Dr. Tom's Independent Software Reviews


Comparative Reviews

Components of Machine Assisted Human Translation (MAHT) Tools

written by Michael Benis (http://www.michaelbenis.com) and first published in the ITI Bulletin (http://www.iti.org.uk)

I) An alignment program (not necessarily needed in software localization)

This allows you to create translation memory databases from existing translation files. If, for example, you have been translating motorbike manuals for five years and kept all your source and translation files, one of these programs will enable you to build up a massive database immediately, allowing you to exploit the full potential of your system from the word go. They work by creating your first database - the computing equivalent of a printed parallel text translation. On one side there's a source segment (which can be a clause, sentence or even paragraph), while on the other there's the target language equivalent. It's obviously important that all these segments are lined up properly and that's what the alignment program does.


II) A database maintenance program (not necessarily needed in software localization)

Life isn't predictable. Everyone makes mistakes. The most carefully researched terminological choices may need to be changed, sometimes for no other reason than that there has been a management change in the company you work for. Power cuts and equipment failures can cause computer crashes and corrupt your cherished databases (yet another reason for having an effective backup strategy!). What's more, your databases can become enormous over the years and need pruning. A database maintenance program enables you to cope with all these eventualities.


III) A terminology program

These are slightly more sophisticated versions of the electronic glossaries many of us have built up over the years. Moreover, they can import these glossaries and indeed other dictionary files. Some of these terminology programs are very complex including fuzzy matching algorithms that enable them to search for all words with a given root, so that they could - for example - find "logic" when "logical" is the word you want but isn't in the dictionary. That said, unless you're a beginner working in-house with suitably verified glossaries, you stand to gain little from these programs, and whether one is superior or inferior to another should not influence your choice of package too much.

Building up and maintaining glossaries takes time - more time than they are ever likely to save you, particularly since all the better programs allow you to search for individual words in the translation memory, displaying them in context - which is much more useful. What's more, you don't have to go through any special operations to get the terms there.


IV) A document editor

This is the program in which you actually carry out your translation. It generally takes the form of two parallel windows, with the source text on one side and the target text on the other. In addition, there is often a further window showing the segment/s in the translation memory. The segments displayed will either be 100% matches, meaning the system has found exactly the same sentence in its database and you can simply import this directly into your translation (several of the programs can do this automatically) or "fuzzy" matches - which are segments with a number of small differences. Sometimes, of course - especially in the beginning - you won't get any matches at all.

All the programs allow you to set the degree of "fuzziness". Some people choose a very high setting, considering absolutely any suggestion helpful to jog their memories, while others find that anything requiring more than minimal editing is simply a distraction. Finally, most document editors also contain a window to the package's terminology program.

Translation memory features aside, the document editor is basically a word processor. Some of them are pretty primitive - offering little more than cut and paste, search and replace, while others show full formatting information or offer an extensive selection of AutoText features. The big exception here is TRADOS' Translator's Workbench, where you work directly in Microsoft Word alongside a second window with panels showing the translation memory matches and terminology matches.


V) Filters

These are used to convert files from one format to another, whether to import them into an alignment program or document editor, or export them from the document editor into their original format. The reason for this is that whatever format a file is supplied in, you will of course work in the document editor/translation environment of your translation memory product. This is in itself a productivity benefit in that you always use the same interface and don't have to cope with re-remembering different menu and button locations, and different keystroke short cuts.

One difference between the various different packages is that some come with a full selection of filters as standard while others only offer them as costly extras. Note, however, that all the packages come with a filter for Microsoft Word as standard.

Before buying a package, you need to carefully consider what you need from these four basic components of any system. The pros and cons of the different systems are considered in the individual reviews below.


Written by Michael Benis (http://www.michaelbenis.com) and first published in the ITI Bulletin (http://www.iti.org.uk)



© Dr. Thomas Wassmer, e-mail: tom at softreviews.org

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