Beat the Machine: Putting Technical Translation Under the Microscope (Sort Of)

 

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By Sam Mowry

Welcome to the February follow-up of our Beat the Machine challenge! In our January post, I suggested a sentence to be translated and asked FLD members to submit their own versions, presumably improving upon the machine translated option. Now it’s time to go over some of their particularly interesting solutions.

As a refresher, this is what we were working with:

La gestion des résultats hors spécification a été revue au travers du dossier suivant : n° XYXY relatif à la fiche n° 123 de maléate de trimébutine dont le point de fusion a été mesuré non conforme ; l’hypothèse d’un capillaire trop rempli pour l’analyse a été confirmée par les séries de mesure n° 2 et n° 3 qui ont donné des résultats conformes.

And here’s what Google Translate gave us:

The management of non-specification results was reviewed through the following file: No. XYXY relating to sheet No. 123 of trimebutine maleate whose melting point was measured as non-compliant; the hypothesis of a capillary too full for analysis was confirmed by series of measurements n ° 2 and n ° 3 which gave consistent results.

Isn’t that fun? No points awarded for guessing this month’s theme, which is clearly SUPER DUPER technical. If it weren’t patently obvious (see what I did there?), this sentence was supplied by our beloved FLD colleague and technical translator extraordinaire, Karen Tkacyzk. Thanks, Karen, for this fascinating glimpse into technical translation. While this sentence struck fear into many hearts this month, mine among them, it’s an excellent opportunity to reflect and appreciate how varied the world of translation is. Even within a single language pair (French into English), the range of materials to be translated runs the gamut from literary fiction to texts like this one and literally everything in between. From a marketing perspective, it’s a good reminder that it’s almost impossible to specialize too narrowly, because this kind of extremely specific text exists in the world and needs to be translated. From a competition perspective, it’s a delight to remember that the vast majority of FR>EN translators are your colleagues, not your competition. I’m just one example, but this text is so far from the kind of texts I work with, and more importantly, it’s even farther from the kinds of texts I have any desire at all to work with. There are more than enough topics for everyone—and on the rare chance that there are many translators specializing in your language, direction, and specific subject: what a gift! A community you can reach out to when you get stuck on a term!

 Karen, blessedly, provided two translations, in her words, “the first one fairly faithful and the second more me writing what they mean”:

Translation 1:

The management of out-of-specification results was reviewed through file No. XYXY regarding form No. 123 for trimebutine maleate, where the melting point was measured as nonconforming. The hypothesis given of testing having been done with a capillary that was too full was confirmed by second and third measurement series, which gave conforming results.

Translation 2:

The management of out-of-specification results was reviewed through file No. XYXY regarding Certificate of Analysis No. 123 for trimebutine maleate, where the melting point measurement did not comply. The hypothesis given, that this was caused by testing with a capillary that was too full, was confirmed by two more series of measurements, where the results complied.

 To translate this yet again into what the sentence actually means (for laypeople like myself): there was a result that didn’t fall in line with the numbers it was supposed to. It was used as a case study for how that kind of result is handled. In this case, specifically form 123 in file no. XYXY, the melting point of a specific chemical seemed wrong. The people testing hypothesized that there was too much of said chemical in the tube to get an accurate result, which they verified by doing it two more times. Then the results were good.

Due to the nature of this sentence, evaluating the submissions we received is more a case of pass/fail, “Is this correct?” than critiquing fun turns of phrase. If you submitted a translation for this sentence, thank you! I really appreciate it, and you did a great job. All the submissions we received were reasonably accurate. I wanted to highlight one that read as particularly smooth to me, as someone without a technical background:

Out-of-specification result management was reviewed using File No. XYXY relating to Sheet No. 123 for trimebutine maleate, whose melting point was found to be non-compliant. Test series No. 2 and No. 3 yielded compliant results, which confirmed the hypothesis that a capillary tube had been overfilled during testing.

I asked Karen for her professional opinion, and she noted that, “Whoever submitted it knows what’s going on and is a decent technical translator.” Congratulations, anonymous submitter! Karen said that the only thing she’d change is that “during testing” at the end of the sentence is ambiguous, but in the source, it does mean the first series. She suggested “…during initial testing,” or “…during the first series.”

