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Round table: Taking the user into account in language technologies

Katia Brien-Simard
Communications Officer
Language Technologies Research Centre


The Language Industry Showcase welcomed numerous high-profile speakers this year. A wide range of subjects was discussed, and all the participants took away valuable discussion points.

The closing discussion, which attracted many participants, was a round table called Taking the User into Account in Language Technologies. Simon McDuff, President of Okidoo; Pierre LeBel, Manager of LinguisTech Translation Services; and Matthieu LeBlanc, professor at the University of Moncton, were the speakers for the discussion. AnneMarie Taravella, doctoral candidate at the University of Sherbrooke and certified translator, acted as moderator during the discussion. The round table was an open forum for questions and answers as well as concerns, which came from every corner of the busy room.

Here is a recap of the round table discussion points.

Why is it useful and necessary to consider the users of language technologies?

The practice of translation is constantly changing. We must look for ways to put technologies at the service of the translator and not the other way around, so that the translator does not become a slave to technologies.

To their surprise, users of translation technologies are rarely taken into consideration. A study on the ethnography of translators at work is necessary; especially to see to what extent they use the tools that are offered to them. According to the panelists, the advantages and disadvantages of translation memories should be discussed more often. Some users are resistant to using technologies. However, practices connected with translation, such as invoicing, productivity calculations and "all-in-one" solutions, can arouse greater suspicion.

We're seeing an expanding category of language technology users within the general public, mainly students and freelancers. This brings on a whole new dynamic, and clients are expecting a reduction in costs, given the possibility of pre-translating a text. What do you think of this situation?

This is not new. For example, many people use Antidote and Linguee to facilitate their work without being language professionals. The need for professionals remains, and technologies are not a menace to the profession. People want to improve their language skills, and that is reassuring! The more important question is how these technologies are being used.

Despite all the translation tools available, the panelists still favour human translation. They often prefer to reserve the tools for use in specific situations. This gives beginners an opportunity to develop critical judgement, which is important in the training process.

Do you think imposing language technologies on users will be successful?

According to the speakers, we are currently undergoing a paradigm shift. Initially, the emphasis was on the advantages and the convenience of language technologies. Now there is more of a focus on the disadvantages of "imposing solutions." We would like to be consulted more. Translators don't usually like translating a pre-translated text. Most prefer to do it themselves, because otherwise, in many cases, they have to redo the work. It is important to note that beginner translators are not always familiar with language technology tools.

Some translators do not respect the client's standardized phrases. What do you think of this?

Translation memories have their uses and are often used judiciously. There is also an advantage in terms of phrases when it comes to using memories. But the translator's opinion should always be taken into account, even if the client has preferences.

Organizations are currently going through a period of change. A new model is in demand, because the old one is obsolete. We should be confident in the new generation of translators, and we should adapt to the changes. We should also re-examine quality standards, as times are changing.

Translators should be allowed to use tools if they want to. However, they would benefit from establishing norms for translation.

Can you tell us about a positive or unexpected experience that a user of translation technologies has had?

Simon McDuff told how, thanks to translation technologies, a translator was able to translate 50 000 words in two days. The productivity increase is a bonus for translators.

Users like the technologies because the feedback they get from the tools allows them to avoid small problems, so that they can focus on major problems.

In the end, language technology usage is generally regarded as positive by users.

Round table panel
From left to right:
AnneMarie Taravella, Matthieu LeBlanc, Pierre LeBel, and Simon McDuff.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Maher