Newsbriefs: December, 1, 2020

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Industry News

Australian Government Used Google Translate for COVID-19 Messaging
Australian Broadcasting Corp. News (Australia) (11/18/20) Dalzell, Stephanie

Documents have revealed Australia’s Department of Home Affairs used Google Translate rather than official translators to communicate with multicultural communities at the beginning of the pandemic.

While the Department had hired translators to write official pandemic fact sheets, Google Translate was initially used for health messaging on parts of its website. Critics have stated that this decision resulted in critical health messages being rendered “nonsensical,” prompting fears that migrants and refugees would lose trust in the government’s handling of the crisis.

Describing the revelations as “embarrassing,” Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Andrew Giles said communication barriers must be broken so the right information reaches all communities.

“All Australians need access to accurate and clear public health information, including the many culturally and linguistically diverse communities who have made Australia their home,” Giles stated.

Mohammad Al-Khafaji, chief executive of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia, said using Google Translate on an official government website is never acceptable.

“We know the automated translated services are not accurate sometimes, and that can be very dangerous,” Al-Khafaji said. “There are many languages where omitting the smallest letter or space will give the exact opposite meaning, so instead of saying ‘stay at home’ it might say ‘do not stay at home.'”

The Department issued a statement explaining that it used the Google Translate subscription service for its website at the beginning of the pandemic to “ensure that there would be an easy-to-use repository of translated information available to multicultural communities as quickly as possible.”

“That is a poor excuse. This isn’t a community organization under pressure, this is the government of Australia,” Giles said. “We know a public health response that’s successful requires every community member to be able to access appropriate advice, and everyone in Australia knows we shouldn’t be relying on Google Translate to translate important public health information.”

How ‘Deaf Broadway’ Is Making Musical Theater Loud and Clear
Daily Beast (NY) (11/08/20) Blackwood, Nicole

Deaf actor and director Garrett Zuercher established the theater collective Deaf Broadway in March with the goal of providing unprecedented visual language access to live theater for the deaf community. Filmed in real time via webcam with diverse deaf talent from around the world, Deaf Broadway provides full and complete American Sign Language (ASL) access to Broadway classics.

Each production uses Zoom recordings to interpret existing shows, often playing captioned video side-by-side as actors sign. Their first production was a presentation of Sweeney Todd with an all-deaf cast, with actors signing beside the recorded performers, their movements encroaching on the borders of Zoom squares. Since then, Deaf Broadway has performed seven musicals and posted five online, most directed by Zuercher. Their latest, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is now streaming on YouTube. Zuercher said that the company offers theater “for the deaf, by the deaf.”

“It’s incredibly rare to see a fully deaf cast, especially in a musical,” said Joey Caverly, a deaf Broadway performer and director of artistic sign language. “An entirely deaf cast of professional actors in the same room, so to speak, working on a show—it doesn’t happen.”

Zuercher said Deaf Broadway has “served as connective tissue” during the pandemic. Deaf Broadway’s version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example, features actors from the U.S. and Canada—the result of an open casting call. Zuercher said this type of cohesion between deaf performers wasn’t possible before COVID-19.

“During the pandemic, accessibility is especially difficult since recorded shows lack visual language access,” Zuercher said. “The world has flattened to fit the internet, and though recorded shows online fill a theatrical void, they don’t come with visual language access.”

Zuercher hopes Deaf Broadway will continue past the pandemic. He said the productions prove what deaf theater professionals can do and that they should be given more opportunities, but that those opportunities should start at the top.

“It’s time for us to be invited to the table, not just as actors, but as producers, directors, writers, designers, and so on,” he said. “We have many stories to tell.”

Meet GPT-3, the Latest Natural-Language System
The New York Times (NY) (11/24/20) Metz, Cade

GPT-3, the latest natural-language system, generates tweets, pens poetry, summarizes email, answers trivia questions, learns language by analyzing online texts, and even writes its own computer programs.

Before it was unveiled this summer by OpenAI, an artificial intelligence lab in San Francisco, GPT-3 had spent months learning the ins and outs of natural language by analyzing thousands of digital books and nearly a trillion words posted to blogs, social media, and the rest of the internet. It uses everything it learns from that vast sea of digital text to generate new language on its own. It even learned to predict the next word in a sequence. (If you type a few words into GPT-3, it will keep going, completing your thought with entire paragraphs of text.)

But in acquiring this specific skill, the system learned much more. During its months of training, GPT-3 identified more than 175 billion parameters—mathematical representations of patterns—from the online texts it analyzed. These patterns amount to a map of human language: a mathematical description of the way we piece characters together, whether we are writing blogs or coding software programs. Using this map, GPT-3 can perform all sorts of tasks it was not built to do.

