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Realistic dreams of a language professional

André Guyon
(Language Update, Volume 7, Number 4, 2010, page 17)

Let me venture to predict what tools language professionals will be using 10 years from now. Given my age (25 years, 355 months at the time of writing), I consider the risk to be minimal.

Voice control

Voice control will fundamentally change the work of language professionals. Speech recognition has already come a long way, and the addition of automatic correction features and a few observation-based innovations will mean greater tolerance for the worst and most common errors.

Rather than constantly switching between keyboard and mouse, we will be able to tell the software to indent a paragraph, then specify the positive or negative increment. We will be able to insert a table by saying “insert table, six rows, three columns.” We will be able to insert a voice bookmark as a reminder that we are having difficulty with a passage, something I could already do in 1980 with my dictaphone.

We will be able to refine our dictionary searches by explaining that we are looking for synonyms, antonyms, the family of the word found, contextual examples or usage problems specific to the word.

The translator will be able to ask the translation software to skip to the next segment, accept a proposal, make slight changes to a proposal, launch a full‑text search for an expression, etc.

I suspect voice control will be making its way into language professionals’ toolboxes in the near future. Why, you ask? Because most of the features mentioned above already exist. Because some phones are already equipped with speech recognition functionality. Because the mass adoption of smart phones is highly conducive to simplification of mobile platform interfaces, which includes acceptance of voice commands. Because resourceful technolinguists can create the desired interface themselves using the Vista 64‑bit version of Windows Speech Recognition.

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to voice control…

Computer-assisted revision

The days of revising without computer assistance are drawing to a close. A day is coming when revisers will work with revision software similar to computer-assisted translation software.

Revisers will be able to browse through all occurrences of similar passages in one or more texts, then return to the starting point. They will be able to create revision memories based on their changes and use them to correct the content of translation memories.

The reviser will be able to compare source and target text with the help of a synthesizer that allows the reviser to listen to one while reading the other.*

Finally, using the needs and workflow management system described below, the reviser will be able to intervene very early in the process in the case of high-volume rush jobs. While language professionals may not have to contend with such situations on a daily basis, they are nevertheless a common occurrence all around the world.

In addition, for the past few years now, everyone wants everything right away. The great strides that have been made in the quality of machine translation have only heightened expectations. Increasingly, clients are coming to believe that translating 50,000 words in the space of a day is a simple matter and see it not as the exception but as the rule.

If I live another 10 years, I’m sure to see such a revision system. If the industry doesn’t come up with one, then I will.

Managing demand in real time

Another system that will simplify work in the language industry is a real-time demand management system that will take into account the strengths and weaknesses of language professionals as well as contingencies.

When combined with a solid network of professionals and the revision support tool mentioned earlier, this system will make it possible to meet even the most insane deadlines in almost every case. Users will be able to track progress on translation requests in real time and ask for help from colleagues (translators, professional support staff, terminologists, project managers, clerks, etc.). The system will also take into account redundancies within and across texts and allow for an optimal and intelligent distribution of work and the automatic divvying up of large projects, thereby saving an hour or two that would have been spent counting words and documents.

Workflow management systems do exist, but they are a little too focused on the needs of managers. There is hope, however, as I have seen at least one commercial system designed by language professionals that closely resembles what I have just described.

One immense virtual screen

Instead of having one or two large screens, language professionals will one day work on a virtual screen equivalent in size to a surface of several square metres. They will spread their work out on the screen and even watch cartoons if it helps them relax and work more effectively.

There are already virtual reality glasses and helmets that simulate a big‑screen display. This equipment is currently designed mostly for watching movies or playing games in 3D. Translators will be able to use this technology for 3D viewing or projection of complex devices referred to in texts for translation.

All that remains is to adapt the software so that the virtual reality equipment can be used for work. That being said, as is the case with dictation, some language professionals will never get used to it, as these virtual displays cut the user off from the outside world.

Applications for mobile platforms

Thanks to the new applications, language professionals will be able to work from anywhere. While I have yet to use my phone to surf the Web, I plan to start doing so shortly for the reasons mentioned above.

I am totally captivated by the interfaces of many of the applications on Apple’s phones and music players, most of which come with voice control.

Today, the best-known VoIP application and all social networks are available in portable format. And the interface is amazing! Small applications provide weather forecasts, stock quotes and a wide variety of other information on demand. Need to find a business online? The Yellow Pages offer an up‑to‑date, comprehensive list of businesses in any given area. In short, more than ever before everything will be at our fingertips.

Pay‑per‑use software

Software will be considered a service, and we will pay according to use. At the present time, a Canadian language professional may have various clients using products made by the following companies:

  • Beetext
  • MultiCorpora
  • SDL
  • Terminotix

Just imagine the bill…and there is no guarantee of repeat business! Now I purposely listed only those products that exist in Canada. However, given the imperatives of globalization there could be demand for many more.

Part of the solution lies in software interoperability, the other part in offering Web solutions on a pay-per-use basis.**

A more user-friendly terminology management tool

By “user-friendly” I mean a tool that is not overly limited or complicated and that meets open exchange and interoperability standards. Honestly, I find terminology storage software to be at best depressing, with the most comprehensive applications requiring a good knowledge of terminology theory, not to mention an ability to read the minds of the people who designed them.

A customizable and versatile correction tool

Language professionals will have a tool that automatically learns what we spend our time correcting. For example, when the software has found that I’ve typed “comupter” instead of “computer” five or six times, it will correct the mistake and ask me if I want it to make the same correction automatically in future.

Currently, I have the unenviable task of adjusting the settings every time I change software.

I have seen a prototype of what I’m looking for, and it was very interesting. I hope to see it on my computer within three years.

A search tool for initialisms

Language professionals will finally have a tool that finds the probable context-specific meaning of an initialism and the corresponding translation, if any.

I have seen nothing in the works, but I refuse to believe that no one will hear my plea and deliver us from our initialism tormentors.

Corpus-building software

Language professionals will have software that builds corpora by searching the Web by keyword. They will thus be able to quickly become familiar with and immersed in a new subject. I don’t know about you, but when I approach a new subject, I try to immerse myself in it as much as possible before starting my translation.

I should point out that at the National Research Council (NRC), I had the opportunity to see a prototype called TerminoWeb that does exactly what I need.

It is still a prototype, and the interface is a bit intimidating, but the tool can search several texts or the Internet. The search is unilingual, but there is no reason why two corpora couldn’t be created—one in the source language and the other in the target language—so that a series of relevant documents would ultimately be found in each language.***

I think such a product would be useful not only for language professionals, but also for learners in all areas.

Relaxing online games…

…to boost productivity. You heard me right—I just dared to predict there will be games in the language professional’s work environment. Everyone stresses the importance of having fun at work, right? Well, the introduction of online games of controlled duration will allow language professionals to play during their breaks or lunch hour, or even longer if their productivity is sufficient. You may think it a bit childish of me, but I’m a real believer in having fun.

A language professional has the right to dream…

Remarks

  • Back to remark 1* During a presentation at the International Annual Meeting on Computer-Assisted Translation and Terminology (JIAMCATT) 2009, I saw Yun Casalilla Alejandro, a language professional interested in revision support, demonstrate how he uses voice synthesis in this way.
  • Back to remark 2** The pay‑per‑use model is particularly advantageous for software designers. By offering software in the form of a service, they reduce the risk of piracy by specialists who know how to find passwords they were never given. It is just as advantageous for professionals who no longer have to buy the cow when all they want is the milk.
  • Back to remark 3*** When I studied terminology, this was the preferred method for creating bilingual records (i.e. using quality unilingual works, not translations).