Bad translator is bad.
Machine translation has always been a pretty good laugh for every translator and interpreter, right? Seems like we professionals are not the only ones making fun of good old Google and Bing. And still, technology is getting more and more important for our work. In translation, the usage of CAT-tools (computer-assisted translation) has become ubiquitous. In the field of interpreting there are no functional CAI-tools - so far.
The issue of translating and interpreting with help of technology is gaining attention. We can see conferences around the world focusing on this issue, i.e. Localization World, the North American Summit on Interpreting, the CIUTI Forum or the BDÜ International Conference, just to name a few. Particularly the North American Summit on Interpreting is providing us with new and meaningful insights on the topic. If you’re interested, I can recommend the Keynote address given at the 2nd NASI (video).
“Interpreters will never be replaced by technology. They will be replaced by interpreters who use technology.” - Bill Wood at the 2nd NASI
„The interpreter won’t be replaced by computers, but he will have to rely increasingly on auxiliaries“ Juhani Lönnroth, Director General of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission, at the BDÜ International Conference 2012
According to the prediction of futurist Ray Kurzweil, spoken language translation would be common by the year 2019 and computers will reach human levels of translation by 2029, he says, adding: “It all depends on the level of quality you’re looking for.” True words. However, he does not believe that technology will replace humans at any point and sees a bright future for the language industry in general.
Also Vincent Buck, via aiic.net, points out that “spoken language is far more complex than written text. Significant progress has been made on voice recognition, but current technology is still very a long way from being able to replace a human interpreter.” Whether his assessment will be correct or not - time will show. Voice recognition, though, is a crucial prerequisite for any future interpreting technology aka machine interpreting. The recorded voice is transformed into written text and then translated automatically, relying on machine translation. The translated text is then read aloud by some computer-generated voice (think of your satnav). Machine translation and machine interpreting are therefore two sides of the same coin.
Few may actually know that is was the U.S. military who fostered research and development of voice recognition technology. Speech-to-speech translation systems were (are?) regarded as essential for real progress in battle zones, as i.e. in Afghanistan. There simply weren’t enough interpreters available (and also, it is rather dangerous for the interpreter, cf. previous post). IBM was conducting research on the MASTOR speech-to-speech translation system, stating in one of it’s publications (rather defining down): “More recently, we have further broadened our experience and efforts to very rapidly develop systems for under-studied languages, such as regional dialects of Arabic. The intent of this program is to provide language support to military, medical and humanitarian personnel during operations in foreign territories, (…)”. While the IBM’s work was eventually limited to research, VOXTEC actually developed a handheld speech-to-speech translation device, called Phraselator. Also in this case, no obvious connection to the U.S. military: “Whether our systems are helping an Armed Forces service member carry out a mission, a law enforcement officer maintain control in a crisis situation, or a construction superintendent relay key safety instructions, Voxtec leads the way in overcoming today’s language barriers with real-world solutions.”. 
Next in line was the Japanese electronic manufacturer NEC with it’s Tele Scouter, a device that can safely be described as a proto-type of Google Glass. Originally intended to work as a speech-to-text translation technology for forces in the field, according to the latest announcement on Tele Scouter, it seems not to incorporate this ability anymore.
The next big step was done by the Japanese telecommunications operator NTT docomo, when it released it’s Mobile Interpretation Service on one of their mobile phones. This was achieved by integrating a range of existing technologies such as voice recognition, machine translation, and voice synthesis. Even though the accuracy of the interpretation was not 100% satisfying, it was the first example of user-ready machine interpretation. Others followed, and with their high-quality voice recognition technology the newest iPhones further boosted these developments. The Google Translate App can be used as a speech-to-speech interpreting software, with pretty accurate results (of course, we are speaking of very simple sentences). On of Google’s competitors is SpeechTrans. I think we all agree that this technology is more or less without importance for our work, nonetheless, here’s a review. Summary: “its utility in a real-time conversation is extremely limited.”
We will see how many more years will go by and how many more apps will be programmed until machine interpreting will threaten our profession. Speaking of threats: Lately there have been doubts regarding the professional standards of a technology-incorporating interpreting service provider in the blogo- and twittersphere. I am not entirely sure, what Bill Wood was refering to, when he stated that interpreters will get replaced by “interpreters, who use technology” - but he probably didn’t mean Bableverse or Verbalize It. Phone interpreting is already quite awkward when it is done right - it can hardly imagine it getting better when it is done by non-professionals (just imagine all the “hello, are you still there?”).
Phone interpreting is just one type of remote interpreting (RI). Remote interpreting is employed in EU level sessions, as well as in community interpreting. It is a rather new development our profession has to adjust to. In Switzerland, the Federal Office of Public Health installed a “National Telephone Interpreting Service” three years ago in order to facilitate foreigners’ access to medical institutions. Even though I am slightly worried about the work conditions of the assigned interpreters, it is, after all, for a good cause.
