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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (September 2007)

A Gigabyte of New Information: ATA Translation Tools Seminar
By Corinne McKay

Promising to help attendees “recover from their technical paralysis,” ATA, in cooperation with the Colorado Translators Association (CTA,, held a two-day Translation Tools Seminar in Denver, Colorado, on June 16 and 17, targeted at experienced linguists seeking advanced level continuing education. With approximately 80 attendees from across the country, this was a weekend packed with discussions about how we as translators and interpreters can optimize the role of technology in our work.

A Translator’s Toolbox
After a mile-high continental breakfast at the Denver Grand Hyatt, ATA President Marian S. Greenfield welcomed seminar attendees and introduced the featured presentation, Jost Zetzsche’s highly acclaimed “A Translator’s Tool Box.” Jost’s information-packed session combined information that was both theoretical (what is a translator, and how can we use technology to distinguish ourselves and compete?) and practical (which software tools can help us work better, faster, and more profitably?). His energetic and humorous presentation style put a fresh spin on a topic that intimidates many translators.

One of the many strengths of “A Translator’s Tool Box” is the fact that it gives translators tips, tricks, and tools that they can implement immediately, and that are specific to the translation industry. For example, Jost gave a thorough overview and demonstration of MS Windows-based tools for translators, including those that provide functions for counting words, searching and replacing in multiple files, renaming files, invoicing, and dealing with the translator’s nemesis, PDF files. In addition to presenting an objective overview of each tool’s capabilities, Jost gave live demonstrations of the programs in action so that seminar attendees could see, for example, how a PDF to MS Word conversion works, and what the result looks like.

Deciding Which Tool is Best for You
The afternoon session was primarily devoted to the other burning question in most translators’ lives, namely, deciding which translation environment tool is the best fit for the business. In this confusing sea of options and marketing blitzes, all promising to “revolutionize the industry,” Jost presented a systematic way to assess each tool and its assets. He suggested that we start by looking at our own work flows; for example, do we work mostly with simple text files, tagged files, software code files, etc.? Are we more comfortable with a tool that works from within MS Word, or a tool that stands alone? What level of support are we seeking from our translation environment tool provider? Given this information, the choice of a tool can be made much more manageable and less intimidating.

Armed with this new array of tool options, the seminar attendees were extremely enthusiastic in their praise of “A Translator’s Tool Box.” As one participant commented, “I’ve easily learned enough to earn back the price of the registration immediately.” All participants also received a copy of Jost’s e-book on technology for translators, and a subscription to his e-newsletter, The Tool Kit.

CTA Presentations
On Sunday, CTA offered a half-day session with two 90-minute presentations. I presented “Free and Open Source Software for Translators,” and Japanese-English financial translator Chris Blakeslee presented “Raising Productivity with Speech Recognition.”

My presentation focused on ways in which translators can use open source and open standards software such as Firefox,, OmegaT, and Heartsome to work in a stable, affordable, and open software environment. For example, the development of the XLIFF (XML-based Localization Interchange File Format) standard means that among XLIFF-compliant translation environment tools such as Heartsome, translation memories are becoming much easier to exchange, and translators are less tied to the file formats used by a specific tool. By using, translators of small diffusion languages can advocate for and even initiate localizations of office software into their languages. In addition, these types of software are often much more affordable than their commercial counterparts, and, in many cases, are even free.

In “Raising Productivity with Speech Recognition,” Chris Blakeslee made the case that translators can “save their bodies and their minds” by using speech recognition to its full potential. Chris started with the caveat that productivity is measured in dollars, not in words, and that translators can increase their hourly income by increasing their work output. He then proceeded with a nuts-and-bolts overview of some of the key elements of using speech recognition software, such as enunciation, computer hardware, microphone and microphone placement, and proper training. This included an overview of hardware setups, such as the need for a good sound card or USB (Universal Serial Bus) pod, and the selection of a high-quality headset or earset microphone, boom microphone, or a handheld recorder with or without a headset. Chris also acknowledged that while speech recognition software can be a boon to the businesses of many translators, it is not the right choice for everyone, and that new user frustration is a very real risk. Finally, Chris showed photos of his own speech-recognition centered work environment, the “dual-station zero-gravity cockpit,” and gave a live demo of speech recognition in action.

The CTA would like to thank Teresa Kelly, Meeting Planner and Administrative Coordinator at ATA Headquarters, and Marian S. Greenfield for all of their work in organizing this seminar, Jost Zetzsche for making the trip from Oregon to the mountains of Colorado, and all of the seminar attendees for a wonderful weekend of learning and networking. As Denver has been selected to host ATA’s Annual Conference in 2010, we hope to see you again soon!