Category Archives: Translation Technology

A Stimulating Conversation With Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche


I have just finished reading Found in Translation, the new book  which has just come out by Nataly and Jost, and is already lined up for a third printing!  I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the T&I sector. Having worked in the industry for so many years and always striving to keep up with new developments, I now realize that until I read the book, I only had a miniscule idea of all the ways our profession affects global events ranging from personal issues,  to business, to governmental affairs and everything in between. It is a “must read”, a very enjoyable read and it will broaden your horizons and allow you to speak authoritatively to promote what we do. Read on to learn what we discussed:

1. What new fields do you see opening up for our profession with the advent of the digital age? Have you noticed any type of interpreting that has become obsolete over the years?

NK: The digital age is helping the fields of translation and interpreting both evolve, although it’s also making things more complex. For the last few years, I’ve been interested in real-time online translation, which is somewhat of a hybrid between interpreting and translation. It occurs in real time, but is in written form.

Market data from Common Sense Advisory indicates that all types of interpreting are growing, but especially on-site interpreting. There is always a lot of buzz about video and telephone interpreting, but they are not growing as swiftly as one might expect. On-site interpreting has not become obsolete. Quite the contrary – it’s one of the fastest-growing services in the market.

As for types of interpreting that may become obsolete, some people believe that consecutive interpreting eventually will, since simultaneous is so much faster, even though some studies show that the quality of simultaneous is often inferior to, mostly due to the speed.  Most of our studies show that when it comes to language services, speed trumps everything else for most applications and settings.

2. What is on your “wish list” for technological advances/devices for the profession?  How close are we to any of them?

JZ: In general I think we’re on the right path with how translation technology is developing. For a long time we were stuck in the same old paradigms of translation memory and termbases, but in the last couple of years development has started to move in more interesting areas.

One area that I think is particularly interesting is a more intelligent analysis of the data in databases such as translation memories. This results in many more possible matches, also called subsegment matching. The other area that I expect great things from is a close integration of machine translation into the more traditional technology. I don’t mean the typical “pretranslation” by machine translation that is post-edited by a translator, but processes by which the data that the translator has collected can “communicate” with external machine translation data to achieve more helpful results.

On the project management side of operations, I think we will see more efficient models to allow for direct contact between the translation buyer and the translator. This in turn will challenge LSPs, or language service providers, to find creative ways to bring added value to the table.

3. How can we bring together language associations  around the world to help their members leapfrog the learning curve in those places where the profession is very young or has not developed significantly?

JZ: This is an interesting question. First, we can learn what went wrong when translation technology initially entered the market 15 or 20 years ago. It was a painful experience to convince all the different stakeholders—translation buyers, language service providers, translators, and educators—of the value of those technologies. Those stakeholders who adopted the technology at the beginning—primarily translation buyers and larger language service providers—found that their needs were naturally accommodated more in the ensuing development process.

How could clearer communication have made this process go more smoothly? That’s an essential question to answer and then apply so we can do a better job at introducing new technology and helping other industries get over similar humps (for instance, perhaps some of the more technology-skeptical interpreters could learn from the translators’ experience).

Our profession is actually still underdeveloped in some ways in the U.S., where many members of the translation and interpreting industries have a non-industry-specific educational background. Many places in Europe and South America are ahead of game. I believe our emphasis should be on more accessible tertiary education in the U.S. that prepares for the actual work in the real world.

Associations can play an important role in helping to build and promote such programs.

4. After reading your book and the successful instances of translation crowdsourcing for well-known publications such as The Economist, do you think it can  spread to traditional sources of income for translators?

NK:  Crowdsourced translation has been a source of income for freelancers and agencies for many years now. Already, many companies pay for professional editing services and volunteer translator community management. It just isn’t a very big area, which is why so few people ever see those projects. We published a report that reviewed more than 100 different crowdsourced translation platforms, but many of those were not with name-recognizable companies. Many start-ups in the high-tech space use this method.

However, it’s important to remember that crowdsourced translation is not free. Also, saving money is not the primary motivation for using this model. Many high-tech companies do this just because their online communities begin to request it. In some cases, their users simply begin translating content without them even asking to do so. As a result, some of this activity springs up without the company’s permission or even their awareness at first, as it did in the case of the Economist.

5. Have you noticed any pronounced differences in work categories between the U.S. and other parts of the world , for interpreters and translators?

