Three Tech Trends in Translation in 2015


After adding 4 new languages to learn in 2014, the online language teacher will continue to grow in users and is expected to add Turkish soon.  While Duolingo’s original focus was providing crowdsourced translations of the internet, it has begun to instead focus on teaching languages to people in the developing world.  Duolingo will begin offering certification and tests in more and more languages in 2015.

“Real Time” Machine Translation

The merger of Optical Character Recognition and Speech Recognition with Machine Translation tools like Google or Bing translation software seems obvious in retrospect.  In 2015 these kinds of tools will become more prevalent with Skype beta testing its English to Spanish interpretation using Bing and an upcoming Google translation app to offer live text translation.

Translation demand will grow with the Internet

Despite technological improvements to machine translation and crowdsourced translations at Facebook, Twitter or through Duolingo, demand for professional translation services will also grow.  As the world shrinks and different regions trade with each other demand for translation services will increase.  Despite the fact that Chinese has surpassed English as the major language of internet content, English remains the dominant language of eCommerce.  For most businesses online to tap into different language markets they require solid, professional translation.

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Demand for Healthcare Translation Services on the Rise

NPR recently reported on the growing role of interpreters and translators in the Health Care industry in the United States.  The article and accompanying radio report are definitely worth the read/listen.  Here are a few interesting facts from it:

  • A community hospital in Hillsboro, Ore., says that up to 20 percent of their patients require an interpreter.
  • Of 3,500 medical interpreters in Oregon, only about 100 have the right qualifications to act as interpreters in hospitals.
  • Oregon’s Office of Equity and Inclusion reports that it hopes to add 150 new interpreters over the next two years.

Demand for interpreters and translators in hospitals will only increase over the next 5 years.  Now is the time for health care providers to establish long term relationships with translation agencies.  The more you’ve worked with an agency the cheaper and smoother the translation or interpretation process can be.

Read the whole article here:

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Consecutive or Simultaneous Interpretation: When and Why?

A few weeks ago AZ World Translation and Interpretation was asked to provide a proposal for interpreting at a one day work shop. The client requested consecutive interpretation which is when the speaker speaks one to three sentences and then stops and waits for the interpreter to repeat those sentences in the target language.

We replied that we would not provide a quote for a full day workshop using consecutive interpretation because it was not the right way of doing it. For a training session like this one, it is best to use simultaneous interpretation.  Simultaneous interpretation is when the interpreter is only one sentence behind the speaker and the interpreter and speaker are speaking at the same time without interruptions.  Usually there is an interpretation booth and the interpreters could even be outside the room, with the audience listening over headsets.  However for a small group of 3 as in this case it can be done by whispering.

The client asked us why we wouldn’t go with consecutive interpretation; despite it being a cheaper option, and our answer was that it was not right to do consecutive. The best way of explaining it is what that it simply wasn’t the right tool for the job.  Though it could have worked, it just didn’t fit the situation. Simultaneous interpretation was first used during the Nuremberg Trials and has since been the proper way of interpreting conferences and AZ World is always looking ahead, not behind.

To summarize:

  • Consecutive works great for a Q/A period and simultaneous interpretation works better for a conference, presentation, training session, etc.
  • Translators and interpreters/translations agencies have the duty of keeping our clients updated on progress in the translation and interpretation world and should pass the benefits of progress to our clients.
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Sharing Translation Memories Leads to More Savings for Clients

The benefits of a translation memory are clear.  These living databases help companies maintain quality, consistency and tone across languages while at the same time reducing costs (For a quick rundown on the translation memories, check out this previous blog.)  For these reasons, almost all large companies use translation memories, and almost all professional translators work with translation memories.

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A Simple Guide to Understanding Word Counts

The basic unit of the translation industry is the “word.”  Translators and agencies both bill by the word. But how you count words and therefore how much the translation costs depends greatly on the software you use.  Here’s a quick breakdown on the not so simple world of counting words.

Microsoft Word

The word count our clients are most familiar with is Microsoft Word.  While its word count has become much more accurate in recent years it’s still worth investigating what counts as a word and what does not.

Microsoft Word counts numbers in as words.  So, “I have 2 dogs” would be counted as 4 words.  Similarly, punctuation marks unconnected to other words count as independent words.  The stray ellipses “…” or hyphen “-“ counts as an extra word.  Microsoft Word does not count text in Headers or Footers.  For a long time Microsoft Word would not count text in Footnotes, Endnotes, Tables or Text Boxes, but in every version since 2010, text in those areas is counted.  However text in embedded objects, like an embedded Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, is not counted.

SDL Trados

SDL Trados is a Computer-Aided-Translation (CAT) tool that helps manage Translation Memories and is the industry standard in translation software.  AZ World uses Trados to analyze documents and then create quotes and proposals for clients.

