Guest post: 10 things translators need to know about machine translation 2

Meet Gwenydd Jonesa freelance Spanish to English translator and professional trainer. She has two MAs, the first in Translation Studies and the second in Legal Translation, and the DipTrans (CIOL). With 10 years’ experience, Gwenydd specializes in business, marketing and legal translation. She is also a copywriter.

Learn more about Gwenydd and some of the courses she offers by checking out her blog, translatorstudio.co.uk.


I don’t know about you, but I spend much of my life going from one translation project to the next. I want to learn about translation technology, but am always putting it off. Not my idea of fun. For me, m1074712_r55e018418b6a3achine translation is like the hologrammatic elephant in my home office.

Last June, I had to prepare a talk for the ProZ.com conference in Stockholm. Finally, an opportunity to confront the elephant. I set out to find answers to my questions, hoping to put my worries to rest. I wanted to find out: what is going on with machine translation? Is it a real threat to human translators? And if it is, what should we be doing about it?

In my webinar Your Essential Machine Translation Briefing, on 8 Feb, I’ll share what I found out. From the perspective of a technically challenged freelancer. In the first half, I’ll give you a summary of what is currently going on in machine translation. Then, I’ll share the strategies I’m employing in my work, to make sure I develop alongside automated translation. See you there!

In the meantime, here are a few things freelance translators need to know about machine translation.

  1. ‘Machine translation’ isn’t the same as ‘translation memory’ or ‘CAT tool’

Sometimes translators get these terms muddled up, which is understandable. A computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool is an application where you can write your translations. It uses translation memories (TMs) to keep a record of all your past work. Don’t confuse that with a machine translation (MT) engine. An MT engine is an application that automatically translates a text. You can integrate MT with your CAT tool, but they are two different pieces of software. They have different functions.

  1. Machine translation is more effective with certain text types

Since computers rely on data and rules, the more predictable a text, the better the output will likely be. Formulaic and simple texts work well. Creative and complex texts don’t. Life sciences, finance, IT and other technical genres lend themselves to machine translation. But while financial accounts are formulaic, an accountant’s blog is far less predictable. With the second, you may well be faster on your own, particularly if you use voice recognition.

  1. Machine translation engines get better results when they’re customised

Translators and companies that are serious about machine translation aren’t using Google Translate. They get their own machine translation engines and train them for a specific domain. They do this by inputting their translation memories. After that, they input more data on an ongoing basis, so the machine keeps adapting to them. This is how they get more accurate output. Then they post edit it and feed the final translation back into the machine. With a suitable text type, this helps them finish the translation faster than if they did it from scratch.

  1. Neural machine translation is a major change in the translation industry

The world of machine translation is starting to harness deep learning. This is based on neural networks. Neural networks have lots of uses in artificial intelligence. Language processing is one of them. So, computer scientists can use them to improve machine translation. Companies that are using neural machine translation include: Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

  1. Google Translate is now using neural machine translation in some language combinations

Google recently announced that it is using neural machine translation in Google Translate. For now, it is limited to certain language combinations. They rolled it out with a total of eight language pairs. All are to and from English, combined with French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. It’s free, but remember the data is public, so you can’t use it if you’ve signed a confidentiality agreement. Google Translate isn’t customised (see point 3), but it has lots of data. The jury is still out on how good the updated tool is.

  1. You can subscribe to your own machine translation engine and train it

You may not realise that companies that develop machine translation engines sell subscriptions. You can even pay to train your own engine using your translation memories. Post-editing isn’t just about an agency sending you texts. You can learn how to post edit, get a customised engine and then do whatever you want with it. The profits and control will be all yours.

  1. Companies that sell machine translation are battling for your business

If you want to try machine translation, you have to go shopping for a provider. The different companies that offer machine translation solutions (including SDL, Lilt and Systran) publish data to show how effective their software is. It’s all quite technical and confusing. And it can be biased. You can go to TAUS and the eMpTy Pages blog, for unbiased information.

Perhaps, like me, you prefer to see for yourself. One way of doing this is to observe yourself for a month in your work, and see how many words you average per hour. Then, pick whichever machine translation software takes your fancy and use it for a month. Track your turnover to see whether your hourly average gets faster or not. Then you’ll have your own data to tell you whether it’s worth continuing to invest.

  1. Machine translation isn’t currently replacing human translators

Improvements in machine translation don’t mean we’re all out of a job. But, it may mean our jobs will start to change. Commercial translation is often about getting an acceptable translation as quickly as possible. You can complete some texts faster by using customised machine translation and post-editing. And sometimes that is what the customer wants. As machine translation continues to get better, we can expect demand for post-editing to grow.