JZ:  In many parts of the world outside the U.S., translators and interpreters have a stronger standing because they are seen as “real” professions. In the U.S., with its generally low level of language learning, anyone with a smattering of any second language is perceived as capable of engaging in translation and interpretation. We hope that our book can serve to change that.

6. How can we increase the number of potential interpreters in the feeder, in view of the large number of retiring baby-boomer interpreters around the world?

NK:  Some educational programs for interpreters report to me that their graduates cannot find work. Other sources are telling me that there is a shortage of interpreters. Much of it depends on geography, setting, and language combinations.

For example, the U.S. has a shortage of interpreters for languages of national security. Locations that receive large refugee populations also typically struggle to find enough medical, community, and court interpreters for new arrivals. The challenge is not unique to the U.S., of course. Countries around the world face similar challenges.

The fastest way to attract more young people to the field is to improve remuneration, but that alone is not enough. The profession as a whole needs to become more developed and mature. Education and training programs are lacking for many areas of the field, especially in the United States, but we’re seeing more and more emerge each year.

7. From your experience, what advice would you give to those considering becoming interpreters and translators, who want to make it to the top as quickly as possible?

NK & JZ:  We can answer this one in unison – don’t be afraid of technology!  It really is your friend.  Technology, training, and passion for languages are really the three key ingredients for success.

Readers, please join the conversation and tell us if you have read the book and what you think of it.  We would love to share your experience!

In addition, take note to login to http://new.livestream.com/accounts/1493052/xl8book, on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 12:00 (PST), 15:00 (EDT), when our colleague, Barry Olsen, will be interviewing Nataly Kelly from Irvine Auditorium at MIIS.

Interview with Barry S. Olsen and Katharine Allen of InterpretAmerica


The interpreting  profession has really advanced into the limelight this year, to the degree that we  were  the subject of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Taniguchi vs. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd. Thus I thought it would be apropos to interview two visionary entrepreneurs in the field about their insights into the industry.

Barry Slaughter Olsen and Katharine Allen founded InterpretAmerica in 2009 with the express purpose of raising the profile of interpreting. Since 2010, InterpretAmerica has organized a yearly Summit on Interpreting, which brings together leaders from across the interpreting industry, individual interpreters, and end users of interpreting services. The 4th Summit on Interpreting will take place just outside Washington, D.C., in Reston, Virginia, on June 14-15, 2013.

1.              What trends have you identified in the interpreting industry after the first three summits?

[InterpretAmerica] More than anything else, we have seen a growing desire for information about the interpreting industry from all of its players—interpreters, professional associations, technology providers, agency owners and end users. We think this is why the research and white papers we have commissioned and published as a service to interpreting over the last three years continue to be downloaded, studied and cited.

This desire for information has dovetailed with increased awareness and acceptance amongst the diverse stakeholders in our industry. The 1st Summit marked the first time that leaders from many sectors sat in the same room and got acquainted with each other and with the complexities each interpreting sector faces. At that time, the lack of mutual awareness across sectors, and even an element of suspicion and skepticism as to the validity of the challenges other sectors face, were notable. As a profession, interpreters have been careful to qualify the kind of interpreting they do and where they do it, leading to an often incorrect assumption that interpreters never cross over from one environment to another.

At the recently-concluded 3rd Summit, that atmosphere had completely changed. There is now a marked and growing interest in improving communication and collaboration among the various sectors of the interpreting profession (e.g. conference, medical, legal, signed language, etc.). Research, including the Interpreting Marketplace Study commissioned by InterpretAmerica for the 1st Summit, has clearly proven that there is a desire to collaborate. Professional associations have realized this. In fact, The ATA recently initiated a monthly conference call with interpreting association leaders in an effort to increase communication among professional leadership.

The rapid integration of technology into most interpreting sectors is also very evident, and something that we have tried to highlight and educate about at the Summits on Interpreting. In particular, the increasing adoption of social media tools by the profession at all levels, from individual bloggers and LinkedIn accounts, to companies embracing Twitter and Facebook as powerful marketing tools and professional associations moving heavily into online options for education and networking, such as webinar training sessions. We have observed a growing awareness that as an industry, we must embrace and attempt to channel technology to our own best interests, rather than shy away from it in fear.