Unlike Microsoft Word, Trados does not count numbers or punctuation marks as words.  But text in Headers, Footers, Footnotes, Endnotes, Tables or Text Boxes is all counted.  Text in embedded objects, like an embedded Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, is still not counted.


Typically Microsoft Word provides lower counts than SDL Trados.  If we were to create a quote based on a Microsoft Word word count we would no longer be able to take into account the benefits of a Translation Memory.  Even with an empty TM, Trados allows us to quote lower prices because of repeated phrases within a document.

We’ve found that the while word counts vary little between different software, understanding the basis of a word count goes a long way to building trust between a translator and a client.

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5 Simple Guidelines for Editing Translations

Some of our clients are fluent in the languages into which they wish us to translate.  As we’ve discussed before there are many reasons why bilingual staff should not translate, but it can often be useful for clients familiar with the language and target audience to review the translation to catch any mistakes or preferences not taken into account.

What is a Translation Error?

When reviewing translation, it is essential to first understand the difference between a preference choice and an error. A translation error is a grammatical or spelling mistake or an incorrect word choice given the original words’ meaning or the document’s target audience.  A preference choice is a word that the client prefers over others.  For example, the words “contract” or “agreement” can both be translated into Spanish as either “contrato” or “acuerdo”. Neither is necessarily wrong; it is a matter of preference. At AZ World we always strive to determine and then act in accordance with our client’s preferences.  But keep in mind that translators are not mind readers, without prior instruction translators can only translate with industry standard terminology that may differ from the clients preference.  The basis of preferences can be personal, or based on important business considerations.  For that reason different editors can prefer different terms and different departments within the same company can prefer different terms.  Of course, if a preference was stated and then not taken into account, it is treated as an error.

Take for example, the French word, “camion” which refers to a truck.  It would be a simple translation error if it was translated as “bus.”  If it was presented as “truock” that would be a spelling error.  If it was translated as “truck” when the target audience was known to be in the United Kingdom, then it would be a translation error, as “lorry” is the preferred term in the United Kingdom.

This is where it is important that the person reviewing is not only fluent in the language, but also familiar with the target audience.  A regional difference in language can also be mistaken as a glaring error.  Consider that for the English word “computer” the preferred translation into Spanish will be “computadora” in Latin America (while it varies in some countries to “computador”) and “ordenador” in Spain. “Computer” can even be translated as “equipo” (which means device) as a neutral term and also in order to avoid repetitive and awkward text.

Remember that as it is a translator’s duty to always create a faithful representation of the source text; documents with awkward and or poorly written language may result in translations that also sound awkward.  One example of this would be a Safety Incident Report written by South American miners, where the language and grammar can be very simple.  In such cases a translation full of rich words would be inaccurate. However, AZ World is happy and available to improve the text’s flow and tone if the client requests it

Five Simple Guidelines for Reviewing Translations

1. Before doing any editing, make sure you read through the entire document first.  Many “errors” are often word choices that make more sense when the context of the entire document is known.

2. Universal “find and replace” changes should be avoided as much as possible.  The translator typically has good reason for the word choice.  You should check other instances of the word you wish to replace to ensure that your preferred word works in every context of the piece.

3. Provide an explanation for your choice.  If it is a preferential change, there is no need to implement it, unless it is a standard term or expression within the company

4. Do your research. Don’t go with something you think you remember being right.  Both you and the translator are susceptible to the human error of being fairly sure of something without checking, only to be proven wrong.  Avoid this by double checking the basis of your change

5. Communicate your explanations and changes to the translator or project manager.  Seeing the changes will help improve the quality of their future translations for that client.  Getting the right translation for each client is an iterative process and feedback is essential to that process.

The Big Lesson

The reviewing process is often painful for both clients and translators.  At AZ World we believe this is caused when translators and clients have different expectations of what translators will produce and what clients require.  If followed, these guidelines can make reviewing a fruitful and enjoyable learning experience for both client and translator. Remember that the goal of reviewing a translation is not only to ensure that the translation at hand meets the needs of the client, but also to make sure that future translations are as effective as possible.  If changes are explained and communicated, reviewing can become a great investment because it produces more effective and less costly translations in the future.

At AZ World, our goal is to let our clients’ work speak for itself… in any language.  We are always happy to discuss preferences, build glossaries and terminology lists, and then edit according to our clients’ needs.  This is all part of the process of creating the right translation for our clients.

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Translation Helps Your Customers Feel At Home

One of AZ World’s team members is currently in China; this blog was inspired by their experience with translations in that country.

