create programs fall into the same category as another flitting between YouTube and Twitter? But take the computer away and you have one person dashing off a personal letter while they watch a Dick Van Dyke rerun – like most of us – and another locked away in a room proving Fermat's last theorem.

Mark.


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apk12  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:33
English to German
+ ...
Yes, but coming back to our profession... Jun 17, 2010

Yes, but coming back to our profession - I do not work in cafés - I can put it quickly in a few words: yes, there is a problem and exactly this problem is the reason why I try to avoid working with cat tools as much as possible (which is actually not a real problem if you talk with the outsourcers, clearly, upfront).

a) they lower my output [gosh, just count the time every single bug takes you. before my competitor even managed to a1) try to find a solution him/herself, a2) contacts the vendor's customer's support, a3) waits for the answer, a4) in the meantime, writes his another bug question post here in the forum a5) waits for the answers a6) reads the answers and a7) makes his/her next attempt to do something about it, .... etc. up to z),
I will in the same time have already delivered the result (in a smaller up to middle-size case) or, if a bit larger, be quite a few pages farer, knowing I do not jeopardize the deadline].

b) it changes the way how I work with a text, how I process a sentence, how I sense it. it simply lowers the speed my brain needs to open a fan of target solution drafts and limits their amount at the same time (classical lost-lost-situation).

c) doing your work gives you on sev. occasions chances to view work done by colleagues. there are translations you see which simply clearly show that something there went wrong. parts of a sentence coming with good style, parts breaking down, getting weaker and even showing mistakes which h.a.v.e. no other explanation than the 'help' the translator used.

d) coming back to a) - maybe a creative psychologist would turn this to a 'typical female equvalent' to the indisposition male people might feel if they come across something which could lower their potency, but actually, whether the psychologist would be simply purely inventive in such a case or not - I do n.o.t. like the idea of getting my output (potency) lowered :]






[Edited at 2010-06-17 09:12 GMT]


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Stanislav Pokorny  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 07:33
English to Czech
+ ...
Uhm... Jun 17, 2010

apk12 wrote:

Yes, but coming back to our profession - I do not work in cafés - I can put it quickly in a few words: yes, there is a problem and exactly this problem is the reason why I try to avoid working with cat tools as much as possible (which is actually not a real problem if you talk with the outsourcers, clearly, upfront).

a) they lower my output [gosh, just count the time every single bug takes you. before my competitor even managed to a1) try to find a solution him/herself, a2) contacts the vendor's customer's support, a3) waits for the answer, a4) in the meantime, writes his another bug question post here in the forum a5) waits for the answers a6) reads the answers and a7) makes his/her next attempt to do something about it, .... etc. up to z),
I will in the same time have already delivered the result (in a smaller up to middle-size case) or, if a bit larger, be quite a few pages farer, knowing I do not jeopardize the deadline].

b) it changes the way how I work with a text, how I process a sentence, how I sense it. it simply lowers the speed my brain needs to open a fan of target solution drafts and limits their amount at the same time (classical lost-lost-situation).

c) doing your work gives you on sev. occasions chances to view work done by colleagues. there are translations you see which simply clearly show that something there went wrong. parts of a sentence coming with good style, parts breaking down, getting weaker and even showing mistakes which h.a.v.e. no other explanation than the 'help' the translator used.

d) coming back to a) - maybe a creative psychologist would turn this to a 'typical female equvalent' to the indisposition male people might feel if they come across something which could lower their potency, but actually, whether the psychologist would be simply purely inventive in such a case or not - I do n.o.t. like the idea of getting my output (potency) lowered :]


Well, to follow Mark's idea, any aid, any computer and thus any computer aid (and any technology in general) is only as good as its user.
1. If you know how to keep your computer in a good condition, it can be great help. If not, it can become a real pain in the a**e.
2. If you know how to use computer aids in a decent way, they can be great help. If not, they can become time killers.

On the other hand, I fully agree that source text segmentation may make the translation segmented as well and that you need to be extremely careful about this. Also, the TM you get may have been created by an incompetent "translator", and thus different styles and/or language registers may be seen used within one and the same document.

Also, not all scenarios require the use of CAT tools or make them possible at all. But this is already going slightly OT.

[Upraveno: 2010-06-17 09:26 GMT]


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Mette Melchior  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 07:33
English to Danish
+ ...
Interesting topic Jun 17, 2010

Susan Welsh wrote:

Have you had any experiences in which you thought that online dictionaries, TMs, machine translation, and other technology were detrimental to your abilities as a translator? That they perhaps eroded your memory; or got you to think in pre-packaged "segments," in which the broader context is lost; or made you less imaginative in thinking of appropriate words in the source language?



I have only recently started experimenting with machine translation and I think that indeed can make you less imaginative and easily result in poorer translations in terms of syntax and style due to the fact that you get a suggestion served before you even start thinking about possible translations yourself. I also think it requires some very good editing skills and a high level of awareness of the typological features of your working languages to get good results out of machine translated texts.

Some of the translations I have been receiving for proofreading lately were obviously produced with the help of machine translation where the translator clearly didn't have the necessary editing and language skills to handle this in a satisfying way. This is not to say that I don't think machine translation can be useful for people with the right skills. I just think it should be used with a great deal of caution, and my impression so far is also that it is most helpful for certain text types whereas it mostly becomes a source of irritation for others.

I would be curious to hear the opinion of others with regards to integrating machine translation in our work as professional translators and how this influences the translation quality.

As for the use of CAT tools I think they provide some great possibilities to easily consult and leverage previously translated material and glossaries, and I don't think this affects my work in a negative way. But as with machine translation, you could also argue that this might limit your "mental scope", so maybe it is just a matter of habit as well as practice and experience?

In any case, no matter which reference or support material we use as translators, the crucial thing is always to be critical about what we find, do the necessary research and then determine whether it is appropriate for the translation at hand or not. - And a good portion of curiosity and professional pride is also important to keep expanding our vocabulary and improving our skills in general.

So if we are conscious about the pitfalls, I think the risk that our abilities will be negatively affected by the wonders of modern technology will be very, very small

[Edited at 2010-06-17 11:58 GMT]


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Roy OConnor
Local time: 07:33
Member (2009)
German to English
I wouln't put the clock back Jun 17, 2010

There are pros and cons with any technology, but my experience is that modern technology has largely had a positively influence. After all, my first translations were printed out on paper using a daisy-wheel printer for "letter quality" and then posted off! Were those the "good old days"? Perhaps just more romantic.

New technology demands new methods and new skills. It's no good being just literate, you have to be computer and Internet literate too. With web-based resources such as dictionaries and Google you have to be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

It's not all positive. There is less human contact - no-one phones anyone these days. And I can't help wondering about the future of translation. Anyone remember typing pools and telephone switchboards? My own feeling is that eventually translators will follow typists and switchboard operators.

Or am I getting depressed? Where's the whisky bottle!


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