2.              Do you see an interest/willingness among stakeholders and the different vertical industries related to our profession to work with our sector, and are the leaders of our sector willing to work with one another and the former?

[InterpretAmerica] Absolutely! One of the most gratifying aspects of the Summits on Interpreting process has been the response of diverse stakeholders in our field. The willingness and interest are there. The 21st century so far has been marked by a trend toward collaboration. Interpreting as a whole stands to benefit greatly from the collaborative efforts of all the players in the profession and industry. One excellent example of this is the workgroups that have convened at the Summits on Interpreting for the last two years. Competition and rivalries will always exist in a free market, but the need for language services continues to expand. We believe the work undertaken by these workgroups is serving as a foundation that that entire profession and industry can build upon.

That said, one of the realizations that has come from the Summits is how much work we still have to do to educate the rest of the world about interpreting and how it fits into related industries. For example, how do we, as an industry, successfully interact with the big technology companies that provide global communication solutions to encourage them to integrate features that make simultaneous interpretation possible when using their products and do so before they go to market? The professional workgroups on advocacy and public relations held at the last two Summits have helped to define that process. We are very much looking forward to the publication of the White Paper on this year’s workgroup, One Profession, One Voice: Selling the Interpreting Profession to the Public, led by PR expert Spencer Critchley.

3.              Can we overcome the much touted fragmentation in our industry?

[InterpretAmerica] We are optimists. So, our answer is a definite “yes!” InterpretAmerica was born out of a deep frustration of how our industry’s fragmentation was holding the entire profession back. The success of the Summits on Interpreting comes from the fact that we were not alone. There is a great desire for a stronger, more cohesive frame knitting the profession together, so that each specialized sector can continue to provide the unique expertise required for the settings they tend to – be it medical, legal, conference, etc. – but from within a broader context where interpreting in general is better recognized, better paid, and has the resources necessary to produce capable and competent professionals across the board.  At each successive Summit, we see less fragmentation and more collaboration and synergy.

Furthermore, the growing trend for individual interpreters to practice across sectors is helping to bring an end to this fragmentation, as are the technological breakthroughs of the last 10 years, which have given us access to more information about interpreting than ever before. Twenty years ago, it was difficult to even find out much about the profession, much less meet actual interpreters outside of your own workplace. Web 2.0 and social media have changed all that. Specialization will always exist, and interpreters will always have their preferred work environments and areas of expertise. However, that does not mean that we cannot work together to address issues that affect us all.

4.              Interpreter training is such an important requirement to ensure competent services. Are there new viable training options for those who cannot afford the time and money that a formal degree program requires? Are there any vetted online courses being offered that you know of?

[InterpretAmerica] The development of interpreter training and education has been a focus of the Summits from the very beginning. Numerous institutions with interpreter training programs have participated in the Summits, from on-line course providers to accredited institutions of higher learning with undergraduate and graduate degrees in interpreting. We can say with certainty that the number of offerings is growing, particularly on-line training courses. We expect these only to increase in number and variety, given existing continuing education requirements set by certification schemes and professional association rules. There is currently no single organization or process for vetting these courses.

Traditional academe does not move quickly, and the creation and approval of new interpreting degrees at accredited universities and colleges take a great deal of time and effort. Even so, several new programs have been launched and there are several more in the works in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Clear paths into interpreting that pass through institutions of higher learning are one of the best ways to “professionalize” what we do, but higher education is going through radical change brought on by technological change and the new learning models it has enabled. Even so, these degree programs, particularly at the MA level, continue to be the “gold standard” for employers in many areas of interpreting. One thing is for certain, interpreting needs clear standards for training and education. It is our hope that the workgroup on the creation of a national consortium of interpreter trainers that met at this year’s Summit will provide a roadmap forward. It was facilitated by two well-recognized trainers of interpreters of both signed and spoken languages.

5.              There has been much talk about technology from OPI and VRI to devices used by individuals on the job, such as the iPad, iPhone, MP3 recorders, the Smart Pen, etc.  Have you seen any of them break out of the ranks and dominate a particular field?

[InterpretAmerica] Any technology that makes it easier and more cost effective to deliver quality interpreting services will find a solid foothold in the market. This is why over-the-phone interpreting and video relay interpreting have grown into a billion-dollar industry.