Thanks again for all of your submissions! Stay tuned for next month, which I promise will be very different indeed!

Did you forget to submit a translation in time? Not to worry! Share your version on Twitter and tag the French Language Division (@ATA_FLD) and me, @SamTranslates.

If you would like to submit a sentence for a future slam, I would like that very much! You can contact me, Sam Mowry, directly at sam [at] frenchtranslation.expert or on Twitter at the handle listed above. You can also contact the À Propos Editor Ben Karl at ben [at] bktranslation.com.

If you’d like to help launch a similar slam but into French, please also reach out!

Beat the Machine: New Year, New Challenge

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By Sam Mowry

It’s a new year and a new chance to learn from our respected colleagues to improve our translations through the Beat the Machine Mini Translation Slam. If you need a quick refresher, you can read about the premise in our inaugural post here. Very simply, we’re out to prove how much better human translators are than machines and maybe learn something from one another in the process. This time we’re going a different direction, with a sentence submitted by technical translator extraordinaire Karen Tkaczyk, so you know this is going to be a wild time:

La gestion des résultats hors spécification a été revue au travers du dossier suivant : n° XYXY relatif à la fiche n° 123 de maléate de trimébutine dont le point de fusion a été mesuré non conforme ; l’hypothèse d’un capillaire trop rempli pour l’analyse a été confirmée par les séries de mesure n°2 et n° 3 qui ont donné des résultats conformes.

Not exactly poetry! This is what Google’s output looks like:

The management of non-specification results was reviewed through the following file: No. XYXY relating to sheet No. 123 of trimebutine maleate whose melting point was measured as non-compliant; the hypothesis of a capillary too full for analysis was confirmed by series of measurements n ° 2 and n ° 3 which gave consistent results.

The technically minded terminology sleuths amongst us should have a field day with this one!

Submit your (obviously) much better translation here by January 31, 2021, and the blog post discussing it will go up in early February!

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation!
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. I will only discuss one submission per person in the review post.

Have you translated or read a particularly pesky sentence this past year that you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, at ben [at] bktranslation.com or myself, Sam Mowry, at sam [at] frenchtranslation.expert to let us know!

 

Beat the Machine: 2020 Wrap Up

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Welcome to part two of our second Beat the Machine challenge and our last Beat the Machine post of 2020! In our September post, I gave a sentence to be translated and asked FLD members to submit their own versions, presumably improving upon the machine translated option. Now we’ll go over some particularly interesting options.

As a refresher, this is what we were working with, taken from Le Devoir:

Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était.

Here’s what Google Translate gave us:

But if relations are today more conflictual than ever, it was almost written in the sky that the tremendous Chinese economic growth of the last forty years, orchestrated moreover, for eight years, by a particularly authoritarian and expansionist Xi regime, would eventually lead to a large-scale power struggle between China and an American empire that is not necessarily what it used to be.

We have plenty to work with, so let’s dig in! We’ll start with each phrase before talking about strategies for breaking down the sentence as a whole.

Mais si

“Si” to start a sentence is a well-known and fully despised French convention. The five respondents all chose different and equally valid solutions: “However,” “Though,” “Since,” are very appropriate. Two particularly interesting options here were simply starting the sentence with “And…” which is a fun way to mix up sentence structures in English (and reflets the French! You can view the full paragraph this sentence was taken from in the September post). One respondent, Beth Smith, foreshadowed the broad timeline of the rest of the sentence by starting with “Nowadays…”. I particularly like this option because it conveys the sense of “So, this thing…” that the “si” hooks into, but also incorporates a time element.

…les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais…

“Relations” and “relationship” were both used, and both are valid here. The international aspect suggests “relations” (as in “foreign relations,” “international relations”), but since it’s between two specific entities, I think relationship is also applicable. All of the human respondents discarded Google Translate’s painfully literal “conflictual,” which is apparently a real English word. Interestingly, out of five submissions, they all selected one of two options. “Contentious” was more popular, with three submissions, and the other two used “fraught.”

…il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel…

Here we come face to face with Google Translate’s nemesis: figures of speech. I assure you that no skywriting was involved in announcing this news. In another distinct win for the humans, none of the human translators fell for this trap. Many good options here: “it almost seems like fate,” “it was inevitable,” “we might have predicted,” and “It was almost a foregone conclusion.”

