Applications Of Machine Translation And Translation Memory Tools In Audiovisual Translation: A New Era?

Rafaella Athanasiadi, UCL KantanMTMaster’s student, Rafaella Athanasiadi of the University College London submitted her thesis as part of the MSc degree in Scientific, Technical and Medical Translation with Translation Technology. Rafaella was supervised by Teaching Fellow and Lecturer Dr. Emmanouela Patiniotaki and she used for her research. This guest blog post looks at some of her conclusions on Machine Translation and the Localization Industry.

As Hutchins & Somers (c1992:1) argue, “the mechanization of translation has been one of humanity’s oldest dreams.” During the 20th century, the translation process changed radically. From spending endless hours in libraries to find the translation of a word, the translator has been placed in the centre of dozens of assistive tools. To name just a few, today, there are many translation software, terminology extraction tools, project management components, and machine translation systems, which translators have the opportunity to choose from while translating.

However, shifting the focus to audiovisual translation, it can be observed that not so many radical changes took place in that area, at least not until the introduction of machine translation systems in various projects (such as, the MUSA and the SUMAT project) that developed machine translation engines to optimise the subtitling process. Still, the results of such projects do not seem to be satisfactory enough to inspire confidence for the implementation of these engines in the subtitling process both by subtitling software developers and subtitlers.

Rafaella Athanasiadi, KantanMT UCLBased on my personal research that focused primarily on the European setting, in the subtitling industry it seems that only freeware SRT Translator incorporates machine translation while also offering the features that subtitling software usually incorporate (i.e. uploading multimedia files and timecoding subtitles) at the moment. Nonetheless, SRT Translator, which is not very famous among subtitlers, uses solely Google Translator by default, which is a general-domain machine translation engine and not suitable for the purposes of audiovisual translation, one could argue. The quality of the output of Google Translator was tested by translating 35 subtitles of a comedy series[1]. The output was incomprehensible and misleading in many cases.

Even though no further records of traditional subtitling software that incorporate machine translation could be found, there are many online translation platforms that allow users to upload and translate subtitles. Taking into consideration the European market, these can be either translation software like MemoQ, SDL Trados Studio and Wordfast that offer thability to load subtitle files and in some cases link them to the audiovisual content they are connected to, open source tools for translators like Google Translator Toolkit (GTT) or professional and private platforms like Transifex and XTM International that are used by companies and offered to their dedicated network of translators. Nonetheless, in order to enable machine translation in all the above applications, API keys must be purchased. GTT is an exception since it can be used for free anytime and only requires a Gmail account.

The fact that subscription fees have to be paid along with the costs of API keys for each machine translation engine provider puts their usability in question since costs may overweight subtitlers’ profits. Furthermore, these platforms cannot accommodate subtitlers’ needs; for instance, the option to upload and play multimedia files while translating the subtitles is not always possible nor any synchronization features for timecoding the subtitles to the audio track are offered. Transifex, however, is an exception since this localization platform offers users the option to upload multimedia files in the translation editor while translating the subtitles.

KantanMT Machine TranslationAccording to Macklovitch (2000:1) a translation memory is considered to be “a particular type of translation support tool that maintains a database of source and target language sentence pairs, and automatically retrieves the translation of those sentences in a new text which occur in the database.” Even though machine translation engines were developed through different projects to reduce subtitling time to the least possible degree, no attempts had been traced during this research to integrate a translation memory tool in a subtitling software for optimizing subtitling; at least in a European, Asian and Australian setting. As Smith (2013) argues, “traditionally subtitling has fallen outside the scope of translation memory packages, perhaps as it was thought to be too creative a process to benefit from the features such software offers.” However, as Diaz-Cintas (2015:638) discusses “DVD bonus material, scientific and technical documentaries, edutainment programmes, and corporate videos tend to contain the high level of lexical repetition that makes it worthwhile for translation companies to employ assisted translation and memory tools in the subtitling process.”