It’s interesting to note that all of the technologies you mention were designed for mass markets, not specifically for interpreters. Individual interpreters (usually the technophiles) find these new tools and then figure out how to apply them to their professional activity to increase quality, performance or productivity. Interpreting is a comparatively small industry and few if any technologies have been developed specifically with an interpreter’s needs in mind. But when you couple new platforms like the tablet computer and smart phone with the relatively low cost of developing customized “apps” there is an amazing window of opportunity for enterprising interpreters and computer programmers to finally focus on designing and producing programs that can be created to meet interpreters’ specific needs.

Tablet computers—like the iPad— have already given interpreters access to information and resources that were previously unavailable in many work environments. In conference interpreting, these devices will probably be the gateway toward a “paperless booth” for interpreters. This shift won’t come without difficulty and will require adjustments, but the interpreters that adapt to this new technology-enabled environment will remain relevant, while those who require printed documents only to do their work will see their opportunities diminish.

However, the real technology to keep an eye on as the 21st century progresses is cloud computing. Although not possible yet, “the cloud” has the potential to deliver high-quality video and multiple channel audio across multiple platforms, making simultaneously interpreted videoconferences widely available around the world. Once this becomes a reality, it will have a dramatic effect on the interpreting industry across all sectors.

6.              What topics are you considering for the 2013 InterpretAmerica Summit in Washington D.C.?

[InterpretAmerica] Anyone who has attended the Summits on Interpreting knows that we take a unique approach to programming. Each Summit allows us to take the pulse of the profession and present the most relevant and up-to-date information to a broad cross section of stakeholders. Based on feedback from this year’s Summit, it is safe to say that the various workgroups will be back and that technology and innovation will be an important component of the 4th Summit.

Attendees have made it clear that the unique mix of representatives from across the interpreting profession and industry make the Summits a valuable place for networking. So we are planning on increasing the time and opportunities provided during the Summit to network.

We will be shaking things up for the 4th Summit as well, with new presentation formats and activities.

Be sure to visit the InterpretAmerica website in the coming weeks. A sneak peak at next year’s programming includes:

  • A new forum for those most effectively promoting our profession via social media forums, including bloggers and those highly active on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  • A continued focus on specific technologies impacting the field.
  • A follow up look at interpreting in conflict zones
  • Interpret-Talks – A new segment for individuals to present big ideas for the field in 10-15 minute presentations.
  • Bringing end users into the fold – from business clients to immigrant communities to the deaf
  • Heeding our history – gleaning lessons to be learned from the development of translation and interpreting field  

7.              What would you like to see five years from now as positive outcomes initiated at InterpretAmerica?

[InterpretAmerica] A more unified profession with a stronger framework for practitioners and stakeholders, and which is better recognized by the general public.

We would also like to see a much higher degree of technology literacy and advocacy among interpreters so that we can be leveraging these critical tools to best promote our profession.

Tell us how you feel about these insights and what you would like to see on the agenda at future Summits!

Second North American Summit on Interpreting, June 17-18, 2011


Technology Panel

InterpretAmerica succeeded in sustaining the momentum of their first summit last year, at their second just ended in Washington, D.C. yesterday.  The conference was well attended by just under 200 active, well known interpreters from many fields including medical, ASL, conference and legal.  NAJIT had a strong showing with Rob Cruz, Chair, Robin Lanier, Executive Director, and myself from the board present.  In addition, we ran into many NAJIT colleagues that were also present:  Jaime de Castellvi, Giovanna Lester, Tony Rosado, Melinda Gonzalez Hibner, Cristina Helmerichs, Rosa Wallach, Marjory Bancroft  and Lisset Samananiego, to name a few.  Moreover, there were many OTS (Other Than Spanish) interpreters there whose language combination included Turkish, Mandarin Chinese, Romanian, Ukranian, Korean, Farsi, Portuguese and others. The audience was attentive and involved as current topics having a bearing on our profession such as technology and professional identity were discussed. The keynote speaker was Nataly Kelly, the Chief Research Officer at Common Sense  Advisory  whose basic message is that technology is influencing  our work and that we must embrace it or be left behind.  In keeping with the topic at hand, many of the attendees swiftly tweeted snippets from her discourse and that of other speakers throughout the conference. If  you look soon at Twitter.com, you may still find them under the hash tag #InterpAmSummit. Nataly stated that the main drivers behind technology were speed, access and availability followed by quality, and not lower prices, as we might think. Innovation has been partly driven by need in times of catastrophes and many solutions are coming in from outside of our field. You can read about her interview of  Ray Kursweil on the subject here. Other recent mentions of technology which I found, that dovetail these discussions  are a new API  we can download to Skype in other languages and an invention that sounds a little fishy!

