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The Expanding Translation Market Driven by Expert Based MT
Thread poster: Kirti Vashee

Kirti Vashee  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:25
Jul 7, 2014

There has been much talk amongst some translators about how MT is a technology that will take away work and ultimately replace them, and thus some translators dig in their heels and resist MT at every step. The antagonistic view is based on a zero-sum game assumption that if a computer can perform a translation that they used to do, it inevitably means less work for them in future. In some cases this may be true, however this presumption is worth a closer look.

While stories of MT mishaps and mistranslations abound, (we all know how easy it is to make MT look bad), it is becoming increasingly apparent to many in the professional translation business, that it is important to learn how to use and extend the capabilities of this technology successfully, as the technology also enables new kinds of translation and linguistic engineering projects that would simply be impossible without viable and effective implementations of expert MT technology. Generally, MT is not a wholesale replacement for humans and in my opinion never will be. When properly implemented, it is a productivity enhancer and a way to expand the scope of multilingual information access for global populations that can benefit from this access.

MT is in fact as much or more a tool/technology to create new kinds of translation work, as it is a tool to get traditional translation work done faster and more cost effectively. While MT is unlikely to replace human beings in any application where translation quality and semantic finesse is really important, there are a growing number of cases that show that MT is suitable for enabling many new kinds of business information translation initiatives that may in fact generate whole new kinds of translation related work for some if not all translators. MT is already creating new kinds of translation work opportunities in all the following scenarios:

With high volume content that would just not get translated via traditional human translation modes for economic and timeliness reasons, and thus the use case scenario is either use MT or do nothing. MT is used to lower total costs that make content viable to translate without which it would have never been translated. This in turn has created new work for human translation professionals in editing the most critical content and helping to raise the average quality of expert MT output.
With content that cannot afford human translation because the value of the information is clearly not worth the typical human translation cost scenario.
High value content in social networks that is changing every hour and every day and has great value for a brief moment, but has limited value a few weeks after the fact.
Knowledge content that facilitates and enhances the global spread of critical knowledge.
Content that is created to enhance and accelerate information access to global customers, who prefer a self-service model as in technical support knowledge base databases which have new content streaming in on a daily basis.
Content that does not need to be perfect but just approximately understandable for exploratory or gist purposes.

One point worth clarifying upfront is that much of the interest in MT by global enterprises is driven by their need to face the barrage of product/service related comments, discussions and opinions that flow in social media and influence how customers view their products. This social media banter is very influential in driving purchase decisions, often much more than corporate marketing communications which are seen as self-serving and self-promoting. Also, as products grow in complexity it becomes important to share more information about power features and extended capabilities. The issue of growth in the sheer volume of information is increasingly clear to most but there are actually translators out there who think the content tsunami is a myth. EMC and IDC have well documented studies that show the continuing content explosion.

Global enterprises who wish to engage in commerce with global populations have discovered that the control of marketing has shifted away from corporate marketing departments to consumers who share intimate details or real customer experiences. User generated content (UGC) such as product experience related comments in social media e.g. blogs; Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and community forums have become much more important to final business outcomes. This UGC content is now influencing customer behavior all over the world and is often referred to as word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMM). Consumer reviews are often more trusted than corporate marketing-speak and even “expert” reviews. We all have experienced Amazon, travel sites, C-Net and other user rating sites which document actual consumer experiences. This is also happening at B2B levels. It is useful to both global consumers and global enterprises to make this content multilingual. Given the speed at which this information is produced, MT has to be part of the translation solution to digesting this information, and conversion to multilingual modes, to influence and assist global customers in a time frame where it is useful. For those of us who understand the translation challenges of this material, it is clear that involving humans in the expert MT development process providing linguistic and translation guidance in this process, will produce better MT output quality. The business value is significant so I expect that linguists who add value to this conversion process will be valued and sought after.

While some translators see MT as a big bad wolf that looms menacingly around, they fail to see that the world has changed for everybody, especially corporate marketers, PR professionals, and any enterprise sales function facing customers who share information freely with details of personal customer experiences. An individual blogger brought Dell to its knees with a blog post titled Dell Hell. Some say it triggered a huge stock price drop. A viral video about careless baggage handling of musical instruments resulted in a PR nightmare for United Airlines and perhaps even a negative impact on their stock price. This user experience content really matters to a global enterprise and they need strategies to deal with this as it spreads across the globe and influences purchase behavior. As the infographic below (bigger version available by clicking on this link) shows, every time a consumer posts an experience on the web it is seen by 150 people, which means small improvements in brand advocacy result in huge revenue increases, and 74% of consumers now rely on social networks to guide their purchasing decisions. This means that non-corporate content becomes much more important to understand and translate since these experiences are being shared in multiple languages.
online eng 2
This graph details how negative experiences multiply in negative impact, as consumers tend to be much more invested in sharing bad experiences than they are about sharing positive experiences. Thus it is very important that global enterprises monitor social media carefully. This is yet another example of what content really matters and how social media drives purchasing behavior.

