The Translator’s Perspective by Jost Zetzsche Telling Stories I was privileged to be asked to give a keynote presentation at the 2008 meeting of the Association of Machine Translation in the Americas (AMTA), and again in 2014 at the meeting of the European Association of Machine Translation (EAMT). Each time I happily accepted the invitation in the spirit it was offered, as a request to a representative of the translation community. Naturally, a community that speaks in as many languages as the translation community -- both figuratively and literally -- cannot be represented by a lone voice, but I tried to be as inclusive as possible by querying the larger community on which topics I should present on. For my most recent talk I ended up revisiting the topic that I had explored six years ago, the “tasks” I had “assigned” both to the translation community and the MT community that would allow us to forge sensible avenues of communication. Here’s what I originally challenged translation community to do:
1. Look back at its responses to translation technology in the 1990s (responses that were not particularly productive) and assess whether something could be learned from those past mistakes. 2. Put into perspective what machine translation is in relation to other translation technologies (such as translation memory). 3. Distinguish between the different forms of machine translation technology and their various kinds of application. 4. Employ machine translation as a sales tool (and if only to differentiate non-MT services from it) and use it as a productivity tool where appropriate.
While I think it’s fair to say that the translation community’s employment of machine translation has risen significantly over the last
six years (one strong indicator for that is the wide availability of MT plugins in CAT tools), it’s also true that the first three points still need a lot of work. And it seems to me that while the first task -- the attempt to put the current response to technology developments into a historical perspective -- needs to happen internally within the translation community, tasks 2 and 3 present an opportunity and a challenge for the machine translation community to provide the necessary information in a creative and well-digestible manner. This dovetails nicely into the original challenges that were thrown down to the MT community: 1. Acknowledge the origin of the data that is being used to build machine translation engines (hint: it comes from the efforts of professional translators). 2. Engage the translation community in challenging and meaningful ways. 3. Listen to the needs of the translation community. 4. Communicate with comprehensible and honest statements about what machine translation technology can and cannot do (don’t use jargon like the “prebeta of magic” that Microsoft recently employed when describing the real-time interpretation of Skype).