Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's the End of the World: Crowdsourcing in Literature Actually Works!

Ok, a little context before my comments.

On September 15, Dan Brown's latest book, The Lost Symbol, was launched with much fanfare in the United States and around the world. Because of the secrecy involved with the contents of the book, no advance copies were released to foreign publishers so that they could have it translated and launched at the same time in their markets.

As reported here, Swedish publishers decided to assign the job to multiple translators in order to limit piracy and to prevent impatient fans from buying the English version of the book, by expediting the publishing of the Swedish translation.

Well... they did it. On October 21, 2009 — only 36 days after the launch of the English version of the book — Albert Bonniers Förlag released the book in Swedish. In that period, they were able to translate, edit, format, print, and distribute 300,000 copies of a 614-page book.

And how did they do it? This article in Swedish (I read it using Google Translate) narrates the details of the adventure.  But for our purposes, what matters is that seven translators worked on this project. Their names are Leo Andersson, Tove Janson Borglund, Ola Klingberg, Lennart Olofsson, Peter Samuelsson, Gösta Svenn, Helena Sjöstrand Sven. From what I could see in AdLibris, the Swedish online bookstore, all of them are very experienced translators.

As one review says: "Another positive aspect: the translation is actually quite okay. Even here, I have put a sadly, because it would have been preferable if the insane circumstances surrounding the translation into Swedish - seven translators, a few mere weeks - had left its mark in the text."

What do I think about this? I think that this must have been a very exciting project, as it epitomizes the power of collaboration.

The publisher needed to have the book out fast (I saw the English version of the book exhibited very prominently at the Stockholm airport both times I was there before the launch of the Swedish version) in order not to lose 150,000 sales as the publisher of Harry Potter did because of delayed translations. Time-to-market was the critical element in protecting its investment and maximizing its return.

And before you say the Q word, I actually believe that several translators working together might deliver better quality than one working alone.

Special thanks for my friend Anne-Marie Colliander Lind, from Common Sense Advisory, who helped me collect some of the data for this posting.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Productivity Prediction and Google Translate

The slide show in my previous posting ends with a quote from the "Visionary's Handbook" by Wacker & Taylor, which says that “The closer your vision gets to a provable future, the more your are simply describing the present. In the same way, the more certain you are of a future outcome, the more likely you will be wrong.”

One of my most controversial predictions at the ATA Presentation was that in the future, translator productivity would be measured in tens of thousands of words. Looks like the authors of the book were right: I was just describing the present. In fact, I received an e-mail from SDL today promoting a quote by my friend Marian Greenfield that she did over thirty thousand words in ten hours of work, thanks to the features of her translation tool of choice.

The e-mail advertisement states:

34,501 words. 10 hours. One translator.
Sound impossible?

"I just completed a 34,501 word project in 10 hours thanks to AutoSuggest™, Context Match and the other nifty time-saving features within SDL Trados Studio 2009 SP1. That’s without having much of anything in the pre-existing TM!" Marian Greenfield, Translator and Trainer

There you have it. It is possible. And that is only the beginning.

And since we are at it, have you played with the new interface of Google Translate? It shows the translation as you type the original in the translate box. It's really cool to see how the translation changes as you add words, and therefore context, to the sentence. And if you translate from a foreign language into English, you can actually hear the translated sentence by clicking the sound icon next to the translation. How cool is that?

Last week I met with the Program Managers for Google Translate and Google Translator Toolkit and learned about some features that are coming up. I predict that in less than six months Google Translator Toolkit will be a perfectly functional tool that can be integrated into an LSPs Translation Management System. Play with it and get used to it... that's my recommendation.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Signals of Shift in the Language Industry: Are You In or Are You Out?

This is the content of my presentation at the ATA Conference in New York. The conference was very well attended with some 2,500 participants. The room was once again too small, so I apologize for those who had to stand outside.

Here is call for the presentation from the ATA program: "First, translations were handwritten. Then, there were typewriters, computers, and translation memories. Each milestone demanded a shift in the way translation work was done. We are on the threshold of a major paradigm shift where old standards and ideas are being left behind. Translators and language services providers who are ready to make the shift now will stand to profit and grow. Those who like the status quo and accept "the rules" will wonder why they just don't make money like they used to. This will be an engaging presentation that is guaranteed to make you think. You've been warned"!