Translation industry leader adopts NRC productivity tool
July 03, 2012— Gatineau, Quebec
One of the largest translation companies in Canada is embracing NRC technology to maximize productivity, which should ultimately help lower translation costs for its clients.
"The quality of translations produced by PORTAGE can be really good, so much so it almost scares me from an industry point of view," says Larry Rogers, CEO of CLS Lexi-tech — Canadian arm of the global firm CLS Communication — which licenses the technology and employs about 250 people across Canada.
"Given the amount of translation work in the international marketplace, this software — or some variant thereof — will someday capture a major piece of it," predicts Rogers. Until then, "my biggest challenge is to persuade our translators to embrace the tool to their advantage."
While comparable products such as Google Translate draw from translations found on the Web, NRC's PORTAGE draws on translations produced by professional translators. This results in texts of increasingly higher quality, since PORTAGE’s powerful database grows with use.
In a recent US Department of Commerce competition for machine translation tools, PORTAGE ranked near the top in Chinese-to-English and Arabic-to-English translations.
"I feel that I'm two years ahead of our competition in adopting the technology," says Rogers. "If PORTAGE produces just a five percent increase in productivity, I could lower my prices by five percent and attract more business. And I believe PORTAGE will eventually deliver even higher productivity gains."
PORTAGE is a “statistical machine translation” program that improves its translating accuracy the more it’s used.
"With statistical machine translation, you let the machine learn how to translate," says NRC’s Dr. Roland Kuhn. "If you want to translate between English and French, you feed the system millions of English sentences in parallel with their French translations and the software does 99 percent of the work. It figures out which sequence of English words corresponds to a given sequence of French words, and vice versa."
"The beauty of this approach is that you can easily switch to a new language pair," he adds. "For example, to translate between English and Bulgarian, you don’t need to understand a word of Bulgarian. All you need is a big text providing English sentences and the Bulgarian equivalent."
According to Rogers, the parent firm CLS Communication is interested in using PORTAGE for English-Chinese translations at four Asian offices (Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore), as well as for English-Danish translations in Copenhagen.
While the output isn't flawless, statistical machine translation software helps increase the productivity of professional translators by providing "a sort of first draft," says Dr. Kuhn, which translators can then polish to remove any mistakes.
Larry Rogers decided to test and ultimately license PORTAGE on the recommendation of a senior executive at the federal government's Translation Bureau — the largest employer of translators in Canada.
"I figured if the Bureau was serious about PORTAGE, then I should take a look," he says. "There are now eight or nine different tools on the market now, and PORTAGE appears to be just as powerful, strong and competent as the rest."
CLS Lexi-tech has created an interface that seamlessly integrates the system with a translation memory tool, comparing new translations with translations previously done by the firm.
"Using our interface, a translator literally doesn’t have to hit one extra key stroke," says Rogers. "Our project management team prepares files that contain all the information a translator needs to produce more and better quality documents faster."
PORTAGE at work
Before translating a new document, the CLS Lexi-tech team consults its translation memory software — a database of previously translated texts — to see if it contains any identical or similar sentences as those found in the new text. For each sentence, the software determines if there's a "100 percent match," a "fuzzy match" or a "no-match," which means there’s nothing like it in its database. Any no-match sentence is then automatically translated by PORTAGE, and sent — along with all the sentences retrieved from the database — to the translator's desktop.
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