When deciding on the subject for my goodbye letter as administrator of the Audiovisual Division, I couldn’t help but think about transformation. Transformation of the AVD as it welcomes a new leader and transformation of our profession as artificial intelligence takes over our space.
The last few months have been a whirlwind of talks, webinars, and panels with opinions and forecasts about the effects artificial intelligence will have on the translation industry in general and the audiovisual field in particular.
As you well know, one of the things that differentiates translation of audiovisual content from translation of text is the ability to be creative. For example, when translating a furniture assembly instruction booklet, there’s not much room for creativity. But when a main character sings a song in a video, your creative juices must be fully flowing to translate and adapt it for dubbing. I’m afraid, as many of my colleagues have said, that when all translation is done by machines and translators become posteditors, the first thing to die will be creativity, even if current machine translation outputs are more “fluent” and “accurate” than ever.
Even though experts warn neural machine translation isn’t ready for AVT, because instead of literal translations permeated with syntactic and semantic calques, this specialized field requires natural oral communication imbued with flavor and emotion, I believe this new wave of neural machine translation descending on our creative AVT work is here to stay.
Linguists are understandably afraid, and repeatedly ask me, “If it can’t be stopped, what should audiovisual translators do now?” And, although I say this with deep sadness, my response is: transform.
If we want to stay in this field we love so passionately, we must go through a metamorphosis, from translators to posteditors, and fight our instinct to avoid postediting.
To do that, we should first acquire the skills required to get over the postediting learning curve as quickly as possible. Moreover, in order to be more effective and productive, we should be systematic. I suggest creating a step-by-step process to ensure consistency while looking for and fixing all the errors in each file we postedit.
For subtitling, that could be done with the aid of error checklists: preliminary, intermediate, and final. The preliminary checklist would list errors that can be found via the find feature and fixed quickly.
The intermediate checklist would list errors found via a step-through (a speed reading of the subtitles without referencing the video or worrying about context). And the final check would find errors found while reviewing the subtitles against the video (watch-through). The first two steps would eliminate formatting, stylistic and reading speed errors (and glaring mistakes caught without checking the context) and would allow for faster postediting with fewer interruptions during the watch-through. These three passes would be followed by a spell check, of course. These checklists would need to be honed through lots of practice and collaboration across our AVT community.
Then, even though we’ve been avoiding it all our careers, AV translators should diversify. Even if postediting productivity gains are split in half between the client and the translator, which would make this transition better for all parties, in a world of AVT posteditors, we’ll need more work to make a living, and we shouldn’t just cross our fingers and hope the additional work will all be audiovisual content. I don’t see how it could be.
I know this transformation will be painful, as transformations often are. But, if we want peace of mind, we must try and look at the bright side of any shift. Leaving the poems to the poets, here are my thoughts in the beautiful words of Alex Elle:
there will be moments when
you will bloom fully and then
wilt, only to bloom again.
if we can learn anything from
flowers is that resilience is born
even when we feel like we are
And on that note, I want to express my sincere and profound thanks to all AVD members, past and present alike. You have made my five years as administrator tremendously rich and fulfilling. I hope to keep supporting the division in the years to come. I have stepped down after having completed all the tasks we set out to accomplish when we founded the AVD in 2018, and many more.
And thank you to all the Deep Focus readers who have contacted me with comments, thanks, and kudos in response to my letters and articles over the years. Hearing from you has been a beautiful gift.
Outgoing AVD Administrator/AVD Assistant Administrator
1. Elle, Alexandra. Neon Soul: A Collection of Poetry and Prose, “Rebirth” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017), 52.