A year in review: mobile CAT tools, neural machine translation, NEC TM, blockchain, M&A

It’s two weeks into January, which provides some perspective on what happened at Pangeanic and in the translation industry in 2018. Here’s a year in review, what defined the translation industry, what language technologies affect the profession, which developments took place at Pangeanic and what we believe will influence the foreseeable future and beyond.

Reflecting on another year in the translation industry

The size of the translation industry does not growing. Any forecast keeps on falling short as more and more technologies are now “language related” and translation incorporates more Natural Language Processing features. Language technologies (that is language analysis technologies) keep affecting and making our industry develop in unforeseen ways. It may be no surprise, then, that in an industry such as the translation industry, disruptive changes are more apparent than in other industries. Much of what happened in the past year and can endure for the remainder of 2019 and leave their mark for even longer.

1. A continuing rise of Machine Translation (and a growing of acceptance)

PangeaMT has been Pangeanic’s machine translation brand since 2010. Resistance to statistical machine translation post-editing has been a hot potato for many years. However, the rise of neural networks changed not only the landscape development, but also the way translators, both experienced and novel perceived the work provided by software and their role as providers of a service.

It is more than clear that translators’ capabilities and knowledge are enhanced by machine translation, and their work can become more creative. Only the translators that translate as machines will be replaced by machines.

Technology providers continue to invest huge amounts of money in the development of increasingly good machine translation systems. Translation companies use these systems to reduce their costs and provide faster services in an ever more competitive world with sorter deadlines. Most translators spend time and energy embracing the technology, although there are still some professionals that defy the technology altogether. Digital natives are less squeamish when it comes to post-editing than established translators that have invested years of learning in CAT tools and terminology management. Despite the lack of a major break-through or shake the industry to its foundations, it seems nevertheless that machine translation technology is continuously gaining ground and has become another tool to be made use of for particular clients and situations although the majority of translation clients still demand “publishable quality” that can only be achieved with human intervention.

Whilst it still seems that many in translation industry are not ready to embrace the future, we are at Pangeanic believe machine translation has become embedded and part of our DNA. And other companies are basing their vision purely in post-editing models.

 

2. Pangeanic will provide Translation Memory Server databases for the European Commission and EU Member States

Heralding an open-source movement by the EU, Pangeanic won another EU contract to open-source ActivaTM and make it the National and European Central Translation Memory. This database will allow Public Administrations at EU Member States to centralize their translation assets in TMX format and apply industry practices such as fuzzy analysis and on-line connections from translation contractors, whilst creating a national repository of translation memories and of course national bilingual Big Data.

The project is also analyzing the size of the translation industry from public administrations so that each Member State can realize the savings that can be achieved through data centralization.

3. CAT tools go mobile

Mobile devices have become part of our daily lifes, and it is difficult to find somebody who does not own a smartphone or tablet. These smart devices only served initially as entertainment and for simple business tasks like using email. The CAT tool industry soon realized how much time people spend online and how mobile we have become, doing many tasks on the go. Memsource’s announcement of a mobile app for translations sounded very promising, but in the end it has only turned out to be an app for project management. SDL has its Online Translation Editor, MemoQ can be used online, and Smartling, SmartCat and Lilt are native web apps where translators can do their jobs. Our own PangeaBox will become available as a web editor and post-editing satellite in 2019.

This changes the way translators work and can work, and the time at each they can offer their translation services. As CAT tools are no longer available on desktops only, they can be used on the go, too. They still do not work as intuitively or as easily as their more mature family members, but they do serve a purpose and can be of real help when a task needs to be completed online, particularly for general content translation.

translators using a mobile device

The introduction of Hey MemoQ points to a marriage of mobile apps and desktop apps in the making, but Hey MemoQ is currently only available for iPhone users. In any case, smartphones and tablets will gain more ground in the future. In an interesting move in a similar direction, SDL and Kilgray both introduced new versions of SDL Trados Studio and MemoQ. The future will surely lie in the use of web-based CAT tools and a growing need for post-editing services that are clocked and charged by the hour and not by the word. 2019 may be an interesting year marking a shift away from desktop-based translation software to CAT tools in the cloud.

4. The blockchain debate

Since the enormous rise of the Bitcoin, companies have shown an increasing interest in the underlying technology – the blockchain. The blockchain technology is around 10 years old already, but translation companies are only now beginning to see its benefits. During 2018, some industry professionals have debated on Slator.com and The Open Mic about the endless possibilities in terms of transparency and accountability that the blockchain offers for the translation industry.

Nothing concrete has happened in 2018 and some of these visions are at the level of fantasies and daydreams, but with the blockchain gaining ground and companies investing huge amounts in developing their own blockchain technologies, there is still a slim chance that the technology behind cryptocurrencies might too have an impact in the translation industry. Nobody can envision how disruptive or groundbreaking it could be in our industry if we assume human services or machine-made translations. It can even be doubted whether it will reach it, but in 2018 the first talks about blockchain and translation services were envisioned. Let’s keep the conversation opened.

5. Continuing mergers and acquisitions

In an era in which ownership of technologies that make a company different are defining success and survival, translation companies are seeking to expand their foothold by merging with and acquiring competitors. In the past year a few big mergers and acquisitions took place or were completed with SDL acquiring Donnelley Language Solutions at USD 77.5 million, TransPerfect buying TranslateNow and Moravia becoming part of the RWS family following an acquisition.

Of course there is still room for smaller or regional companies, but large players are looking for new candidates for acquisition all the time in order to serve their clients better in some countries or verticals. Some of these companies are joining investment rounds or raising IPOs with the ultimate goal of becoming publicly owned. This might give rise to questions about the resulting quality in translation as a product since the hunger from shareholders for higher profits can result in lower rates or lower technological requirements that impact the quality of translations. However, that is not a settled matter. It is not as easy as assuming that the best translations are performed by the largest companies. The future will bring more details about how the size and capital of a translation company can impact the quality of a translation.

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