  1. Machine translation pricing isn’t set in stone, yet

While machine translation has a long history, it’s still being consolidated in our industry. Lots of translators and translation agencies are struggling to get their heads around it. Some translators are concerned that post-editing means lower pay. Certainly, ruthless agencies will try to use it as another way of driving prices down.

But, that doesn’t mean smart translators can’t use it to increase their profitability. Why shouldn’t we earn more on the days we work as post editors? If we learn about it, and talk about it, we’ll soon know how we want to price it. We’ll know when to refuse a job. Translators can choose to accept post-editing jobs only when they’re going to make more money for their time.

  1. Freelance translators have options regarding machine translation

We don’t all have to go running for the hills before the robots attack. Becoming a post editor is just one option open to us. If you like the idea of it, you could post edit for agencies. But, you could also subscribe to your own engine and use it in your work. If you don’t want to post edit, there are a host of specialisation and diversification options.

Whatever path you end up choosing, now is a good time to get informed and come up with a plan. If major changes do take place in our industry, I for one will be ready for them. Ready to adapt. To continue being the one who controls my career. To protect my rates, serve the direct customer competitively, and understand the jobs (and prices) agencies offer me.

I encourage you to join me at my webinar on 8 Feb, Your Essential Machine Translation Briefing. I’ll share everything I’ve found out about machine translation, in simple, unbiased terms. I’ll also tell you the strategies I’ve come up with, and am now employing in my work. Sign up here!

Open road interview series: Carl Brunet Reply

This is the final interview featuring ProZ.com members who have won Apple Watches as part of the site’s year-end membership campaign.

Congratulations to all of the winners!

Carl Brunet is the subject of today’s interview. Carl is a translator working in English and French, specializing in international relations, trade, marketing, environment, and finance, among other fields. He currently resides in Ottawa, Canada.


Q. Are you optimistic about the future of the language industry?
I’m optimistic in that people will always increasingly want to communicate and so there is a role for language professionals, but sometimes technology is imposed upon us and does not make the job necessarily easier.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your career as a freelance translator?
Having the freedom to call the shots, work as much as I want, where and when I want to. I’m currently on holiday in France.

Q. How has being a member of ProZ.com helped you meet your freelance objectives?
I have found some interesting jobs on the platform, gained valuable experience with some of the largest companies in the world and it is motivating to see so much work available if I want it.

Q. The theme of this campaign is ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?
I want to keep going down the path I’ve chosen, building my business and work on marketing myself better now that I’ve gained greater experience working for a huge variety of public and private sector clients.

Open road interview series: Frederique Griffith Reply

Today’s interview features Apple Watch winner Frederique Griffith. Frederique is a certified medical interpreter working in French to English and vice versa. She currently resides in Saint Louis, Missouri.

This is one of the final interviews conducted as part of ProZ.com’s year-end membership campaign. All prize winners have been selected, and you can find the full list of winners here. A special congratulations to our grand prize winner, Eszter Lelik, who won a brand new Nissan Juke!

See all previous posts in this series »


Frederique Griffith working from her home in Saint Louis.

Frederique Griffith working from her home in Saint Louis, Missouri

Q. Your profile indicates that you’re a medical interpreter. What do you find more rewarding – translating or interpreting?
I have been interpreting for several years now and really enjoy it. People are very grateful for the service provided. Whether they are filling out a form, seeing a doctor or interviewing for immigration, it is always reassuring to foreigners to have someone next to them who understands them. It is a pleasure to help people communicate that way. Translation is different as I don’t interact with people directly.

Q. Are you optimistic about the future of the language industry?
I am optimistic because people are traveling, moving and doing business across borders more and more easily and will always need quality work done in translation. Machine translation is far from being the equal of human work. Quality is important and cannot be attained cutting corners and using machines.

Q. How has being a member of ProZ.com helped you meet your freelance objectives?
I have learned quite a bit from ProZ.com. I have listened to several webinars, purchased a software at the group price, consulted the Blue Board to check on possible jobs and used the terminology glossary site quite a bit. Seeing and reading my colleagues’s viewpoints in the discussion forums is also very helpful.

Q. The theme of this campaign is ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?
I hope to do a little more translating as I transition from interpreting, where I spend a lot of time driving to and from appointments. Over the Phone and Video Interpreting also allow me to cut back on travel time. I enjoy the challenge that represents the translation of a document. I plan on increasing my knowledge of CAT tools and taking advantage of the online library available to ProZ.com members.

