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Current situation and trends of translation technology – HI-COM

It is debatable whether the translation industry as a whole has responded to rapid globalization, but content has certainly increased as a result. Is the industry making full use of technology to improve its capabilities and maintain profitability?

Or does the explosion of so much content marginalize translation technology?

To understand the current market situation, we need to review the history of translation technology.

  1. History of Translation Technology 

The outbreak of the Cold War promoted the development of machine translation, when machine translation could realize two-way translation between American, English and Russian.

translation machine

However, despite major investment, by the end of 1960s, the results of machine translation were far from satisfactory. In the fifteen years or so that followed, machine translation almost disappeared. One notable exception was in 1976, when the Council of Europe began to use the Systran system to translate abstracts.

In the mid-1980s, several service providers in the emerging localization industry (specialized in translating IT manuals) began to provide translation memory tools, so as to realize the recycling of translations and provide terminology tools for translators. These tools help translators improve their productivity and consistency.

Although these translation tools have become more extensible and mature in function, their core technologies for improving productivity would remain mainly unchanged in the next two decades.

The localization industry continues to show rapid growth, and many companies engaged in the traditional translation industry have fallen behind the times to a great extent. Many translators are unwilling to adopt translation techniques for a variety of reasons. Some are well-founded, while others are more related to a misinterpretation of translation techniques and fear of being replaced.

Lack of innovation also means that the threshold for entering the translation technology industry is low. Many translation service companies develop their own computer-aided translation tools, so there is a long list of average quality systems in the market.

Although the translation service industry is booming, the market of technology industry is still small. In the same period after the end of the Cold War, the economic growth point began to shift from English-speaking countries to non-English-speaking countries. Digital communication largely replaced printing, and consumers and citizens became content publishers. People can keep in touch with each other through mobile phones for only two dollars a day.

It’s only in the past five years where we have we begun to see an overall change in the technology and business model used for translation.

To a great extent, the companies bringing in change are from other industries.

The most prominent examples are Baidu, Google, Microsoft and Yandex.

From the mid-1980s to around 2000, demand for document translation increased to software and then to websites. Products were then launched from the market to multiple markets simultaneously (Simship).

Companies then started increasingly providing services to international customers.

2. Tools use in Translation

In order to adapt to the market development, the professional translation industry has adopted translation memory (TM), terminology and translation/globalization process management technology.

translation memory

Translation technology can be subdivided into several main components.

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools are used to improve the productivity and consistency of manual translation. They are made up of many technologies, including a translation memory (enabling translators to reuse previously translated content), translation management system (automating project management and publishing), terminology management system (enhancing the consistency of standard terms, names and translations) and quality assurance tools.

The following is an overview of the stages of translating and localizing documents.

Translation tools

CAT tools have been used since early use of the personal computer.

CAT tools usually integrate a document editor, terminology database and translation memory in an interface or operation platform, and its main function is to improve translation efficiency and accuracy.

With the development of the IT and network industries, CAT tools are also evolving, from original desktop tools to client-server tools used in corporate networks, to Web tools where services and tools are transmitted through the Internet.


  1. Desktop CAT tool

As the first generation translation tools, the desktop CAT tool market will continue to grow, especially after upgrading. The can interoperate with cloud translation management systems.

  1. CAT tool based on client/server

Client/Server CAT tools have been developing for nearly 20 years, and are deeply rooted in the translation and localization departments of enterprises.

These tools are composed of a central server and many clients. The central server is usually installed at the client, while the client software is installed on the employees’ and translators’ machines. The clients are usually based on the Windows platform.

In the past ten years, this has been the standard configuration of most enterprise software.

The client/server CAT tool is mature in terms of the technology it uses, including almost all the functions that users need, including translation memory, terminology, document editing and spell check tools, and even project management tools.

Nowadays, popular Web-based tools are all newly developed, and most of them do not adopt the above mode, and are less mature.

Although the former has complete functions, it still has many obvious shortcomings compared with the latter.

  • Lack of cross-platform support; most of them focus on Windows, which brings problems to organizations using other operating systems.
  • Lack of native mobile support. Translation and proofreading need more and more mobile applications in order to work any time and anywhere.
  • Hard to get started. These systems are mainly designed for translation and localization professionals, and beginners find them too difficult. By today’s standards, they are also very outdated.
  • High IT cost, requiring server maintenance, software update and client software installation on a large number of machines.

Most client/server products can be traced back to the 1990s and before 2000. At that time, SaaS was not popular, and non-Windows operating systems such as Mac OS X, Android and iOS were not popular, which explains why client/server products are usually only applicable to Microsoft Windows.

Old vendors are reorganizing their client server solutions to transform them into cloud-based products. On the other hand, government agencies and enterprises with strict security requirements may continue to use such solutions in their own data centers or at least on computers directly controlled by them.

  1. Web-based CAT tools

Web-Based CAT tools are important new translation tools.

In many application contexts, it is possible to replace traditional client/server tools (such as Windows applications) for the following reasons:

  • Cross-Platform, supporting Windows, Mac and Linux and other operating systems.
  • Support users to use on mobile devices through native mobile applications or HTML5/Javascript.
  • Java is an excellent language for building powerful cross-platform applications.
  • Support the agile development process, and continuously improve the server-side software without forcibly upgrading the labor-intensive client-side software.
  • Cloud-Based asset management, translation memory and other centralized project and asset management functions.
  • Users can work on different devices at different times without losing the completed tasks.
  • Saas business model, flexible license mechanism, customers can increase or decrease users or usage quota according to needs.

A typical example is Google Translator Toolkit (GTT), which fully integrates Google Translate.

Translators can use the machine translation engine to pre-translate the text before editing it manually.

GTT has recently been integrated with YouTube to support the processing of user-generated subtitles.

Other web-based tools that integrate machine translation include XTM cloud, MemSource and Lingotek.

Web-Based translation agencies usually develop direct translation platforms and CAT tools. These companies have different complexity due to their different situations and customer groups.

Companies in this category include a group of translators, Gengo, Straker Translations, Fox Translate, Elanex (aka ExpressIT) and One Hour Translations, etc.

These companies provide their customers with Web-based and API-based order and project management interfaces (front-end), and provide a completely Web-based editing and translation in CAT environment (back-end).

4. Mixed type

It integrates client/server tools and Web tools, and the project management of these tools is still carried out in the cloud, but the translation work can be carried out locally by translators or on the Web.

5. Mobile translation tools

Mobile translation tool is a novel thing in computer-aided industry, but it will become a realistic demand in most translation management systems, because translators (especially in developing countries) mainly use mobile devices to access the Internet.

If the tool does not support mobile access (whether through HTML5/Javascript or native iOS/Android application), you will find it more difficult to find someone to work.

One example is OneSky in Hong Kong, which provides translation through mobile devices.

Their service is dedicated to the localization of mobile applications, so it is a good mobile translation editing tool.

The main challenge in making the CAT environment accessible through mobile devices is how to make them work on a limited display and user input interface.

Usually, this restricts the type of work that mobile translators can do, for example, only translate shorter texts and documents. This limitation will not be a big problem for tablet devices, because the display size of tablet devices is similar to the display size and resolution of PC or notebook computers.

To find out how you can save time and money with HI-COM by using CAT tools, contact us today! 

HI-COM is a multilingual translation agency dedicated to providing companies worldwide with high quality translation services.


Marie CASTANOCurrent situation and trends of translation technology – HI-COM

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