MT vs. Transcreation

Yes, it's another MT-related post.

No, I am not scared.

Really, I am not.

I can't help but notice two curious trends on modern L10N market. They may look unconnected, or even opposite, but I think they represent two sides of a single market polarization process at its earlier stage.

On one hand we see the marching Mighty Translator (MT), which is said to produce decent results in some pairs. Evangelists even predict that it will completely take over certain segments within few years. I am not sure about that, hyped statistical MTs are still useless between EN and slavic languages... algorythmic/rule-based systems are slightly better, but they don't get much investment. Anyway the trend exists — researchers are researching, customers are asking for case studies, GPMs are launching pilot or even production projects, CAT developers are implementing MT plugins... A lot is going on the scene and behind it, and many find it disturbing.

The 2nd trend is more subtle. The populariy of Transcreation concept has been growing for last few years. It was mentioned much more often in 2011 than in 2008, when I received my first Transcreation PO. Bloggers are writing slick posts (<envy mode on>What can I do to make my English that slick?<envy mode off>), theme discussion groups appear all over the Web, companies and freelancers quickly change their positioning or at least tune it with new idea. It happened with two good customers of mine, whose specialization has mutated from "marketing and communication" to "transcreation" within 2011. This is not a hype, but you surely can't miss it.

Now to the point. MT is a logical development of Henry Ford's workflow-oriented "more eyes see more" approach to localization. Supplier chains are long, resources are cheap, but sloppy, quality is "normalized". Customer is supposed to be protected by a long sequence of steps with multiple feedback links that looks fancy on the whiteboard. Every step is supposed to improve quality, though usually it does not. Good news is that nobody will ever read the bigger part of content produced this way. So if you replace the initial node (cheap human translator) with MT, nothing changes. Price drops a bit, and that's it.

But the whole workflow thing has never worked for marketing and advertising copy, and majority of translation buyers have learnt this lesson hard, harder or the hardest way. That's why agencies, who specialize on such content, are applying different approach: do it right the first time. There is one qualified translator, and one qualified editor, both not cheap. They usually work in close contact to produce a fluent copy that sells stuff. Imagine a CIO reading an MTed collateral for six-figure product.

The logical development of this "do it right the first time" approach is Transcreation, which is [IMHO] about giving a translator more freedom and responsibility to produce a copy suitable for local audience expectations. No more source limitations, the goal is to sell stuff, not to stick to the original. Do whatever you want with idioms, wordplay, and overall emotional temperature. Do whatever you want, as long as they buy it. Such translation is essentially a new copy, [loosely] based on the original with all that it implies.

So let's return to the beginning of this post — polarization thing. Here's my layman's prediction: High-volume technical projects with low to medium level of sophistication (high-volume software, consumer manuals, tender docs, etc., you name it) will be slowly moving to human-edited MT. It's happening already. Sad but true, sorry MS translators. The change will be driven not only by costs, but also by volume of translatable content.

At the same time Trascreation wave should rise for stuff with higher fluency/creativity requirements, particularly marketing and games (hopefully), training materials perhaps. May be they will even be selling MT under the Translation label, and rename regular professional human translation to Transcreation. And I don't know, who will make more cash per hour, MT-editors or Transcreators [hehe]... Think about it.

Traditional technical translation should remain under some name for highly specialized texts, which require hands-on experience in the narrow field. I won't tell why — tired of typing.

One more thing, I wanted to use "Transcreation equals Translation in hipster glasses" joke, but couldn't fit it in the main text, so I'll just put it here.


On discount policy

This is an old email communication, that occured a while ago (end of 2010). Huge evil MLV decided to improve their bottom line in Q4 (their results for Q3 were their best to date by the way) by taking some money from it's suppliers. Don't ask why it came up now. Also, there will be no epimyth or conclusion, I am posting it just for fun. And yes, they backed off eventually.

The order is reversed — the reply comes first.

From: Vadim
Date: 2010/11/2
Subject: Re: Urgent and Important -- Your Immediate Support Required

Dear Didier

I must say, that I find your idea fresh, and inspiring. Really, I do. I have even decided to aply the same policy to the local grocery store. You can find my draft preposition to them below.

First of all I'll tell them about my problems. There is no doubt, that these will be of utmost interest for them. Why wouldn't they?

- The weather has been lame lately

- I have recently aquired a cat, and forced to suffer its operating costs, which are quite high these days

- They have cancelled Caprica, my favorite TV Show. Can you believe that? I am sooo sad...

- The rash on my back is getting stronger, I need to do something about it

Given the above, I'll require the grocer to provide me 10% discount for the next two years (they have no choice indeed, because I am such an important client. I come there every day, and buy a baguette, a couple of croissants, and sometimes a pack of tea, and even a bottle of wine. Very important.) I'll also throw a remark, that I might become a habitual drunkard someday, and start buying wine every day to gild the pill.

When they accept my kindest offer, I'll approach to other shops and providers I am attending, starting the from the energy company, and the ISP. What do you think of my plan?

Unfortunately negotiation with all those suppliers will leave me no time for Huge Evil MLV projects for the next two months.