Open road interview series: Gudrun Dauner Reply

Gudrun Dauner is a freelance translator based in both Philadelphia and Munich. A native German speaker, she translates primarily from English and Italian into German and specializes in the field of art history.

Gudrun is the twelfth Apple Watch winner in ProZ.com’s year-end campaign giveaway. See all interviews in this series here.

Gudrun at her home office in Munich

Gudrun at her home office in Munich


Q. How did you initially start working as a translator?
I was always fascinated by foreign languages and cultures, and so parallel to my studies in art history in Germany I enrolled in language programs in other countries, mostly in Italy. After finishing my Ph.D. I worked on Italian Renaissance drawings at the State Graphic Arts Collection in Munich and then curated an exhibition on the same topic for the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. While attending the opening of this exhibition I learned that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies in Washington, DC was looking for German translators to work on an encyclopedia. I worked for a few months on that project and found I loved it for two main reasons. First, I was glad to have a chance to put my language skills to productive use. Second, translating for publications is in essence what I did for many years as an art historian: looking for the best possible way to express a concept. So in a way, it was by chance that I started working as a translator back in 2005, but it “clicked” very quickly. In spring 2006, I registered at ProZ.com, which helped me build up a loyal client base in my field.

Q. From the details in your ProZ.com profile it looks like you have worked on some very interesting projects. Which one was your favorite?
It is hard to pick one favorite project, but in general I enjoy working on long-term projects, where I can learn a lot about a subject of interest to me in the course of translating the source text and sometimes even get the chance to write entries or essays. Over the past few years I have translated a lot on art glass, starting with “The Coburg Prize for Contemporary Glass 2014” for the Veste Coburg. This project led to the collaboration with a private collection in Hamburg, the Barbara Achilles Stiftung. The first volume of their collection catalogue was published in 2016 and we are now preparing the second volume. This is the first time I have translated the entire text for a two-volume publication from German into English. I guess that fact, in addition to my fascination with the subject, makes it probably the most challenging and rewarding project I have worked on so far.

Q. What is the most fulfilling aspect of your career as a language professional?
I find it especially fulfilling that I get to do on a daily basis that which I enjoy doing: working with languages. Since I spend most of the year in Philadelphia, translating keeps me connected with my native German, and also helps me feel close to home when I am away. Translating is work that forces you to evolve and grow every day. You have to stay up-to-date with the languages (English, German, and Italian in my case), the technology, and also with the scientific developments in the field(s) of expertise. I find the more I translate, the more this happens practically automatically.

I also appreciate the flexibility that comes with working as a freelance translator. You can plan your overall schedule and each individual day yourself, and you can work from wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if I am in my office in Philadelphia, or at my other home in Munich. This gives me the feeling of freedom that I need to thrive.

Q. How has being a member of ProZ.com helped you meet your freelance objectives?
Becoming a translator was a career change for me, even if it was a smooth transition where one step led to another. From the beginning, ProZ.com was the most important resource for finding clients. When I started as a translator, I translated a broader range of topics, such as financial, legal and medical documents. Based in the US, I was often translating into German under tight deadlines, sending the documents at 3 am so that my clients in Europe would have the translation at the beginning of their business day. As I built my reputation, I was able to focus more and more on my field of expertise and get away from the overnight jobs. Now I translate almost exclusively for art galleries, museums, editors, university professors and tourism agencies. Many of the clients I work with on a regular basis found me on ProZ.com, ranging from a philosophy professor in Florida who writes on Hegel to an art gallery in Switzerland. In fact, several of my clients I have not met in person – ProZ.com is our meeting place. My membership continues to pay dividends by giving me access to interesting clients all over the world.

Q. The theme of this campaign is ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?
I am very happy as things are right now. I have a five-year old son, and when he was little it was difficult to find a work-life balance. Now that he goes to kindergarten and becomes more and more independent, I am able to take on larger projects and still feel confident that I can deliver high quality in relatively short time frames. If anything, my plan for the future is to tackle more of these large projects.

Open road interview series: William Green Reply

William Green is a Chinese to English freelance translator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also the next Apple Watch winner in ProZ.com’s year-end campaign giveaway. All previous interviews in this series can be found here.


Q. Your website indicates that you work as part of a team – could you elaborate on that? What are some advantages to working in a team as opposed to working as an individual?
I used to work with others a lot more when I started out as a translator. I had an office job and did translation on the side. Having another job meant that doing the work with others and splitting the proceeds was my best option.