Remote interpreting is also gaining importance in the shape of video conferences and phone conferences. This is more likely one of the above-mentioned technologies the interpreter of the future is going to use (think of global warming and fewer flights for businessmen). I am glad that with support from the EU and AIIC some research has already been conducted on the subject and some first recommendations concerning the work conditions have been made by Roziner and Shlesinger: “it is recommended that they [the interpreters] be provided with a suitable technological set-up (improved displays, particularly the panoramic display), appropriate environmental conditions (lighting, prevention of glare and dazzle etc.), [and] reasonable working conditions (shorter shifts, longer breaks between workdays)” . Also, a Code for the use of new technologies in conference interpretation has been published by AIIC (read it, it’s pretty cool).
Nonetheless, we should not forget that it is still preferable for an interpreter to be on site, if possible. Why? Because: Psychological studies have concluded, that more than 65% of the information exchanged during a face-to-face interaction is expressed through nonverbal means . And a large amount of this information is influenced and formed by the speaker’s cultural background. Cultural differences and elements can cause difficulties for successful communication and “these difficulties can increase with the increasing perceived distance between the two cultures”, as read in Al-Zahran . The interpreter is, after all, an intercultural mediator, not just a language transmitting humanoid entity.
In conclusion, the impact of new technology on interpreting might not be as acute and profound as one might have feared. There are other subjects, such as the on-going professionalization and specialization, that are more pressing.
A language transmitting humanoid entity
 Svenja Hemmerlein, Frederica Pisano and Benedikt Weissenburger. “Dolmetschen und neue Technologien”. In: Dörte Andres, Martina Behr (Hg.). “Interpretes Mundi - Deuter der Welt”. Martin Meidenbauer Verlag. 2011.
 Ilan Roziner and Miriam Shlesinger. “Much ado about something remote. Stress and performance in remote interpreting”. In: Interpreting 12:2 (2010), 214–247. John Benjamins Publishing.
 A. Guye-Vuillème et al. “Nonverbal communication interface for collaborative virtual environments”. In: Virtual Reality, 1999, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 49-59.
 Aladdin al-Zahran. “The Consecutive Conference Interpreter as Intercultural Mediator: A Cognitive-Pragmatic Approach to the Interpreter’s Role”. Doctoral Thesis. European Studies Research Institute (ESRI) School of Languages University of Salford, Salford, UK. 2007.
by J. Mermod
by M. Haldimann
We are all interpreters, and we love our job. We love our languages, our glossaries, our tools and notes. Every so often, we love to hate a horrible speaker or the booth manners of our colleague. As much as I love my job, though, I also consider it a means to an end. It allows me to earn a living and soon enough, as I hope, to pursue my dreams in life.
Forgive me for making this introduction sound so defensive. I’d like you to understand why I won’t write about difficult terms, crazy interpreting settings and the latest useful apps on our blog this year. As a newbie in our line of work I always feel that I lack the experience and authority to contribute more than opinion to most issues in the interpreting blogosphere. I didn’t expect it either, but setting up shop as freelance interpreter in Germany is a pretty straightforward affair (aka dull puzzle of administrative processes). Besides, when I had work to do, I was too busy to write, and when I didn’t I was too busy looking for more work. Of course, I could bore you with how I go about my bookkeeping around this time of year, but frankly, the satirical part of my mind, which I usually dispatch to write about dull stuff, is completely preoccupied with keeping the rest of my mind from falling asleep over all the numbers.
Long story short, my topic this year has nothing to do with the joys of entrepreneurship in interpreting. Instead, I’d like to learn more about interpreters with children, about interpreting moms and dads, about people who earn the money for diapers and schoolbooks working as interpreters.
My motives are purely self-serving. Sooner or later, I want to be an interpreting dad, too. What I don’t want to be is completely clueless about what this means in practice. Isn’t it fascinating how I have harbored this fundamental wish to start my own family and to have children for so long without thinking once about whether it is compatible with the particularities of my career choice? (Thanks, Michelle, for the heads-up: Why Interpreters Make the Best Parents).
Don’t get me wrong, I have a set of very clear ideas of how it should be. They are mostly inspired by how my parents brought us up at home, and I’ll be more than happy to disclose them in the course of the project. But first, I’d like to turn to the community of fellow interpreters, whose insights and advice I have come to appreciate so much. Brace yourselves for a number of unorthodox and rather personal questions.
For those of you with kids: Are you freelance or employed? How did/do you manage childcare during the different stages of your children’s development? What does your spouse do? How do you share household and family duties?
To all our childless colleagues, please help me with the statistics: How many interpreting dads do you know? Do you know any couples with children where both partners work as interpreters?
These questions are still fairly general, of course, and at the moment, I have no idea where this project is going. I’m simply making some room in my heart by throwing this out there hoping one of you will throw back a juicy lead I can follow for further posts. In the meantime, it’s back to bookkeeping, my least favorite thing about working as a freelancer. But it’s all a means to an end, and before long and with your support I will pursue my dreams working the job I love.