Thank you so much for inspiration

Warmest regards
Vadim Poguliaev  

Huge Evil MLV Vendor Management – IMPORTANT – DO NOT REPLY

<> wrote:

Dear Vadim Poguliaev,

The global economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 affected all of us. Together, as translation partners, we weathered this challenging and uncertain economic environment and demonstrated our value to clients worldwide. Today, while some economies are showing some signs of improvement, the overall demand environment remains fragile and volatile:

In today’s uncertain economic environment customers expect all of us to deliver “more for less”. To remain competitive, we are all demanding more from ourselves to meet these challenges.

Against the backdrop of this negative economic context, effective November 1, 2010 through January 1, 2011 we require all our partners to provide a 5% discount on all Huge Evil MLV projects. This discount is independent of any other agreements we may have in place with you.

Huge Evil MLV is not taking this step lightly and understands the effort it represents. Please keep in mind the following points:

  • In most markets, Evil MLV bears the full burden and risk associated with exchange-rate fluctuations; as a USD denominated company this means we have effectively seen our outsourcing costs rise by approximately 6% in the last month alone;
  • Huge evil MLV continues to put tremendous effort into securing new and existing customers and markets, effectively providing for our and YOUR future revenue streams;
  • .

In closing, I want to reiterate Huge Evil MLV’s commitment to increasing market demand for translation services by providing the industry’s most innovative, efficient and high-quality services that enable clients to extend their global reach. As our translation partner, your success is tightly aligned with our success. I want to personally thank you for the services you are providing to Huge Evil MLV during these challenging times and I look forward to extending our partnership in 2011 and beyond.

Thank you,


C-level guy from huge evil MLV

Why do I hate Logoport (aka Translation Workspace), part 1


I have seen plenty of bad CAT tools, and only two or three really good ones. Some were particularly ugly, like IBM Translation Manager or Multilizer 4.0. (I have translated several thousand words in fourth version of Multilizer in 2010. Since then I prefer to call it Mutilizer [HA-HA]).

However I have never had any emotions about those, working with bad proprietary tools is a part of the job. When you manage to export files to something you can open in your favorite environment, you win. When you don't, it's like whatever. Ultimately all CATs are the same.

But this tolerance failed me when I became familiar with Logoport/Translation Workspace. I hereby admit that I hate it from the bottom of my heart. Reasons are not entirely clear even for me, but I'll try to analyze them for your amusement. So...

First of all it's Logoport's shameful history, which started when SDL swallowed Trados. Lionbridge became dependent of one of its dire competitors, and felt somewhat uncomfortable. For SDL on the other hand this situation opened wide array of exciting opportunities. So Lionbridge went shopping, and bought small unknown company with unknown undeveloped downright useless copy of Trados macro, which communicated with server instead of local TM. Note that it was long before the cloud hype, so Liox can be considered kinda visionary from this perspective.

Then the fun started. By moving projects to Logoport Liox earned some hard cash and lost what was left of their goodwill among translators, because of "optimized" WC algorithm: Similair (but not equal) no match segments within the same project were considered fuzzy. The basic matching mechanism was also "improved" compared to other tools on the market, for example Introduction -> Implementation is considered a high fuzzy, because those two words are so much alike. Don't you agree?

The more, the better. Logoport remained free for a few years, and everyone got used to it. Just another ugly proprietary CAT. Then someone in Lionbridge came up with a brilliant idea: Let's charge for it! Our suppliers will have no choice but to pay, if they want to continue working for us, and our suppliers' suppliers will also have to pay for the same reason. Free cash! And free cash it was. Some good translators left, but SLV agencies who received over 50% of their work from Lionbridge had nowhere to go.

As you can see, greed is the only reason this tool exists. It was purchased to avoid paying SDL for Trados license on their conditions, and used to rip off vendors in several ways. Noone ever cared about insignificant stuff, like usability, testing, or customer care. Cash keeps flowing, and most "clients" don't have a choice, but to buy and use our "product". Why bother? The result: user experience nightmare.

This leads us to Part 2 of this story — technical/usability reasons why I hate Logoport.

New horse in the stable

All translators, who have been around for some time, have a roster of tools to make their life easier, and improve quality of their work. (This may not be obvious, but the former is a direct precursor of the latter.)

The easiest examples are Apsic Xbench, and Apsic Comparator. I won't be telling you, how great, and useful they are, this is not the subject of this post, but if you don't have them, go get them here right now.

Another thing worth mentioning is search/replace tools, which are essential when you revise a project that contains hundreds of files. My choice here is Text Workbench, which supports binary Office files unlike the competitors.

I can go on, but that's not our subject again. To the point:

Recently I have learnt about the tool, which seems to be just as useful as Xbench for certain kinds of jobs, more specifically liguistic QA of localized web sites, and applications via screenshots, or browser. The idea is very simple — the tool consists of two panes. You open a source screenshot or web page on one side, and a localized target one on the other. Then you compare them, and go to the next pair with a click of a single button.

The tool is opensource, and thus it is flighty, and unstable, but it's still much better than two browser, or image viewer windows.


You can also download the compiled file here

Can't wait to try it for "big" web application testing. Great addition for my roster.


Thank you, Google.

A couple of weeks ago my precious business email on gmail became unavailable, some weird account maintenace error. This is a kind of a disaster — loss of business, loss of clients, not to mention the overwhelming feeling of suspence, and insecurity. It was fixed after only six hours, and I didn't loose too much, but it could be much worse — for some the similair outage lasted for weeks.
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