Saturday, February 28, 2009

Translation Software Revisited - Babylon

Some time ago I had some funny experiences with a translation bureau, who would not hire me as a translator, because I did not use all kinds of translation software tools, which I despise. But then they did hire me to revise a translation of one of their "qualified translators" which was a complete disaster. In fact I laughed so hard while doing it, that I suggested to them that the translator in question probably was a Turkish national who had taken some correspondence courses in English and Dutch, and who now figured they were a translator. Evidently not so. According to the company, said "qualified translator" was very qualified indeed, the person was a language professor of Dutch extraction at an American college, who also would use all the software tools the company required its translators to use. It ended up that I did it faster without the tools, than the original translator did in with the tools, and I made a lot fewer errors, not to mention that the errors could have been costly, since the project was a specification for an electrical installation.
Thankfully for their customers, this particular company went out of business.

Most of the issues related to a problem we all see regularly day to day, when people who can't spell use a spelling checker, and they end up accepting homophone words in the wrong places, such as saying "then" for "than," etc.

At long last I've decided to test some of these tools anyway, in particular because I bumped into one company which seems to get it that they should focus on helping translators to do their job better, not replacing them. From a description their program sounded impressive, and they are offering me a chance to use their software as part of an ongoing evaluation. initiated a Translator Outreach Program emphasizing that no machine translation can be a substitute for the experienced human translator. It is Babylon’s aim to reposition its translation software among professional translators. Despite their slogan “translation @ a click”, aiming at Babylon’s general users and describing the ease of use of its software by simply clicking on a word to receive a translation, it is important for Babylon to recall the essence of its software: the fast and efficient look up in many dictionaries, which – as Babylon is convinced – also is of great benefit to professional translators. Babylon Ltd. Is inter alia provider of English Dutch translation and Dutch English translation solutions.

Translators that would like to join the Babylon Outreach Program for Translators can do so at: and will receive a free annual license of the Babylon software.

So, I'll start on this evaluation with all the skepticism I can muster, and then I will report back in this spot after I have some experience. Right now I'm at the end (ca. 7/8ths) of one 300,000 word project, and halfway through another 80,000 word project, during all of which I've probably consulted a dictionary 25 times, and asked a translation group on-line about 5 times for help with a difficult phrase. The rest has been subtleties requiring human interaction and careful weighing of very contextual stuff, as well as simply stupid mistakes in terms of employing English turns of phrase in Dutch, the kind of a mistake that software makes more likely, not less so.

One thing I've also learned the hard way from this project was that correcting a really bad translation, as I did on one book, is far worse than doing a fresh translation from scratch. This is why machine translations will cost you time, not save you time. However, if this tool can add convenience, great. Given the stats above it won't be about time savings, but the convenience could still be worth it.

Copyright © 2009 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.