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Adapt or die: Online tech giants changing the landscape of the translation industry

What a time to be alive, sit back and be amazed at the unprecedented exponential progress technology is exposing all of us to – from layman to super-pro. The generation before us were hoping for TVs they could hang on walls and roll up and carry under the arms. Maybe that is not far off, but in translation and automation, the world is taking double-leaps and double-bounds. We love it, but those bounds are still not long enough...

The connection of digital and non-digital, the efforts of Google, Facebook and alike to rewrite the entire world into a binary code, or to extend the human brain with computer abilities already brings tangible results that will eventually change the full environment of doing business everywhere on earth. From downtown Manhattan to the plains up off Scarborough and to the rice fields in far away places like Indonesia. We will see a radical change to the demand and supply of products and services – translation included.

Augmented reality translation apps

Google announced this year that the Augmented Reality (AR) feature of the Google Translate app, Word Lens, has been expanded with yet another language and is now able to translate even Japanese to English and vice versa, making it the 30th supported language for instant translation. The machine translation quality is still leaps behind professional human translation, but given the pace of its learning curve in recent years, it is only a matter of near-time for solutions with impressive computing-power to deliver pretty satisfactory results not only for day-to-day private use, but for many more in business and other parts of life. With the right device, all written content will be translatable in real-time – and not just to get travel instructions in e.g. the Tokyo subway maze, but any kind of text including subtle manners on entering a tea house in the farthest corner of e.g. Shizuoka. 

Brain typing in foreign languages

Thanks to brain computer interfaces, Stephen Hawking is able to share his genius with the rest of the world, despite being unable to speak a single word. Facebook has just announced their (now a bit more science-fiction-like) goal to enable brain typing thanks to a non-invasive brain computer interface based on optical brain scans, that would eventually recognize human speech without the need to talk. It would be actually possible to control the augmented (as well as virtual) reality apps directly from one's brain, no extra transmitter involved. And Facebook seems quite confident in their standing, as their ultimate goal now is to produce scalable and marketable solutions that would allow users to type around 100 words per minute just with their mind – which is about three times faster as hand typing on phones.
Food for thought: In the old days, expert typist actually reached such speeds on standard typewriters from Remington, Underwood and others – so are we impressed? Yes we are, if I could have thought up this blog and telepathed it to my blog spot, it would have been done in a couple of minutes...

With the help of MT, this effort might actually result in people writing down their thoughtalready translated into a different language one day, possibly within the next decade, and Yes, then we are very impressed and we understand why typewriters went out the window. Now those are keepsakes.

Auto Translation is almost as unthinkable now as the notion of wi-fi and smartphones usage was 15 years ago. However, today's emerging technology should inspire translation suppliers and providers to seek to improve and refine their business models and adapt while there is still time. 

We are working hard on it.

Language facts: US Spanish

To begin with, it is interesting to know that according to the Instituto Cervantes' study, there is actually more Spanish speakers in the USA than in Spain itself. Wow!

With more than 40 million native speakers and 11 million bilinguals (mostly children of Spanish-speaking immigrants), the USA is, in fact, the world's second largest Spanish-speaking country, right after Mexico. 

For real facts, according to the US Census Office estimates, the USA will become the largest Spanish-speaking country by 2050 with around 138 million of speakers, that means approx. 1 in 3 Americans (and not counting on any Wall building). 

Status of the Spanish language in the USA

Since 1980, the number of Spanish-speakers in the US has almost quadrupled in absolute numbers, while their share of the population went from 5 to 13%. Most Spanish-speakers are concentrated in states bordering with Mexico (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) and the havens for immigrants on the East coast, mainly Florida, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. However, it's the long history of Mexicans vs. Americans as well as the general immigration that puts Spanish into its current standing. The USA do not have any language constituted as an Official Language, although the most dominant working language used by institutions is obviously English, and on top of that the American version. In states with a large distribution of Spanish speakers, such as New Mexico or California, official documents are issued bilingually. The exception is Puerto Rico, which, despite being part of the US Commonwealth, uses Spanish as the official primary language. 