So if all this is going on, it also means that what used to be the primary focus for the professional translation industry, needs to change from the static content of yesteryear to the more dynamic and much higher volume user generated content of today. The discussions in social media are often where product opinions, brand credibility and product reputations are formed and this is also where customer loyalty or disloyalty can form as the customer support experience shows. This is what we call high value content. MT is a critical technology that is necessary as a foundational element for the professional translation world to play a useful role in solving these new translation challenges. However, it is important to also understand that this challenge cannot be solved by any old variant of MT, especially the upload and pray approaches of most DIY (Do It Yourself) MT. This is challenging even for experts and failure is par for the course..


Where MT creates new translation work opportunities

image

Some specific examples of the expanding translation pie that MT enables and drives:

The knowledge base use-case scenario has been well established as something that improves customer satisfaction and empowerment for many global enterprises with high demand technical support information. To develop and improve the quality of the MT translations in knowledge bases, very special linguistic work and translations need to be done. And while we see many examples of translators commenting on the poor quality of the translations we also see that millions of real customers provide feedback to the global enterprise suggesting that they find these “really bad” translations quite useful for their purposes, and prefer that to trying to read a tech note in a language that is not as familiar. Thus, while MT is imperfect we have evidence that many (millions) find it useful. Generic users on the internet are information consumers who have to deal with a language barrier. They are often the customers that global enterprises wish to communicate with. Their growing acceptance of MT suggests that MT has utility in general as a way to communicate with global customers, even though it is clear that a machine’s attempt at translation is rarely if ever as good as a human translation.

We are now also seeing that social media content based sentiment analysis is increasingly being considered as a high value exercise by marketing groups in understanding global markets. To translate international social media content it is useful to understand core terminology and get critical language translations in place and steer expert MT. This is new kinds of linguistic and translation related work which involves understanding the behavior of language in specific domains and discussion forums and then building predictive translation models for them. This new linguistic engineering work is an opportunity for progressive translators. New skills are needed here, an understanding of corpus at a linguistic profile level, the ability to identify MT error patterns and develop corrective strategies by working together with experts. The objective here is to understand the customer voice by language and develop appropriate marketing response strategies.

We also see the growth of sharing internal product development information across language within large global enterprises. Rather than use a public MT engine that can compromise and expose secret product plans it has become important to develop internal corporate engines that help employees to share documents and presentations in a secure environment and at least get a high quality gist. This effort too benefits from skilled linguistic engineering work, corpus analysis, terminology development and strategic glossary and TM data manufacturing.

Every large translation project that is ONLY done because the cost/time characteristics that expert managed MT lends to it will generate two kinds of translation opportunities that would not exist were it not for the basic fact that MT made this content viable and visible in a multilingual context:

Post-editing of the highest value material in a multimillion word corpus
Translation of content that simply would NOT have been considered for translation had MT not made it economically viable and feasible.


So the next time you hear somebody bashing on “MT” ask yourself a few questions:

What kind of MT variant are they talking about as there are many shades of grey? Amateur DIY experiences producing shoddy MT output abound, and translators should learn to identify these quickly and avoid them. Dealing with experts provides a very different experience and allows for ongoing feedback and improvement. MT is a tool that is only as good as the skill and competence of the users and is not suitable for many kinds of high value translation work.
Are you dealing with a client/customer who has a larger vision for expanding the scope of translation? There is likely a bright future with anybody who has a focus on these new massive data volume social media projects.
Are you playing a role in getting information that really matters to customers and marketers translated? While user documentation is still important, it is clear the relative value of this kind of content continues to fall as an element of building great customer experiences. The higher the value of the information you translate to your customer, the higher your value to the client.

But I expect that there will still be many translators who see no scenario in which they interact with MT in any way, expert-based or not, and that is OK, as it is a very different work experience that may not suit everybody. The very best translators can still put machines to shame with their speed and accuracy. But I hope that we will see more MT naysayers base their opinions about MT on professionally focused expert MT initiatives, rather than the well-publicized generic MT and lazy DIY MT initiatives that are much easier to find.

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - Buckminister Fuller

There are many comments from translators at the original Empty Pages blog


 

DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 08:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
@Kirti Jul 7, 2014

Life's too short. What does that say in one sentence?

