When I first started translating professionally in the mid-90s, computer-assisted translation (CAT) was still somewhat of a novelty. Doubting Thomas’s, who were only used to translating Word documents and relied on “feeling” to translate complex concepts, dismissed the use of CAT tools in the belief that only human translators can produce authentic text. That may be true, but today, most translators embrace new technology and see the benefits – in terms of quality improvements and shorter time-to-market – through the efficient use of tools, such as translation memory, and integrated workflow processes, such as terminology management.
information development and translation are inextricably intertwined
To name the changes in the translation profession over the past decade or so, I would have to start with the source. The way that we manage information and the software and processes that we use to create content have had an enormous impact on translation workflows.
translation experts are not just language experts; they have a knowledge of business processes and apply technical skills
Translators today not only need an excellent command of their target and source languages, but they should also possess a vast knowledge of authoring and content management tools, mark-up languages, and programming codes, as well as an understanding of product lifecycles and development processes. The emergence of Localization as an industry in its own right underscores this. Translation/Localization Managers, Multilingual Documentation Project Managers, or Language Consultants are just some of the job titles that companies have created in recent years to find (and give credit to) translation professionals who have a broader skills set than would previously have been expected from the average in-house or freelance translator.
technical communication commonly uses a controlled variant of the English language
Of course, language is still an important issue. Take English translators: Good native speakers, especially those who have specialized in a particular area, have always been sought-after. However, I suspect that many more native English speakers are hired nowadays to optimize text in a pre-phase to translation or to “write for translation”. English is increasingly the source language, but not just any old language: many companies strive to implement a form of controlled language.
new technologies require new approaches to technical writing
On the flip side, authors, too, are slowly recognizing the benefits of tools that were traditionally only used by translators and are integrating authoring memory and terminology databases into their workflows. I predict that we will be hearing the term structured authoring more often, in connection with cleaning up the source and cutting costs through greater consistency, fewer redundancies, and easier translation.
The role of the modern-day translator is not easy to define – arguably, it never was. However, one fact remains true: There is rarely such a thing as a translator who “just translates”.
This article was also published in an issue of the bi-yearly customer magazine, C-Blatt, produced by Comet Computer GmbH and appears here with the addition of links and slight modifications.