…que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste…

Formidable had a number of good options: incredible, remarkable are both very solid. My favorite, from Andie Ho, was “prodigious.” The rest of this section is frankly straightforward (“economic growth,” “authoritarian and expansionist”), and the real problems come with how you fit it in with the rest, so we’ll address that later. One fun twist I particularly liked was offered by Ben Karl, who opted for “four decades” of economic growth instead of forty years. Since “eight years” comes up only a few words later, this is particularly clever to avoid repeating “last x years” almost immediately.”

…finirait par déboucher sur…

“Finir par” is another known and loathed French construction. All five translators combined “finirait par déboucher sur” into one expression, rather than getting bogged down by needing to render every word in English, with something like “would result in leading to” or similar. Good options included “lead to,” “end in,” “end up as.”

…une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure…

Google Translate gave us “large-scale,” which is adequate. Two translators used “major,” and my favorite option was submitted by Andie Ho, who used “all-out brawl.” That seems a little bit more aggressive than the French, but it certainly is large-scale, and I love the idiomatic use of brawl.

 …entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était.

Everyone stuck pretty close to the source here, perhaps as an effect of fatigue from battling through the rest of the sentence. But it’s not inaccurate to say, “between China and an American empire that is no longer what it once was.” A more literary option might be “an American empire no longer in its heyday,” or perhaps “an American empire past its prime.”

Sentence breaks

Obviously, this sentence is a little unwieldy in English, and are a couple options to handle that. One person left it as one sentence, which is ultimately fine. Two people set off a section in the middle with em dashes, and one person used both em dashes and also segmented the first section as a separate sentence (“Nowadays, the relationship is more contentious than ever.”) The decision of how much to split off into a separate sentence depends heavily on the surrounding context and how much you want to vary sentence length for that reason.

Piecing together some of the best parts of all the sentences, here is a suggested composite:

Since the US–China relationship is as contentious as it has ever been, it almost seems like fate that China’s prodigious economic growth over the last forty years—orchestrated for the last eight by an especially authoritarian and expansionist Xi Jinping regime—would eventually lead to an all-out brawl between China and an American empire decidedly past its prime.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really pleased with that! That’s a considered sentence that does a number of clever things and avoids all of the worst pitfalls Google Translate replicated. Chalk up another win for the humans!

Did you forget to submit a translation in time? Not to worry! Share your version on Twitter and tag the French Language Division (@ATA_FLD) and me, @SamTranslates.

If you would like to submit a sentence for a future slam, I would like that very much! You can contact me, Sam Mowry, directly at sam [at] frenchtranslation.expert or on Twitter at the handle listed above. You can also contact the À Propos Editor Ben Karl at ben [at] bktranslation.com.

If you’d like to help launch a similar slam but into French, please also reach out! We would love to get this going in both directions.

Beat the Machine: September Translation Slam

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By Sam Mowry

After a rollicking start to our Beat the Machine online translation slam, we’re back with a new sentence! If you need a quick refresher, you can read about the premise in our inaugural post here. Very simply, we’re out to prove how much better human translators are than machines and maybe learn something from one another in the process.

Here is the sentence for this month:

Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était.

What was that I said last month about French being fond of long sentences? This one will give you ample opportunity to wade through and potentially break into as many shorter sentences as you see fit. The sky is the limit!

For context, Xi refers to Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, who has been in power since 2012. His name doesn’t require any particular treatment, and “Xi regime” would be a fine translation in this context (but feel free as always to get creative!).

Here is the full paragraph the sentence came from:

Que Pékin ne joue pas franc jeu en matière commerciale est notoire et que la dictature chinoise ait depuis longtemps à l’ordre international un rapport « inadéquat » est incontestable. Que M. Trump joue la corde antichinoise à l’approche de la présidentielle, il fallait s’y attendre. Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était. Nous y voilà. Pour l’heure, l’ordre du monde est façonné par les faucons des deux côtés.

If you’d like to read the full article from Le Devoir, you may find it here.

Here is Google’s feeble attempt:

But if relations are today more conflictual than ever, it was almost written in the sky that the tremendous Chinese economic growth of the last forty years, orchestrated moreover, for eight years, by a particularly authoritarian and expansionist Xi regime , would eventually lead to a large-scale power struggle between China and an American empire that is not necessarily what it used to be.