 

Kirti Vashee  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:25
TOPIC STARTER
What does that say? Jul 7, 2014

What does it say?

That you are not interested.

MT will not and does not need to make sense to every translator as many can find work without ever getting close to it. But just as there are many kinds of translators with varying levels of competence, there are many kinds of MT and the best examples are generally not publicized.


 

Václav Pinkava  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 09:25
Member (2013)
Czech to English
+ ...
well written, too long, worth translating? Jul 7, 2014

Stylish and well argued, and paradoxically apt to challenge its own point.
MT assisted translation of texts such as this might be considered feasible, these days. Unabridged.
The result might be "the gist" but wordy, without the style. A poor result. But seemingly affordable, at MT depressed rates.
In the past, it would "pay" to cut down the source word count, by getting the author involved before translating.
Translating made sense with no MT, at a higher rate per word, if each word carried more weight.
Crafsmanship all round...
Less was more.


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 01:25
Member (2008)
French to English
Fascinating Jul 8, 2014

Fascinating. My take is that there are lessons to be absorbed and learned by today's translators if we want to grow with the tomorrow's market.

There are opportunities to be had but there will also be casualties among those who ignore what's happening.

Thanks for the insights.


 

DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 08:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thanks Václav and Kirti Jul 8, 2014

Sounds interesting. I'll read it when I get a bit more time.

[Edited at 2014-07-08 07:16 GMT]


 

Michelle Kusuda  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:25
English to Spanish
+ ...
MT (Machine translation) is not translation, it is an electronic dictionary! Jul 8, 2014

I enjoyed reading your position paper. However, it fails to analyze what exactly MT (Machine Translation) is. MT in terms any 10 year old would understand is nothing more than an electronic dictionary. It should be marketed as such and not used to scam companies and translators alike.

By using the term Machine Translation it leads corporate buyers to assume that they can bring down the cost of translation. MT is nothing more than an electronic dictionary that can be customized to include the client's terminology. Before it was given the improper name of Machine Translation it was called a "glossary". MT is nothing more than an automated search and replace feature. The human translator still has to unscramble the results and adapt it according to context.


 

Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:25
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
New video clip to explain different types of MT Jul 8, 2014

Michelle Kusuda wrote:

I enjoyed reading your position paper. However, it fails to analyze what exactly MT (Machine Translation) is. MT in terms any 10 year old would understand is nothing more than an electronic dictionary. It should be marketed as such and not used to scam companies and translators alike.

By using the term Machine Translation it leads corporate buyers to assume that they can bring down the cost of translation. MT is nothing more than an electronic dictionary that can be customized to include the client's terminology. Before it was given the improper name of Machine Translation it was called a "glossary". MT is nothing more than an automated search and replace feature. The human translator still has to unscramble the results and adapt it according to context.


Michelle, you are quite mistaken about MT as your definition provides an additional type at a more basic level than what I have explained in this video which I created last week:

The different types of Computer Generated Translation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Po0mEXwl9Dk

Bilingual electronic dictionaries are another type of tool and every MT company I have worked for and know of has fought to make the separation distinct, including a very hot round table debate at AMTA1998 which led to the creation of the 16 versions of the Compendium of Translation Software.

And there is still another type of MT (Knowledge-based semantics) which is a bit more complicated.

Hopefully this video will demystify the fuzzy definitions of MT which keep floating around in the professional translator community, and among other industries as well.

Jeff


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:25
German to English
MT and social media content Jul 8, 2014

I'm not sure whether John was being sarcastic or not. At any rate I agree with everyone else that has replied regarding your content-to-volume ratio.

And I understand that it would be great if MT could be applied to social media, user reviews, etc. But: OMG MT LOL RU4 real? With the possible exception of classical poetry, I can't imagine anything less suited as material for MT than social media and user reviews: rambling texts filled with slang, allusions, omissions, linguistic mistakes, typos, misused terminology, etc.

I am not fundamentally opposed to MT and think that there are a lot of things that it can do better (also in terms of quality) than humans. I also agree that MT is capable of producing new markets in addition to taking over existing markets, and I think you've made an important point there.

Personally, though, I have to question the expertise of any self-proclaimed MT expert who sees the key in post-editing instead of pre-editing/controlled language and - just because he has recognized the existence of a genuinely enormous market - starts rambling on about applying MT in a market that it has nothing to offer.


 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:25
Member
English to French
MT and face recognition advances Jul 8, 2014

I read in a magazine that machines are now as good as humans to recognize faces in a crowd, whatever the angle and facial expression. But the process to achieve this between a human brain and silicon is radically different.