Even if such tools have not been integrated in subtitling software, translation memory components are used for subtitling purposes in cloud-based platforms such as GTT, Transifex and XTM International as well as in translation software, MemoQ, SDL Trados Studio, Wordfast Pro and Transit NXT by simply creating a translation memory before or while translating. It should be noted that Transit NXT is the only translation software that can accommodate the needs of subtitlers to a high level among the tools discussed in this research. Apart from the addition of specialized filters to load subtitles (that also exist in MemoQ, SDL Trados Studio and Wordfast Pro), subtitlers can upload multimedia files, translate subtitles while a translation memory component is active and also synchronise their subtitles with the Transit translation editor (Smith, 2013).

The translation editor of Transit NXT by Smith
The translation editor of Transit NXT by Smith (2013)

Figure 1: The translation editor of Transit NXT by Smith (2013)

The newly-founded company (2012) OOONA has taken a very interesting approach to subtitling by developing a unique cloud-based toolkit that is built exclusively for accommodating the needs of subtitlers. When asked the following question within the context of the MSc thesis,

Considering that other cloud-based translation platforms like GTT, Transifex and XTM International offer the option of uploading a TM or a terminology management component, do you think that it is important to offer it on a subtitling platform as well?

the representative of OOONA (Alex Yoffe) replied that not only will the company implement translation memory and terminology management components in the next phase of enhancing their platform but that they also consider these components to be very important for the subtitling process. In addition, Yoffe (2015) argued that OOONA intends to “add the option of using MT engines. Translators will be able to choose between Microsoft’s, Google’s, or customisable MT engines.” Therefore, it seems that OOONA will become a very powerful tool in the near future with features that will optimise the subtitling process to the maximum and shape the way that subtitling is carried out until now. The fact that Screen Systems, Cavena and EZTitles have partnered with OOONA is an indicator of how much potential there is in this toolkit.

As it can been argued based on the above, there is lack of subtitling software with incorporated translation memory tools. Therefore, this issue was further researched through the form of an online questionnaire that was disseminated to subtitling companies and freelance subtitlers. In addition, two companies that develop subtitling software, Screen Subtitling Systems and EZTitles, were asked to present their views on this topic. In both cases, their willingness to optimise the subtitling process in a semi-automated or a fully-automated way was apparent through their answers. The former company was in favour of a combination of machine translation tools with translation memory tools whereas the latter leaned towards a subtitling system with integrated translation memory and terminology management tools.

Nonetheless, the optimisation of the subtitling process has to coincide with the needs and preferences of subtitlers. Based on the respondents’ answers, it is clear that translation memory tools in subtitling software are desirable by subtitlers. In question,

Which tool would you prefer to have in a subtitling software? An integrated translation memory (TM) or machine translation (MT)?

more than half of the respondents (56.8%) chose TM. Interestingly, the answer Both received the second highest percentage (20.5%) which indicated that subtitlers demand as many assistive tools as possible.

One of the main conclusions that were drawn from this research was that machine translation engines need to be customised to produce good quality output and this can be achieved through customisable engines like KantanMT and Milengo. Moreover, translation memory tools are sought by subtitlers in subtitling software, while cloud-based platforms seem to occupy the translation industry today. Following this trend, subtitling software providers partner with online services/tools like the OOONA toolkit.

Based on the outcomes of this research, it could be said that we are certainly experiencing a new era in subtitling since the traditional PC-based subtitling software are now transforming into flexible and accessible platforms to enhance the subtitling experience as much as possible. It is a matter of time which tool and platform will rule the subtitling industry but one thing is for sure; the technologies of the future will bring a lot of changes in the traditional way of subtitling.

Works Cited

Diaz-Cintas, J., 2015. Technological Strides in Subtitling. In: S. Chan, ed. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Technology. London: Routledge, pp. 632-643.

Hutchins, J. W. & Somers, H. L. (c1992). An introduction to machine translation. London: Academic Press.

Macklovitch, E. (2000). Two Types of Translation Memory. In Proceedings of the ASLIB Conference on Translating and the Computer (Vol. 22).

Smith, Steve (2013). New Subtitling Feature in Transit NXT. November 11 2013. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 01 Sept. 2015].

Yoffe, A (2015). MT and TM tools in subtitling. [Interview]. 13 August 2015.

[1] Relevant data are available in Appendix 1 of the MSc thesis.


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