The amount of translation work I receive has increased over the years and so I left my office job last year to focus on translation full-time. I’ve been working less with others since then, although I still work quite a bit with my partner (she is Chinese, but has lived in Australia since middle school). There are occasions where the project is exceptionally large and then I will try to find other people.

One big advantage to working in a team is that you can accept a much larger quantity of work. Another major advantage is having someone to ask if you don’t understand something in the other language.

Q. What are your favorite types of projects to work on?
Probably finance and video games.

I grew up playing video games and so I find it generally to be quite familiar and/or easy work. It also tends to come in large batches which is generally a good thing. There’s a lot of transcreation involved in game dialogue which can be quite fun as well.

In terms of finance, I have a bit of background knowledge in finance and read a lot of finance news in my free time as I find it very interesting. It’s a field where you need a fair bit of extra knowledge to do it well, which is always a plus when finding work and setting rates.

Q. Are you optimistic about the future of the translation industry?
I think that robotics and computers will certainly be replacing a lot of white and blue collar jobs in the future, but I am more optimistic about the translation industry than for a lot of other fields.

Even if translation software significantly improves, I think that you will still need to hire people to edit whatever the computer produces. So I think the main difference in that future translation industry will be that translators will get a boost in the number of words they can translate every day but their specialized skills will still be necessary to ensure the translation is accurate. That is still quite a difficult job.

I believe this is still a long way down the line and that there isn’t too much to worry about just yet. At the moment, I don’t think e.g. Google Translate is good enough to actually use in this way, at least for CN>EN.

I doubt that translation software can get a lot better without a major advance in artificial intelligence because at some point you actually need to know what the words mean.

Q. How has being a member of ProZ.com helped you meet your freelance objectives?
ProZ.com has a really great jobs board and the Blue Board is very useful for checking whether an agency or client will be reliable.

I think you need to be careful and intelligent about how you go about applying and who you work with. I have run into some dodgy agencies. But overall it is a fantastic opportunity to start work as a translator. It will help you get your foot in the door. Whether or not you can turn that opportunity into something more depends on whether you can keep your clients/agency clients coming back. That’s up to you.

Q. The theme of this campaign is ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?
My main focus at the moment in terms of doing something new or exciting in translation is in incorporating more technology into the job.

This includes getting better at CAT tools, building better term databases, and also finding new ways to translate which make the work itself much easier.

For example, if you don’t want to look at a computer screen, you can always print the original text and then record yourself speaking the English. High quality audio transcription software can do a really good job at putting your recording into words. That means you don’t have to type a lot and that means less strain on your body if it’s a huge job.


Are you interested in entering this contest to win an Apple Watch, or even a brand new Nissan Juke, all while purchasing or renewing your ProZ.com membership at a discounted price?

Visit the campaign page for more details on how to enter this giveaway. Don’t wait! The campaign ends soon.

Interview with Stéphanie Boufferet: Charting your own course on the open road Reply

A long-standing member of ProZ.com, Stéphanie Boufferet is a freelance translator working in Spanish to French from her home in Spain. Stéphanie is also the tenth Apple Watch winner in ProZ.com’s year-end campaign giveaway in celebration of the site’s Plus package release. You can find all posts in this series here.


When not walking her two Yorkshire terriers, you can find Stéphanie in her home office in northern Spain.

Q. I see that you are a member of Asetrad. In your opinion, how important is it for translators to join professional associations? Has being a member of Asetrad benefited your career in any way?
I think that is very important for a translator to join a professional association. As freelancers, we are working alone at home. An association is very helpful to get in touch with your colleagues if you don’t want to be isolated. Asetrad gave me the opportunity to meet other translators, to exchange ideas, know-how, resources and legal queries through the forum and to access high quality publications like La Linterna del Traductor. As a member of Asetrad, I must scrupulously respect the association’s Code of Conduct, which asks us for instance to respect confidential information, to refuse “assignments that we are not qualified to undertake or for which we cannot ensure optimum quality” and to only accept “remuneration that enables them to practise their profession efficiently and with dignity”. For our clients, it is a real pledge of quality.