Submit your much better translation here by September 30, 2020, and the blog post discussing it will go live in October!

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation!
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. I will only discuss one submission per person in the review post.

Have you translated or read a particularly pesky sentence this year that you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, at ben [at] bktranslation.com or myself, Sam Mowry, at sam [at] translation.expert to let us know!

Beat the Machine: Weaving Musical Genres in Austria?

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Welcome to part two of our inaugural Beat the Machine mini translation slam! In our July post, I asked FLD members to re-translate a complicated sentence to improve upon the machine translation output provided in the post. Now it’s time to review some of the submissions!

Before diving in, I would like to acknowledge that I may have had a little bit of hubris when selecting this first sentence. One of my favorite FLD members suggested it and I thought, “perfect, this thing is a mess, let’s do it!” Then I sat down to tackle it myself and… eesh, this sentence really was a challenge! The good news is that this has been a fun learning experience for us all, and I now know what I’m looking for in future sentences. The other good news is that many of our colleagues were clearly less daunted than I and submitted some really creative solutions. So, let’s dig in!

To refresh our memory, this was the sentence we were working with:

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord, lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique) en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

And here’s what DeepL gave us:

Perhaps the excellent Austrian classical pianist Friedrich Gulda would not have agreed, as he never stopped transgressing the two great orders (jazz and classical) by reproducing them in concerts that spun jazz standards, classics from classics.

As foreshadowed, there are a lot of things we’re working with here. There are four different parts to this monster, so let’s take it part by part before addressing some really neat things some people did with the structure of the sentence as a whole.

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda…

In the first seven words, everyone agrees about three of them. “Friedrich Gulda” and “Austrian” are pretty concrete! Things immediately diverge after that. Some of the options for excellentissime were excellent, brilliant, and outstanding. However, two people did something pretty clever here, opting for “virtuoso” in English. This is particularly delightful because it folds the level of skill into the noun: Friedrich Gulda, classical piano virtuoso. The alternative, [adjective] + [classical pianist], is perfectly accurate, but virtuoso conveys a level of talent beyond “excellent” that better matches excellentissime (the –issime meaning very excellent) and changes up the sentence structure ever so slightly.

…n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord…

Everyone went with either “would not have agreed” or “would have disagreed.” This a fun reminder that you can structure even seemingly straightforward text more than one way. The difference is slight, but real, and which option is “better” depends on the rest of the sentence: is the goal fewer total words? Shorter words? Depending on the context, choosing something like “may have begged to differ,” could potentially be great.

…lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique)…

Here’s where things start to get messy. Ne cessa de became: ceaselessly, always, continued to, constantly, and continually. So many options to convey “something that never stops!” Transgresser is clearly a problem in English, as “to transgress” is much weightier than just mixing musical genres, not to mention the moral or religious overtones. DeepL fell right into this trap. Our human options here included “intermixed,” and “transcended.” My favorite solutions were “went outside the box,” which, while it could use a stronger verb than “went,” encompasses the notion of transgressing in a more palatable way, and my very favorite, “pushed the limits.” He didn’t necessarily break the boundaries, as a transgression might suggest, but he’s right up against it.

…en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts…

Oh no, wordplay in the source! The holy grail here would be to come up with something that has the same kind of parallelism or at least some kind of interplay as reprisant et déprisant. Options included: “combining and undoing them,” (accurate, if not a little clunky), “reappraising and transforming,” (yet clunkier, in my opinion). “Taking them apart and putting them back together”: we’re getting there, it’s literal but closer to the mark. “Deconstructing and reconstructing,” is almost there and is the best non-metaphorical option that was submitted; it checks both boxes, opposite words with a similar structure to match the source.

However, there was one superlative submission here that does all of the above but also leads into the next part of the sentence beautifully: “unraveling and reweaving them in concerts.” I swooned.

…qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

The swoon-worthy submission continues: “…that spun together jazz standards and classical classics.” This is why I love this option so much for the previous part. The translator saw filer in this section and put it to excellent use in the previous one, using a thread metaphor to describe how Gulda took apart and reassembled the musical components. The use of “spun” continues the metaphor perfectly.

Lastly, “classical classics,” submitted by two translators, is snappy and alliterative, and I don’t know what more you could ask.