Happy Holidays, dear readers!
We hope you all could take some days off and enjoy the holiday season. Eventhough this is a time most often spent with family and friends, it is also an opportunity to look back on the past year and take stock of one’s achievements as an interpreter & freelancer. The next year lies ahead, we have survived the Mayan apocalypse and are full of enthusiasm for 2013. If you have some time to spare, you should read the excellent PDF-book from Walt Kania (thefreelancery.com). Walt regularly writes about freelancing issues and how to tackle them. His handbook is full of tips and tricks and will most certainly give you new ideas for your interpreting/translation business for the year ahead.
A lucky and successful Year from 2interpreters!
The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby
English will be the official language of the European Union
(Rather than German, which was the other possibility).
As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that
English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-
year phase-in plan that would become known as “Euro-English”.
In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this
will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be
dropped in favour of “k”. This should klear up konfusion, and
keyboards kan have one less letter.
There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the
troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like
fotograf 20% shorter.
In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be
expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are
possible.Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters
which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.Also, al wil agre
that the horibl mes of the silent “e” in the languag is disgrasful
and it should go away.
By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th”
with “z” and “w” with “v”.
During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords
kontaining “ou” and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl
riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil
find it ezi TU understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil
finali kum tru.
Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.
Diese Initiative des BDÜ verdient Lob. Natürlich verrät uns das Video nichts Neues, dennoch bietet es an sich eine aussagekräftige Referenz und einige gute Argumente für und gegen GoogleTranslate.
Just a short shout-out for Clarissa’s blog. As a means of introduction let me quote from her newest entry: “You know how some people get a new boyfriend or girlfriend and just fall off the face of the Earth? Well, ladies and gents, it’s about time I explained my prolonged absence by going public with my new relationship. Allow me to introduce you to the apparent love of my life: Interpreting School. “
Federica Mamini asked us to promote her practice group in Brussels - of course we will!
She says about this project:
Dear all, welcome to the Interpreters in Brussels group!! I am looking for some dedicated interpreting professionals to set up a practice group in order to keep up with simultaneous and consecutive interpreting exercises and get some peer feedback. Ideally, the language combinations would be Italian, English, Spanish, French and German. I believe this could be a good networking opportunity and it could indeed benefit our performance! So, if you are based in Brussels and interested in improving your interpreting techniques and sharing best practices, you are more than welcome to post your comments here! We will soon organise an opening meeting! I look forward to meeting you very soon!!
‘I’m not suited for interpreting, I’m not skilled enough, I will never enter a booth again, I will stop immediately.’
That’s what Yonehara Mari told herself the first time she entered a booth and interpreted simultaneously between Russian and Japanese. She would grow to be one of the most famous interpreters in the history of Japan.
‘Mari, you’re struggling because you’re tying to interpret every word. Just interpret what you understand’, her mentor told her. She did as she was told and it worked out fine. According to Mari, this was a moment of enlightenment to her.
This really is the key to interpreting. Not to get too distracted by expressions, not sticking to words.
Because words are nothing more than a means to express a feeling. A feeling or a thought, an uncertain something one wants to express. Yonehara uses the Japanese word “moyamoya”, which describes something like “a dim, indistinct feeling or a fuzzy, blurred mind (think of steam or smoke) with a feeling of unresolvedness”. In order to feel resolved, we, as humans, try to express our inner cloud of indistinct feelings by the means of sound, i.e. words. Words are encoded expressions of our inner fuzziness. Like a code which our fellow humans can decipher.
According to Yonehara, if in interpreting one is just focussing on the end product, the uttered words, one will never be able to interpret. Instead, we as interpreters, need to focus on the speaker’s moyamoya, grasp the speaker’s intention, decipher not just the meaning of, but the sense behind their words. We need to try not to adhere to their words, trying to interpret every single one of them, ending up in some sort of simultaneous machine translation. Just listen to their words and try to see through them, catch a sight of the real moyamoya behind them. Don’t listen - decipher the sound you hear. These are two different things. Once deciphered, choose a different encoding language and put the message out there. In your own words.
Yonehara’s perspective is very intriguing, not least because it resembles very much Seleskovich & Lederer’s “théorie du sense” of deverbalisation, which is very well known amongst Western interpreters.
There are three steps to the interpretation process:
1) merging elements of linguistic meaning with extra-linguistic knowledge to obtain sense;
2) deverbalizing that sense as it emerges; and
3) spontaneously expressing this sense linguistically
[…] sense is not the same thing as the sum of the linguistic meanings of individual words and sentences: sense emerges as these units of linguistic meaning are merged with prior knowledge, and this merging process unfolds in actual communication. (Seleskovich, Lederer 1996: 79).
I do not know, whether Yonehara had ever heard of the “théorie du sense”, but her instincitve depiction of what interpreting feels like hits the nail on the head.
*As read in 米原万里著「愛の法則」pp. 181f
by J. Mermod