The other overarching topic that was debated was that of the interpreter’s professional identity. After a moderated exchange regarding independent contractor status vs. employee status in the OPI industry, which was not relevant to many of the attendees, the forum was divided into several groups that discussed different angles of our work. This session was very relevant. The groups talked about  Legal interpreting and Advocacy roles, which session was ably moderated by Robin Lanier, Education/Training, Professional Associations, Technology,  and Certification/Credentialing.  Our own Marjorie Bancroft will be writing a white paper based on the results of these discussions which were provided to her by a scribe from each group and which will be posted on the InterpretAmerica site at the end of the summer.  Some of the findings were made known briefly at the end of the hour and a half exchange of ideas. There was one finding in particular I thought very interesting  and it is that interpreters from all fields want to have one organization to represent them and that meets all their needs. That issue has been top-of-mind for the new NAJIT board as we start our mandate and we will be rolling out our suggestions to both members and prospective members in the near future.  As the premier organization for interpreters, and one that has built a solid brand after an effort spanning many years, we feel that that is our role to do so and we want to frame our mission to encompass that need.  In order to do this properly, we need the input and assistance of our members so that this is considered professionally, efficiently and democratically.

There were several technology vendors who brought their wares to the Summit in D.C.  It was a good opportunity for our colleagues that are not familiar with conference interpreting to test drive the experience of interpreting in a booth with all the latest bells and whistles. There is also a revolutionary new product called the Digi-Wave by Williams Sound to deliver simultaneous  interpreting without need of a booth that all should look into. It’s a big improvement over the old Whisper Sound guide system.  NAJIT is having conversations with a dealer to get preferred pricing for our members. Similarly, we were able to see how OPI (Over the Phone Interpreting) software and VRI (Video Remote Interpreting) works. We were gently warned that technology is here to stay so we cannot postpone familiarizing ourselves with it so as to influence its development. Technology will not replace interpreters.  The interpreters who embrace it will displace those who don’t. As Barry Olsen reminded us, Wayne Gretsky, the hockey star, says “a good hockey player plays where the puck is, a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”.

Lastly we heard from Dr. Kayoko Takeda, an associate professor at the MIIS Graduate School who is an author as well as a  conference and legal interpreter.  She  talked about her research interests in interpretation and her own experience with the evolution of  technology in the corporate workplace as distinct from criminal court proceedings. An attendee asked her whom we could turn to, to conduct research in our field. She informed us that the possibilities are very limited due to the lack of doctoral programs  in Translation and Interpretation, which are the natural venues for this work. I was heartened to hear from a colleague at the conference, Andrew Clifford, from the School of Translation at Glendon College in Toronto, Canada, that they are planning on offering an MA in T & I by 2013.  Dr. Takeda went on to say that when a profession is tied to degrees and research, its status grows.  I couldn’t agree more and I am curious to see what the findings  of the group that discussed Certification and Education were.

Next year, the summit will be held in Monterey CA.  June 15-16. The organizers emphasized the value of the feedback from attendees in the evaluation form collected at the end of the conference as that is what will determine the issues to be discussed next year. Everyone was very conscientious in complying with the request to be specific so I look forward to continuing the lively debate next year with one more year of experience under our belt in this time of flux for our profession.

Nataly Kelly: Ray Kurzweil on Translation Technology


Nataly Kelly: Ray Kurzweil on Translation Technology.

Great post with a very upbeat perspective on the resources we need to embrace and the bright future that awaits us.

I will be traveling tomorrow, on my way to the 2nd InterpretAmerica Forum in Washington, D.C. on Friday and Saturday, where the hot topic will be, you guessed it, technology.

In that regard, I encourage you to visit the vyou.com site where you can get a free account to post videos from your desktop in whatever your chosen area of expertise is.  I have been listening/seeing  the 29 post philosophical library by Deepak Chopra which is fabulous.  I asked him the question, “How difficult is it to overcome our karma?” and he answered by the following day. Is that cool or what??  Everyday I see the truth of one of his recent  quotes on Twitter “The world you experience everyday is your interpretation of it.”

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