Meet the speaker: Federico Gaspari, reflecting on machine translation 2

Federico Gaspari is a part-time lecturer and tutor in English language and translation at the University of Bologna and the University of Macerata. He is also a postdoctoral researcher affiliated to the Centre for Next Generation Localization of Dublin City University, a member of the editorial and advisory boards of the online international peer-reviewed translation studies journals inTRAlinea and New Voices in Translation Studies, and an editorial assistant for the international peer-reviewed journal of contrastive linguistics Languages in Contrast.

Federico will offer a presentation and a workshop at the upcoming ProZ.com 2014 international conference in Pisa, Italy, that will take place on June 28th and 29th, on the topic of machine translation, quality and post-editing.

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The interview

How did you get involved with the study of languages and translation?

Although I am not a professional translator, but rather a researcher and lecturer, I remember being interested in translation and languages ever since I was a very young child. The first clear memory I have of being fascinated by the different ways in which people used “languages” (you will understand in a minute why I put the word in inverted commas) dates back to my early childhood. I grew up in Italy, surrounded by immediate family members speaking not only standard Italian, but also quite often – especially at home – local dialects, of which there are literally hundreds in Italy; the dialects used by people speaking informally in Italy vary quite dramatically from each other in terms of accent, pronunciation, vocabulary used to refer to everyday objects, etc., even within relatively small areas, to the extent that most dialects are mutually unintelligible. I clearly remember being very intrigued (but also slightly confused…) by the fact that my grandparents, who were originally from two villages only 30 kilometers apart from each other, used quite different words in their own dialects to refer to me as “the baby” at family gatherings (in case you are wondering, these dialect words from the Marche region are “frichì” and “fantillu”, which have no resemblance to their standard Italian equivalent “bambino”!). This is the earliest indication that I remember of my strong interest in linguistics and translation, although I can’t explain how I ended up working with English from my precocious interest in Italian dialects!

What was the most important obstacle for you to overcome in building your career as a language professional?

I got my first degree in translation studies from the School for Interpreters and Translators of Bologna University in Forlì, Italy. I then went on to earn other postgraduate degrees in the UK, but ironically I had to struggle quite a lot to complete my first degree in Italy. This was because we had to study two foreign languages, which in my case were English and German, in addition to Italian. I was a rather weak student in German, so much so that at one point I considered abandoning it to replace it with Russian (which I enjoyed learning and for which I got good marks as an elective optional subject). On the other hand, especially in the first half of my 4-year degree, I consistently got very low marks (and quite a lot of fails, sadly!!) for my German exams. But I persevered and in the end I managed to get my degree, although to this very day I don’t quite know how I managed to pass all the very tough German language and translation tests!

What is the greatest issue facing translators working in your country?

Probably the greatest challenge for translators in any country and working with any language today is to be flexible and open to embracing the far-reaching changes brought about by technology in the profession.

What is your prediction for the future of human translation?

I expect it to be bright and shining, especially for quality-oriented talented and trained translators who are skilled enough to offer diversified and competitive services for text types and domains in high demand. For sure, translators working with high-density languages such as English and Spanish will continue to prosper, but I think that there will also be good opportunities for professionals focusing on niche language combinations.

You will be presenting in the upcoming ProZ.com international conference in Pisa on the topic of “Machine translation, quality and post-editing”. What can conference attendees expect to learn or know from your presentation?

Everything (OK, make that NEARLY everything…) they ever wanted to know about machine translation and post-editing but were afraid to ask…

ProZ.com international conference in Pisa, Italy

Join Federico and other language professionals on June 28-29 in Pisa, Italy, for the annual ProZ.com 2014 international conference.

Visit event page »            View event program »            View related social events »


How would you describe machine translation usefulness, limitations or threats?

Post below or discuss in ProZ.com forums. 

2 comments

  1. Federico, in my opinion, this is one of the most important conversations that is NOT taking place in the world of some translators (and interpreters). Thank you for talking about these topics, because in my opinion, they are vital to the survival of the profession in the coming decades. I do believe that translators and interpreters will evidently not be replaced by machines or advanced software, but they WILL be replaced by other translators and interpreters USING machines and advanced software. I will not be able to go to Italy but hope there is a post with the summary of your presentation to generate discussion and interest in the wider community! Congratulations on a very important topic.

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  2. The one factor most technology companies ignore is that Machine Translation (MT) will never be able to replace live translators. MT does not differentiate context, so you will always need the professional translator to make a judgement call on which translation fits the context. The same thing applies to CAT tools. While it is alright to use the same word over and over in English, it is not so in other languages, Spanish requires a more varied use of synonyms for the same word. Some translation companies encourage the use of CAT tools in order to lower the pay of translators by trying to not pay for terms like “repetitions, fuzzy matches”. In my opinion, MT post-editing and CAT tools should benefit the translator and will not be widely adopted by translators until outsourcers realize that translators must be compensated not only for their linguistic ability but also for their judgement call. Attorneys do not charge less to represent a client just because they had had similar cases in the past. Why should that be allowed or even expected in the translation profession?

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