Translation technology uses software tools that support the process of converting written text from one language to another. Most work is aided by technology; therefore, translation technology tools can increase productivity, accuracy, and efficiency. Translation technology has been utilized around the world for more than five decades, but as our world has become increasingly interconnected, it has only grown in importance and utility. Recent studies have found that the modern-day language technology landscape includes more than 700 solutions. So, let’s learn all about the evolution of translation technology, understand what translation technology is, and how to use it effectively.
An Abridged History of Language Translation Technology
An Arabic cryptographer named Al-Kindi developed the frequency analysis method, a translation method still used today, in the 800s. You can trace some modern translation technology techniques back to his method. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1900s that translation technology truly began to take shape when computers became available and affordable. A concise chronicle of how translation technology has advanced is shown below:
The 1950s – IBM and Georgetown University created the world’s first machine translation (MT) system. Their approach was rule-based and lexicographical, meaning the system relied on pre-programmed rules and dictionaries.
The 1970s – The United States Department of Defense and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started to develop speech recognition technologies, paving the way for voice-to-text technologies.
The 1980s – Electronic dictionary and terminological database emergence signaled a major turning point for translation technology during this decade. Translations were made more accessible through these tools by providing translators with instant access to information or information databases that could be utilized during projects.
The mid-1980s – Coventry Lanchester Polytechnic University and their ALP System helped form the basis for modern translation management systems (TMS).
The late 1980s to early 1990s – Statistical machine translation (SMT) was introduced to the world by IBM’s researchers. Such systems were word-based and built to translate one language into another by comparing large amounts of parallel texts in both languages.
The early 1990s – Most commercial computer-aided translation (CAT) tools started to appear in the market. CAT was a milestone that transformed translation technology forever. It enabled a new generation of translators to work more effectively and efficiently.
The late 1990s – A new version of IBM’s statistical translation engine was released, showcasing a phrase-based system instead of a word-based system. IBM’s late 90s brainchild became the commercial standard for years until Google entered the fray the following decade.
The early 2000s – The first cloud-based TMS solutions appeared in the market, enabling translation teams to work flexibly and collaborate with other company members regardless of location.
2006 – Google launched Google Translate, taking the world by storm. The system first translated input text into English before translating it into the target language. Then, the system used predictive algorithms to guess which words should come next based on the words and phrases it had “learned” before. Unfortunately, these guesses often resulted in poor grammatical accuracy.
2016 – Google Translate introduced neural machine translation (NMT), outperforming phrase-based CAT tools and becoming the new commercial standard.
Appreciating Translation Technology
Machine translation (MT), translation memories, virtual interpreting technology, voice-to-text technologies – all these tools fall under translation technology. Before translation technology emerged, translation was done manually, with translators consulting paper dictionaries and using their best judgment. Manual translation negatively impacted business substantially. Can you imagine document translation services taking so much time? Time-to-market delay, high costs due to inefficient operations, and loss of output quality and consistency are examples of manual translation’s negative effects. When translation technology emerged, the translation landscape changed, and all changed for the better.
Translation technology is essential in our fast-paced, always-connected, globalized world because people demand seamless experiences that are as accessible and convenient as possible. In addition, nowadays, high-quality goods, products, and services that are culturally sensitive and inclusive of anyone’s needs are also regular demands. And in order for such experiences, products, and services to be appreciated accordingly, they have to be communicated properly – in all languages of the people.
Angelo Castelda is a freelance writer from Asia. Besides writing, he also spends his time traveling and learning about diverse cultures and languages, which opened his heart more to learning and imparting knowledge about language translation.