For many artificial intelligence researchers, it is an unexpected step toward machines that can understand the vagaries of human language—and perhaps even tackle other human skills.

GPT-3 is the culmination of several years of work inside the world’s leading artificial intelligence labs, including labs at Google and Facebook. At Google, a similar system helps answer queries on the company’s search engine.

These systems—known as universal language models—can help power a wide range of tools, like services that automatically summarize news articles and “chatbots” designed for online conversation. So far, their impact on real-world technology has been small. But GPT-3—which learned from a far larger collection of online text than previous systems—opens the door to a wide range of new possibilities, such as software that can speed the development of new smartphone apps, or chatbots that can converse in far more human ways than past technologies.

GPT-3 is far from flawless, however. It often spews biased and toxic language. Jerome Pesenti, who leads the Facebook AI lab, called GPT-3 “unsafe,” pointing to sexist, racist, and otherwise toxic language the system generated when asked to discuss women, Black people, and the Holocaust.

With systems like GPT-3, Pesenti says this problem is endemic. “Everyday language is inherently biased and often hateful, particularly on the internet. Because GPT-3 learns from such language, it, too, can show bias and hate.”

It’s unclear how effective systems like GPT-3 will ultimately be. If GPT-3 generates the right text only half of the time, can it satisfy professionals? And it’s also unclear whether this technique of learning language by analyzing online texts is a path to truly conversational machines, let alone truly intelligent systems.

“It is very articulate. It is very good at producing reasonable-sounding text,” said Mark Riedl, a professor and researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “What it does not do, however, is think in advance. It does not plan out what it is going to say. It does not really have a goal.”

First Native American Poet to Serve as U.S. Poet Appointed to Rare Third Term
PBS NewsHour (VA) (11/19/20) Barajas, Joshua

Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet to serve as U.S. poet laureate, has been reappointed to a rare third term by the Library of Congress.

Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, was initially appointed in 2019. At the start of her tenure, Harjo explained what that honor meant for Indigenous peoples.

“Some of us are astronauts. Some of us are really good at fixing cars, but we’re human beings. And some of us write poetry…it makes a doorway of hope.”

In a statement announcing the reappointment, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden wrote that, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Harjo “has shown how poetry can help steady us and nurture us.”

“We always go to poetry in times of transformation—birth, death, marriage, and falling in and out of love,” Harjo said. “But here we are at a time of tremendous transformation—and where do we go? And here we are with poetry. And I get to help during this huge transformative event that we’re all part of.”

Harjo recently completed her Living Nations, Living Words project. The online map collects biographies and recordings from dozens of contemporary Native poets across the country. Harjo said that she wanted to map these poets and their work to “counter damaging false assumptions—that Indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible or are not seen as human.”

“You will not find us fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry,” Harjo said.

The digital archive, which was developed with the Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division, allows visitors to hear from the writers themselves. Poets like Louise Erdrich, Natalie Diaz, Ray Young Bear, Craig Santos Perez, among others, read and discuss their poems, which center on the themes of place and displacement.

Harjo said the digital map is an extension of her continued work to fill the gap where American literature either hasn’t properly represented Native voices, or has only done so “in shards or little pieces here and there.”

“The story of America begins with Native presence, thoughts, and words,” she said. “Poetry is made of word threads that weave and connect us.”

Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year Expanded for “Unprecedented” 2020
BBC News (United Kingdom) (11/24/20)

The Oxford Languages 2020 Word of the Year campaign looks a little different this time around. This year has seen so many seismic events that Oxford Dictionaries has expanded its word of the year to encompass several “Words of an Unprecedented Year.”

Its words are chosen to reflect 2020’s “ethos, mood, or preoccupations.” They include brushfire, COVID-19, WFH (work from home), lockdown, circuit breaker, support bubble, key worker, furlough, Black Lives Matter, and moonshot.

“I’ve never witnessed a year in language like the one we’ve just had,” said Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries. “The Oxford team was identifying hundreds of significant new words and usages as the year unfolded, dozens of which would have been a slam dunk for Word of the Year at any other time.”

“It’s both unprecedented and a little ironic—in a year that left us speechless—that 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other,” Grathwohl said.