Sentence breaks? What are those?

This mouthful of a French sentence reminds us that what is valued for style in French doesn’t always correspond to what we look for in English: French sentences can run on and on and on. And I actually chopped this sucker in half before issuing this challenge! Two of the translators used a period and broke it into two fully separate sentences; one person used a semicolon for the same purpose. One option that surprised me was to pull the initial verb (“might have disagreed”) all the way to the end, so it read something like “Friedrich Gulda, [description], who [did the things], may well have disagreed.” This, again, is a decision where context matters, and this option may or may not flow into what comes next in the text. But it certainly has the option to, and that’s awesome. Next time, I’ll provide more context so that we can better evaluate options like this one.

Putting it all together, this is a string combining my personal favorite individual translation solutions for this sentence:

Friedrich Gulda, the classical piano virtuoso who continually pushed the limits of two great genres (jazz and classical), unraveling and reweaving them in concerts that spun together jazz standards and classical classics, may well have disagreed.

You know what? I think that’s pretty good! That’s a well-crafted sentence. And, given the notable lack of preceding or following sentences, I can claim it is ideal for the context. So… whew! We made it! I hope that it was useful and informative to see how many options there are for even simple phrases, and what neat things you can achieve with even mundane words. Stay tuned for next month, where we’ll do it all again (with a more approachable sentence this time!).

Did you forget to submit a translation in time? Not to worry! Share your version on Twitter and tag the French Language Division (@ATA_FLD) and me, @SamTranslates.

If you would like to submit a sentence for a future slam, I would like that very much! You can contact me, Sam Mowry, directly at sam [at] translation.expert or on Twitter at the handle listed above. You can also contact the À Propos Editor Ben Karl at ben [at] bktranslation.com.

If you’d like to help launch a similar slam but into French, please also reach out!

Beat the Machine: A Mini Virtual Translation Slam by the ATA FLD

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Beat the Machine: A Mini Virtual Translation Slam by the ATA FLD

Greetings, fellow FLD members (and interested onlookers)!

My name is Sam Mowry and I’m here to help us all translate better. Strong words, I know, but one thing I’ve found to be true in my translation career is that the more exposure you have to translations, particularly good translations, the better translator you become. To that end, this is the first in what I hope will become an ongoing series of posts here in À Propos.

The premise is simple: I’ve never met a translator who, when confronted with someone else’s translation, doesn’t secretly or not-so-secretly think to themselves, “I could have done it better.” Moreover, as human translators, we know we’re vastly superior to every machine translation option on the market. We’re going to combine those concepts into a monthly “beat the machine” virtual translation slam (and by that I mean slamming those machine translations into the ground!).

Every two months, I will post a French sentence with an English translation produced by a widely available machine translation engine. This will incite the faithful readers of this blog to rise to the challenge and show how much better it could be by submitting their own versions of the translated sentence. The following month, I will publish a blog post where I share some of the best submissions and discuss what makes them so good. This is a chance to show what a difference the human touch makes and improve our own translation practices in the process by seeing how other translators approach the same problem.

Sound good?

The first sentence is:

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord, lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique) en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

Fun, right? Hat tip to FLD member Beth Smith, who provided this sentence. Here is what DeepL spat out:

Perhaps the excellent Austrian classical pianist Friedrich Gulda would not have agreed, as he never stopped transgressing the two great orders (jazz and classical) by reproducing them in concerts that spun jazz standards, classics from classics.

You are no doubt chomping at the bit already to submit your much better translation of this sentence. You can do that HERE.

Submissions must be received by July 22, 2020. The follow-up blog post discussing the best solutions will be posted on or around August 1, 2020.

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation. When you log in to your account on the ATA website, the number of divisions you belong to is listed at the top of the page. Click “Modify” to change which divisions you belong to (and add the FLD!).
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like, in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. I will only discuss one submission per person in the review post.

Finally, we’re hoping to continue this series with all of your help! Have you come across a particularly pesky sentence you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, or myself, Sam Mowry, to let us know!

Happy translating!

Sam Mowry is an ATA-certified French into English translator specializing in international development, medicine, official documents, and being mouthy on the internet. She can be reached by email at sam@frenchtranslation.expert or directly on Twitter at @SamTranslates.