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What software do translation companies use?

Published on 03/12/2020

Any 21st century translator would prefer to be dead than to translate the way it was done in the 1970s. New generations of translators don't think of having to go to a library to consult encyclopaedias or dictionaries that have become filthy from years of use!

The typewriter, the professional tool of the library translator, was discontinued in 2011. It was in this year that the last factory that stubbornly insisted on producing this relic of the past closed.

While the type writer has accompanied translation companies and professional translators for generations, it has given way to the word processor, the computer and all the programs that make translation possible. On my blog: "Present, past and future of translation", you can find an overview of this evolution.

In this blog, I will leave aside the history of translation, to tell you which are the main programs used by professional translators and companies today. The use of software has had and continues to have a major impact on the way in which translation is done and managed.

1. Translation memories

Translation memories

As the name suggests, these are programs that help translators remember their translations. Moreover, in a way that no translator, no matter how prodigious his memory is, could surpass.

The basic functionality of translation memories is to create a database of translations done by human professional translators. These databases are easy to consult, allowing translators to retrieve translations that were done years ago.

But translation memories, or computer-assisted translation programs, have developed over the years to offer more functionality.

Although clients of translation companies may insist on sending Word documents with the texts of their manuals, programs or web pages, computer-assisted translation programs make it possible to selectively extract the text to be translated.

The ability to filter text of many different formats: InDesign, PPT, FrameMaker, .json, .csv, Excel, resource files... makes it possible for translation clientes to send translations directly in these formats, avoiding the work of copying and pasting from a Word document.

As I said, translation memories were born with the idea of creating databases of human translations that would be easy to retrieve and apply.

This functionality is undoubtedly the one with the greatest added value, especially when you have to translate very repetitive texts such as in the translation of technical manuals. This allows translation agencies and translation companies to offer discounts for repetitions or already translated texts. Or simply enjoy great margins.

However, translation memories have many other functionalities, here are some of the most relevant ones:

  • quality controls (numbers, formats, consistency, dates...),
  • text filtering in multiple formats,
  • possibility of sharing the translation database in real time for projects translated by several translators,
  • automatic recognition during the translation of terms included in a glossary,
  • terminology control by project managers,
  • connection to automatic translation engines,
  • text alignment to generate databases with translations of already translated documents.

There is a wide range of such translation programs available: SDL Studio, memoQ, WordFast, DéjàVu, XTM, Transit, OmegaT (open source), WordBee...

2. Translation Management Systems and TMS

Translation Management Systems and TMS

There may be translation companies that do not yet use a management system specialized in the translation industry.

If so, this translation company will not be very big, it is about to disappear or they are already thinking about which software to buy.

TMS (translation management systems) can be defined as ERP solutions for translation companies, although some of them do not integrate the administrative functions, only the production ones.

These are management systems that automate workflows, integrating with the translation memory programs I mentioned in the first section or being a translation memory software itself with advanced management functions.

There are a wide variety of them, some more focused on the integration of all administrative processes (human resources management, CRM and invoicing) and others more focused on the integration of the technologies used for the technical management of translations (this is what defines a TMS).

At AbroadLink, our translation company, we have chosen to use a business management system specialized in translation, XTRF, which allows for the automatic integration of workflows with various translation memory programs.

3. Design and layout programs for translations

Design and layout programs for translations

Many larger and more technically savvy translation companies offer their clients the DTP of translated documents.

The aim is to offer a comprehensive translation service and to enable clients to obtain translations in a final format that they can use directly.

In addition, the layout of multilingual documents requires specialization in the handling of different languages. Translation companies are often the best placed to offer these services.

The layout and design programs that a translation company may have are, among others: InDesign, FrameMaker, Photoshop, QuarkXpress and Illustrator.

4. Machine Translation Engines

Machine Translation Engines

Despite the still widespread belief that Google translations can give you a good laugh –which indeed they can– the reality is that the evolution of machine translation has reached a turning point. To the point that many professional translators have stopped laughing.

If you don't believe what I say I encourage you to use Google translator to see that their translations, although far from 100% accurate, will leave you impressed if you tried it some years ago and you were disappointed.

Machine translation has been used for years by companies with a large amount of information to translate, especially those in the IT sector.

Microsoft, Apple, Symantec, to name but a few, have long relied on machine translation to handle the enormous amount of text to be translated.

Similarly, the multinational translation companies that are most up to date with technological advances also introduced machine translation as part of their service portfolio years ago.

However, it is relatively recently, since 2017, with the implementation of neural machine translation, that machine translation has reached such an evolution that it is no longer only large multinationals that operate these systems.

Nowadays, it is very easy for a translation company to connect directly to Google's generic translation engine.

Only the most technically savvy companies use the services of Google and other machine translation providers (such as Microsoft, IBM or Amazon ) to create machine translations tailored to their clients or a specific industry.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the service offered by translation companies and agencies, which relies on automatic translation, is called post-editing.

Post-editing is the technical term by which translation companies refer to the revision of a machine translation by a professional translator.

It is important to keep in mind that although the quality of machine translation has improved greatly, human intervention is still necessary to achieve the highest quality translations and to ensure that there are no commonplace errors.

5. Programs for quality control

Programs for quality control

Finally, it is worth mentioning that some translation companies use software to check the quality of translations.

The errors identified by these programs are double spaces, number and date checks, dots that should be there , or inconsistently translated sentences.

These are some of the translation quality control programs available on the market: Xbench, QA Distiller, Verifika, ErrorSpy, Linguistic Toolbox...

Although they are very useful programs, they are not as widespread as you might expect.

This is because the translation memory programs I mentioned in the first section already come with this kind of functionality.

The translation industry is fully adapted to the digital age. Leading translation agencies and companies make extensive use of technology to provide their clients with quality translations at competitive prices.

The technology with the lowest level of penetration up to date among companies is the integration of their service offerings with customized machine translation engines.

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José Gambín's picture
José Gambín

José Gambín holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.

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