ATA Calendar of T&I Events

ATA News

Upcoming ATA Webinars

Post-Editing: How to Make Machine Translation Work for You (in Spanish)
Presenter: Rubén de la Fuente
Date: December 3, 2020
Time: 12 noon U.S. Eastern Time
Duration: 60 minutes
Language: Spanish
Level: Intermediate
CE Point: 1 ATA-approved

This webinar is presented in Spanish.
Statistics show that machine translation, or MT, use is increasing among translators. Is it time for you to take a look at how translators are using MT to increase productivity? Attend this webinar to learn post-editing guidelines, how to build and customize MT for specific domains, and ways to increase translation efficiency with MT.

Entrepreneurial Habits for Freelance Translators and Interpreters
Presenter: Corinne McKay
Date: December 14, 2020
Time: 12 noon U.S. Eastern Time
Duration: 60 minutes
Language: English
Level: All
In this fourth episode of the Back to Business Basics webinar series, presenter Corinne McKay will examine two kinds of business habits that can help you make the transition from “throwing it against the wall” to an actual business strategy.
Reserve Your Spot! Free! Limited to ATA members. (Must register)

Back to Business Basics Series
ATA’s Back to Business Basics Series is a set of 45-minute webinars offering practical advice on common translation and interpreting business problems.
  • Handling the Holidays as a Freelancer
  • Diversification—A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times
  • Effective and Pitch-Perfect Marketing during and after COVID-19
Free to ATA members! Click now to watch the first three presentations!
Free Members-Only Monthly Webinar
ATA offers members one free webinar every month. Don’t wait to watch this month’s freebie!


Managing the Stages of Your Small Business
When you start a new business, your focus is all about what to do make it work. What happens when your company is successfully established? Take time to congratulate yourself, then get ready for stage two in the lifecycle of your freelance business.

In this webinar, presenter Dorothee Racette takes you through the five stages in the life of a business, each defined by a shift in your priorities and changes in the way you work. She shows you how to use the experience and skills you’ve gained in your career to optimize your business decisions, effectively manage your client portfolio, and make the most of your earning potential at each stage.
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National Museum of Language Features ATA in Series

ATA will be featured in the National Museum of Language (NML) Speaker Series on December 12 from 2:00pm – 4:00pm ET.

Rusty Shughart, chair of ATA’s Government Linguist Outreach Task Force (GLOTF) and member of the Government Division Leadership Council, will provide an overview of the Association and its development as The Voice of Interpreters and Translators.

NML is a U.S. not-for-profit organization that brings together people from diverse language circles—academic, governmental, social, business, scientific, literary, technological—and provides a public forum through which they can focus attention on languages within broad cultural settings. If you would like to support NML, please note that you can also sign up to be a member when you register for the December 12 presentation.

The virtual event is free. For details and to register, visit NML Speaker Series. For questions, please contact Rusty Shughart at
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In the November/December Issue of The ATA Chronicle

ATA Introduces Six New Awards at ATA61!
Attendees at ATA’s 61st Annual Conference came together virtually for a special awards presentation to recognize colleagues for their contributions to the Association and the translation and interpreting professions. ATA introduced six new ATA awards this year—Advocacy, Dynamo, Impact, Innovation, Mentoring, and Rising Star. Read on to find out who was honored!

Should I Market My Translation or Interpreting Services on Social Media?
Translators and interpreters raise this question pretty frequently. But here’s the thing. If you’re planning to market your business on social media, keep in mind that it’s a long-term strategy. The more you show up and the more authentically you engage, the more you’ll get out of the social media platform(s) you choose for your business. (Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo)

Six Remote Simultaneous Interpreting Platforms and Zoom
Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) is the new reality. So, what are some of the RSI platforms out there and what features do they offer? What are the technical requirements to support these platforms on your workstation? Let’s get a better idea of what to look for in terms of functionality by comparing some of the more popular platforms on the market. (Natalia Fedorenkova)

Language for the Good of All: ATA Members Make a Difference in the National Language Service Corps
Volunteers for the National Language Service Corps (NLSC), a U.S. Department of Defense program authorized by Congress, provide linguistic expertise and cultural competencies across the entire federal government. Learn what three ATA members have to say about their experiences working with NLSC and why you should consider participating. (Rusty Shughart)

Women and Machine Translation
It has always bothered me that there seems to be a serious under-representation of women who are involved in the development of machine translation (MT). Since it didn’t make much sense for me, a man, to write and complain about that, I asked three women who are involved in MT in academics and development to discuss the topic. (Jost Zetzsche)

Access to The ATA Chronicle’s searchable archives is available online! And don’t forget to check out the latest issue of the Chronicle Online.


News summaries © copyright 2020 SmithBucklin

December 1, 2020

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ATA Webinar Series

Post-editing: How to Make Machine Translation Work for You (in Spanish)
December 3
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October 27-30, 2021

The ATA Chronicle November/December 2021



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