US Spanish dialects

Spanish used around in the US can be distinguished by dialects and origin, mainly Mexican, Caribbean and Central American Spanish. The English language influenced the Spanish used in the US (and vice versa), while it is quite common for the Latino community to mix Spanish and English, resulting in a fusion called Spanglish (popular mainly among younger generations). The environment is also a factor here, while the US Spanish-speakers tend to color the language with local US English accents and convenient English words thrown in.

Spanish is also by far the most common foreign language included in American school plans from elementary schools up to university level, and with following generations of Spanish-speaking immigrants, there is a strong will to preserve the background and speech of Spanish language.

Translation into Spanish for the U.S.

Is there a need to translate into Spanish for residents in the United States? Probably not. There are so many Spanish "languages", all with their flavors and idiosyncrasies. Standard Spanish is understood by just about any Spanish adept around the world, for Spanish in the USA, Mexican Spanish with a dash of American words are probably acceptable for local incentives.

Addressing a population of millions of speakers will require "standard" Latin American Spanish. We are all ears on this. After all, in the translation industry, we have so many flavors of Spanish on the American side. Everyone understand each other, but somebody chose to chop up American Spanish into ethnic groups, each with their own language code.

Today this is overwhelming, and there should be no need to serve local Spanish flavors to the Americas.

Translation tips: What is the optimal translation speed?

Indeed, both translation suppliers, as well as clients of translation services providers have vastly different views on the issue of the desired versus feasible speed of professional translation and localization. 

While it's not easy to answer the headline question in a one-liner, let's try to break it down. Basically, the translated content's nature speaks for itself. Usually, the more time it took to write, the more time it takes to translateShakespeare plays, important medical research papers and a kitchen timer manual are just about as different as would be their translation processes. There are many types of translation areas that are very specific and thus require specific know-how, translation skills, and experience. 

Literary vs. technical translation

So, the deepest divide is the nature of translation, or better said whether we talk about a literary translation that borders with an arts discipline and has artistic value added, or the technical translation fields where the content "just needs to be translated correctly".

Literary translation of a Shakespearean screenplay would require a highly skilled multilingual literate (yes, usually only one to translate the entire piece of work) to localize all nuances of a foreign language to fit the structure, while preserving the original meaning, that is including the artistic value of the content, too. Needless to say that each author has their own style that cannot be just transformed into ones and zeros as in technical translation.

Depending on the volume of content, the literary translation process could take even up to several months, at a speed starting from pages a day to a chapter or two. A careful guess would be approximately 1-2,000 source words/day.

Technical translation of highly specific non-literary content(e.g. medical translation, legal translation, financial translation – texts such as research papers, medical or engineering documentation, etc.). These fields of translation, albeit highly demanding on translators' expertise and a bit similar to art books by their complexity, can employ various strong computer-assisted tools (CAT tools) and well prepared multilingual databases such as translation memories and glossaries to support and eventually speed up the translation process. However, even with good computing power at hand, highly-specific content uses also highly specific terms and expressions. And even though a technical translation of a high-profile content enables (unlike the usual practice in literary translation) a team of translators to collaborate, the translation process can slow down to less than a page per hour. In general, for this kind of translation good translators can produce about 2-3,000 source words/day.  General (technical) translation

For the general text (including guides, sales and promo material, website content, etc.), translators supported by CAT tools are usually capable of working at a speed of 2,000 source words/day and more. Such projects can also be split into a team of more linguists, which can then multiply the speed. 

Express translation?

Maybe you wonder how long it would take if you would need a professional, high-quality translation of your content urgently? At idioma, we are able to handle smaller projects (up to 200 source words) within 4 working hours (CET), with no minimum fees. If you wish just 5 words translated, we charge you only for those 5 words. 

And if you happen to need express translation at the moment, just click here.

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