"Those algorithms work statistically on an exhaustive representation of information, without any actual reasoning behind it." (Science et Vie, free translation)

Big data being the current big thing and all, I thought it suited MT perfectly: texts that don't need reasoning can be processed with MT with good results, just like face recognition.
But put a hand on a cheek or mouth and the computer fails. Humans do succeed.

To keep the parallel, translators will keep the publishing areas where texts are not simply strings of letters and require reasoning to be translated.
Václav Pinkava wrote:
...In the past, it would "pay" to cut down the source word count, by getting the author involved before translating.
Translating made sense with no MT, at a higher rate per word, if each word carried more weight.
Crafsmanship all round...
Less was more.

Why be concise and quickly to the point if we can have it all machine-translated? A scary thought.

Philippe


 

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:25
Member (2004)
English to Italian
I will answer here too.. Jul 8, 2014

I'll tell you why the majority of translators oppose MT and PeMT... they are just seen as a tool to reduce translators' rates and increase LPSs' profits, just like CAT tools. Just give me a decent output and a fair rate and I won't have any complaints...

You also have to remember that you are asking professionals to help develop a system that will replace them to a certain extent. As I said, if we are paid fairly, that wouldn't be a problem, because there wouldn't be a drop in income. Some colleagues might refuse altogether because - let's face it - it's an inferior and demeaning task in comparison to translation... if all the "players" behaved ethically, it would be here to stay. But the big corporations are only interested in making money. Do you really think they care if blog or social sites' contents are translated or not? They sell lies to their clients, promising inflated and unrealistic gains in productivity, with all-encompassing systems that don't exist.

Until we get to see a good, viable system, we will oppose it. I haven't seen one yet... I wonder why.

Giovanni (Biscuit on your blog...icon_smile.gif


 

Patrick Porter
United States
Local time: 03:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
unfortunate taxonomy Jul 8, 2014

Michelle Kusuda wrote:
...Before it was given the improper name of Machine Translation....


First let me say that I only skimmed the original post, because life is indeed too short, but I think Michelle is making an important point here. The whole taxonomy surrounding the issue is inaccurate. "Machine Translation" is not really translation at all. The most common form, statistical MT, simply involves calculation of word/phrase alignment frequency in a bilingual corpus. So in some respects it is like an electronic dictionary, in that it's just a tool that can aid a human translator. Although I would argue that stat MT is more flexible, powerful, and useful. It's somewhat like an automatic, recursive concordance search.

"Post-editing" also seems like an inaccurate term. A human is still needed to read the source text and make a judgment about what the best translation is. That function comes rather close to the definition of "translation". Perhaps you could argue that it's a question of degrees and that if the MT output only requires light editing, or the client only cares enough to pay for light editing, then the "post-editing" stage is less like translation and more like review or editing. The problem is that it still requires the translator to read the source text (keeping in mind that it was not actually translated by a human) and make a judgment based on translation expertise, which is the real value that the translator provides.

I am definitely not anti-MT, but I think this unfortunate taxonomy (which we are probably stuck with) will make it even more difficult for some clients to understand our value and the nature of what we do as translators. I use MT regularly in some of my work, not any of the free public services, but engines that I've trained myself using my own TMs and other previous translations. In some cases it slightly increases my productivity, and I pass along much of this efficiency as cost savings to clients. Hopefully there will be enough good clients out there who understand that if MT is really going to increase productivity, they will automatically see the benefit in lower costs, because after all, freelance translators have to compete with one another. There is no need to try and sell the so-called "post-editing" process as something new and different from translation.


 

Kirti Vashee  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:25
TOPIC STARTER
Responses to some comments Jul 8, 2014

@ Michelle Kusuda: My view (which may not be shared by other MT advocates) is that MT is a data transformation and linguistic data engineering process whose intent is to approximate "translation" as most translators would define it. It will by definition always fall short, and thus MT + Post-editing is an attempt to bring it closer to real "translation". It (PEMT) is ONLY useful if it helps work get done faster and is ACTUALLY useful to getting a translation project done more efficiently. MT is however, more than a dictionary. When there is real collaboration between the developers of the data transformation (MT) engines and the editor/translators who perform the post-editing services it can produce positive outcomes not only for the buyer of the translation services but also for the editors and translators involved. Much of the distress in the use of MT comes from incompetence in the development process, especially with incompetent do-it-yourself Moses efforts, and from agencies who try and abuse editors/translators ("with offers of low pay for horrible work" ) who do not understand the process and the technology. As more people begin to understand the technology, hopefully this will happen less and MT will take a place on a translator workbench as simply another tool that can sometimes be useful. We are still in the early days of professional use of MT as we are only now seeing it move from the role of free online utility for random internet users, to a professional translation production tool for high volume repetitive content. Most of the do it yourself development is not especially competent so it can be very painful for the editors and translators involved.