Q. As a freelancer, how do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
My two Yorkshire terriers are helping me to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I need to take them for a walk several times a day! More seriously, scheduling is very important to avoid stressing about deadlines. I always aim to prioritise and remain disciplined. With your translations, never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. As a result, you will be available to work under pressure for urgent assignments that the client needs as soon as possible. However, on the other hand, we must free up time to develop new skills, such as learning how to use a CAT or an OCR tool better. It’s also important to specialise in one field to improve our productivity, which is key. Finally, I think that the Roman phrase Mens sana in corpore sano is still relevant for a freelancer. In my day-to-day routine, Zumba classes or one hour of swimming are not-to-be-missed engagements. I sadly saw how some excellent translators and interpreters suffered from burn-outs and heart attacks last year.

Q. What is the most fulfilling aspect of your career as a language professional?
I love my job. I do really enjoy what I do and I think that’s a real privilege nowadays. In fact, I always dreamed of a career related to foreign languages. I was raised in a multicultural family with American and German cousins, with strong links with Spain. My grandfather passed on to me his passion for foreign languages. He learnt Spanish by talking to Republican refugees of the Spanish Civil War and with the help of a newspaper subscription. He spoke several languages and came to his mind to learn Italian at the age of 78 by making some crosswords during his recovery from a surgical intervention. My clients’ satisfaction and the feeling that the translations I’m doing are useful, such as a medical report or a cover letter for a job interview, are also important and rewarding aspects. Translating gives me the opportunity to learn something new each day, to stay in touch with current ideas, topics and trends and to improve my language skills.

Q. How has being a member of ProZ.com helped you meet your freelance objectives?
From the beginning, ProZ.com membership has been crucial as I obtained all my principal clients through the site. Being a member of ProZ.com also gave me a substantial discount on my Trados versions. The Blue Board database is very important as well to avoid dealing with non-professional translators or agencies, and forums, webinars and conferences are very useful. Furthermore, I previously mentioned the importance of Asetrad membership, and similarly, ProZ.com is a very valuable tool to stay in touch with other translators. Through ProZ.com, I met professional translators such as Marta Pino, a sworn and literary translator, and Barbara Beatrice Lavitola, the charismatic entrepreneur and CEO of BBLTranslation. For me, these were two very rewarding learning experiences.

Q. The theme of this campaign is ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?
It’s difficult to predict the future. I would like to keep enjoying what I’m doing and keep trying to exceed my clients’ expectations by delivering first-class translations.

As we are driving on an open road, I would like to chart my own course. To achieve this, I would like to take a Masters in audiovisual and multimedia translation, with dubbing, subtitling, subtitling for the deaf, audio description, multimedia and video game translations. Video is not going to “kill” written text, but it will have a growing place in our society. Translators must be ready and trained for that.


Many thanks to Stéphanie for participating in this interview, and congratulations on being our tenth Apple Watch winner!

Below, find the video announcement for the release of the first Plus package feature: the Plus-subscriber video library.

Open road interview series: Govind Ayer Reply

Meet Govind Ayer: An English to Nepali translator and the ninth Apple Watch winner as part of ProZ.com’s campaign giveaway series in celebration of the site’s Plus package release.

View all previous posts in this series here »


Govind Ayer at his workstation in Kathmandu

Q. How do you cope with the isolated nature of being a freelance translator?
It has been one year since I started as a freelance translator. Earlier, I worked for a private translation agency for 2 years. I didn’t feel isolated while working as an in-house translator. When I started as a freelancer, I sometimes felt isolated with no one around me to discuss the work. But, I found many ways to feel accompanied. I spent some time with my family, joined an online community and took part in various social activities. For me, the most important thing to do to get rid of the feeling of isolation is to do what makes you happy.

Q. What is the most fulfilling aspect of your career as a language professional?
For me, translation is an important study and profession. You are always increasing your level of knowledge and skill. Being specific, I love to translate any documents for unskilled and semi-skilled labors, especially those relating to their safety and facilities available to them. Because thousands of unskilled and semi-skilled people from my country go abroad to work. I feel good when I can serve them. It is challenging to translate the documents to their level of understanding. It also gives me an opportunity to give my best and build up a better relationship with the client.

Q. How has being a member of ProZ.com helped you meet your freelance objectives?
It is ProZ.com which helped me to understand the translation industry. Without the help of ProZ.com, it would be impossible for me to get involved in the translation. The site has provided me with a platform to find good clients and discuss things with my peers. I want to thank ProZ.com for this exceptional support.

Q. The theme of this campaign is ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?
ProZ.com has provided me with many regular clients and now I rarely bid on new jobs. In this way, there is still a possibility to have more good clients. Obviously, I intend to expand my business. I have decided to move forward together with ProZ.com.