Translation Tools: Friend or Foe?

Looking back over the past 14 years of my experience with translation memory tools, I feel our relationship has changed a lot. First they came as productivity tools working for my benefit, with the potential to save me from repetitive tasks and keep my terminology and style consistent with relative ease. At the time, this meant that I was able to translate more words per day with consistent quality, and improve my bottom line.

With their adoption by translation agencies and the invention of the fuzzy rate (discount for close matches with previous translations), they became a prerequisite to land a substantial assignment and the source of pressure to guarantee an immediate discount, at the cost of my own investment. Furthermore, the client's need to maximize reusability and reproducibility, driven by cost-related considerations, has led to the primacy of existing translations. Today, the majority of processes using translation memory tools are perceived as merely substituting some words from or molding the translator's rendition into a reusable existing translation. By removing translators and the creative process of translation from the center of the translation event, translation memory tools are reinforcing a trend in the general perception among localization companies that translators add little value and are easily interchangeable.

Is it really that easy to replace a translator? The answer may lie in the industry's surge of interest in translation quality assurance. A number of publications have been written on the subject, and many attempts have been made to develop quantitative models for effective QA processes. Translation quality has become an important factor for differentiation among increasingly competitive localization companies, and among the developers of translation tools. Despite the fact that translators are the single largest contributor of translated content, the issues of translation quality and translation memory tools are rarely discussed from the perspective of individual translators. The purpose of my presentation is to offer that perspective. The first part of my presentation provides an overview of trends in TM tools and the way translation projects are being handled. The second part attempts to clarify the added value that human translators provide, by identifying specific shortfalls of TM tools as wells as the "workarounds" certain human translators use to deal with those shortfalls.