@ Michael Wetzel User generated content is exactly the kind of content that MT can do reasonably well, as spelling errors, abbreviations and text acronyms like (LOL) can all be “learned” or listed in MT “dictionaries”. Remember the goal here is not a perfect human quality translation. MT will enable some level of “translation” or gist to be available for material that simply could not be translated any other way – because of sheer volume and timeliness reasons. Many hotel and product user experiences which heavily influence new customers behavior are translated by sites that encourage or provide platforms for these kinds of purchases e.g. TripAdvisor, Holiday Check etc.. Hundreds of reviews are going up every minute. There is very definite evidence that shows that these “translations” are good enough to influence what hotel reservations are made, and in the case of use case scenarios like technical knowledge base data (Microsoft) solves technical problems that would otherwise go to a tech support engineer (who is a much more expensive and slower problem resolution alternative). Thus as terrible as these “translations” may look to a professional translator, they actually work for many hundreds of thousands of consumers, and do in fact enhance international market customer experiences.

@ Giovanni Guarnieri : Unfortunately, we are in a phase of evolution of this technology, where many agencies do use MT to simply push the rates down with little or no utility for the editors who have to clean up incompetent MT engine development. If translators learn to tell a bad MT engine (from the kind of output it produces) from a good engine they can then choose to work only on projects that offer 1) fair and reasonable compensation and 2) work that is not mind-numbing and tedious. More translators have to refuse bad PEMT jobs based on a real understanding of the specifics. But for now much of what you say is true so translator beware. Also many of the best MT systems are private and do not publish samples, and vendors are not allowed to share these systems which may ONLY work for a very specific domain and target style. The best ones can be so good that after some post-editing the final output is no different from what a standard TEP process would produce. I provide much more detail on these issues on my eMpTy Pages blog http://kv-emptypages.blogspot.com/


 

njweatherdon
Canada
French to English
+ ...
Many other factors stimulate translation demand, but yeah, this is big too, imo. Jul 8, 2014

If people who demand translation services are more sensitive to better price-quality combinations available on the market as a result of MT aides, relative to how sensitive is the larger total capacity of the aggregate translation industry as a result of MT, then it is entirely possible that there will be a higher total volume of workable hours with wage increases across the entire wage distribution (although this could hide some specific winners and losers).

Stated more easily, if the demand response to better price-quality combinations afforded thanks to MT is greater than the supply response of translators (who can then translate more words per hour at any given quality level with these technologies), then most translators stand to gain from technology, so long as they can maintain their relative position within the industry (but even if not, they could still gain).

This is before considering that old players probably keep their clients as long as they deliver.

So probably there aren't many losers at all. And there are likely to be many winners.

Perhaps one day we will all wonder how it was that free and nearly perfect computer translation was just not the natural way.

But in the decades or millennia between now and then, this industry will grow for a very long time.

I think a primary advantage of MT that I hadn't thought of is if an organization regularly produces updated statements/releases, etc. in many languages, that MT would help to make turnaround faster in translation, and thus improve marketing/communications coordination and turnaround.


 

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:25
Member (2004)
English to Italian
Not quite... Jul 9, 2014

njweatherdon wrote:


Stated more easily, if the demand response to better price-quality combinations afforded thanks to MT is greater than the supply response of translators (who can then translate more words per hour at any given quality level with these technologies), then most translators stand to gain from technology, so long as they can maintain their relative position within the industry (but even if not, they could still gain).



The problem is that this is not "translation"... it's "post-editing". So, translators will have to adapt to do a job which isn't their main job - the job they have studied for - to survive or earn more money (if that will be the case - which I doubt)...

There might be more demand, but for a different type of job...

Also, you are missing the point a bit... I agree that PeMT in some cases will increase translators' productivity, but that should be our choice - to use it or not to use it... when unscrupulous LSPs "force" bad MT on us, reducing the rates to increase their profits, we are supposed to take it and be happy? Not in a million years...

At the end of the day, MT and PeMT are promoted by LSPs as a tool to increase productivity and save money... they will increase their revenues by passing some of the discounts onto their clients by simply paying the post-editors less...

Unfortunately, after the CAT tools fiasco, translators are more and more wary of tools that should help do our job better, with better quality, but they are just used by LSPs to force the rates down and increase their margins... nothing wrong with the technology per se (and I include MT in his too), but not when it's used to make fat wallets even fatter...


 
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