Travelling through China I have been struck by the huge range of translation quality.  From billboards so poorly translated that any meaning had been completely lost to hotel pamphlets that could have been written by native speakers, the range of potential translations is huge.  Despite this range, most of the English in China has been somewhere in that area where the meaning is understandable, but it’s horrible English that no native speaker would ever use.  These “mid-range” translations were likely done by an employee with an approximate knowledge of English, Google Translate or a combination of the two.  To be fair, they get the job done.  Any English traveller can understand it and get the message.

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All roads lead to Rome, but which one does your client prefer?

Translation is a fluid art. There are always different words, expressions, grammatical structures that can be used to comply with the three basic rules of translating: no omission, no addition and no choice giving.

Understanding our client’s business and preferences is the key to providing the best product, one that is accurate but also appealing to our client’s taste. To do that, communication, time and experience are essential.

Communication is not always the number one priority in our industry. The client is rushed to get the document translated and the translator is rushed to get the job done on time. However, an awareness of the expected degree of formality, a complete knowledge of the technical vocabulary involved, or an identification of the recipients of the document can make the difference between an average work and an excellent work.  This ultimately determines how successful both ourselves and the client are.

Let’s take, for example, an email to be translated from English to Spanish, then sent from the headquarters in Canada to a Mexican subsidiary about a corporate announcement. Is it a formal or informal communication? Although based in Mexico, are the recipients mainly from Mexico or are they from other Spanish speaking countries? Is the audience part of the management team or is it a global message aimed at all employees? These questions should be answered before the work starts, so that the best approach can be identified.

Making assumptions about a client’s needs or preferences is risky. Unfortunately, it is not always feasible to find the desired communication channels to get the information needed. If the task is not seen as strategic by the client and the timing is tight (which is often the case), we will only get feedback once the job is completed. And most of the time, we only receive feedback when our work does not meet the client’s expectations, and at a point in time when it is too late to change.

So, how can be better understand our clients? The best time to communicate expectations is when the workload is lower than usual. This is when we can find gaps to personally meet our clients without time pressures to get deeper insights into their business and preferences. Holding these meetings on a regular basis is also a good way to continually further understanding.

Apart from that, trial and error also applies to the translation business. There are always learning opportunities when our clients complain about our work. Updating our Translation Memories with those words our clients prefer, breaking them up into different Translation Memories to better target each department needs and making a list of reminders for that client, are must do activities any time we receive feedback.

To sum up, we as translators are obliged to provide a quality product that meets each business’s expectations.  Each client is different and each has their own “understanding” and use of a language. Finding the perfect match between a product that excels in quality but also looks nice for our clients is the key to success.

We will get to Rome but we will follow different roads every now and again.

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When to Use Back Translation

A couple of weeks ago we received a document which we translated to the best of our knowledge. We tried to keep the style, the register and the level of education of the original writer as it must be done in translation. When we sent the document back to the client the feedback was that the translation looked a bit choppy and that the level of English writing was not there.

First, we apologized to the client and offered to rework the document. We looked at the document and noticed that the translation was a true rendering of the original document written in Spanish, and then we re-translated using more professional English, modifying the sentences that were choppy and so on…and the client was happy!

But today, we’re discussing back translation.  Back Translation is the process of translating a document that has already been translated into a foreign language back to the original language – preferably by an independent translator. Back translation is the translation procedure by which a previously translated document is re-translated back into the original language.

Now, if a back translation was required in the example previously mentioned you would never have been able to get even close to the original document. The final document in English was way better written and if you received something written by somebody with basic education you cannot expect to transform it into a PhD paper.

Translation of raw data such as focus group transcripts back into the language of a client from the language of the consumers is common in market research in Asia. In fact translation remains one of the costliest parts of a market research project. This is because it is an area where costly errors can be built in – in research stages where checks and balances are limited.

The nuances of translation are far-ranging. A literal word in one language, for example, may have no equivalent in another language, or could have a completely different “meaning” or effect in the translated language. This is why translation is an art rather than a science. No translation can be expected to convey perfectly the “meaning” of what consumers meant to convey in their own language. Hence the need for accredited translators who can translate verbatim. All the good work of a focus group moderator in not “interpreting” verbatim comments can be wiped out by a careless translator.

Back translation can improve the reliability and validity of research in different languages by requiring that the quality of a translation is verified by an independent translator translating back into the original language. Original and back translated documents can then be compared.  However, due to its high cost, back translation is not overly common, but in very high risk – high return situations is well worth the investment.

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The Modern Translation Industry

Our clients are often surprised when they learn about the size and scope of our company.  Far from being a small hobby job, translation is a thriving industry filled with professionals.  For a great run down on how modern translation agencies operate, we highly recommend this piece from Inc.:

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