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Bad international communication has killed many a deal ... teletranslation may be the answer.

In March 1996, when Taiwan made history with its first free presidential elections, the International Channel wanted its English-speaking viewers to comprehend the event, without having to do an English-language dub over the Mandarin-language audio feed. But arranging for live English language captioning of events in Taiwan was no easy feat for a company based in Los Angeles.

The system that resulted is a testament to the new possibilities in translation offered by emerging technologies in telecommunications and information management.

The International Channel arranged to receive a live satellite feed in Mandarin into its Los Angeles studio. The next step was to rebroadcast the signal via satellite to a human translator in Alexandria, Va., who dictated an English version by telephone to a steno-captioner in Portland, Ore. That person then transferred the captioned data by modem back to the studio in Los Angeles, where it was imposed on the television screen for general broadcast.

This cross-country, triangular circuit around the United States was completed within nanoseconds, and any delay in the captioning was almost unnoticeable.

Log On Logos

Sue Thompson works in Chicago as a marketing consultant to American businesses expanding to the Pacific Rim. Late one Wednesday afternoon, a job arrived at her office from a client who needed his 200-page English manual translated and sent to his Korean distributor by the end of the week.

Normally this situation would create some headaches. A decision must be made whether to sacrifice the quality of the translation for time, or to meet the deadline and pay exorbitant costs. Now, the only decision she needs to make is whether to sign on to the Internet and begin translation tonight or wait until the morning.

Thompson uses a new service available from Logos Corporation that allows documents to be sent to them over the Internet for translating. It comes back to her, fully translated with formatting and layout intact. Thompson can post-edit the file and send it to her Korean distributor on time.

"The marvelous thing about it is you have the most powerful automatic translation system available in the comfort of your own home or office," concludes Thompson.


These are perfect examples of what is becoming known as teletranslation - the marriage of new telecommunications technology and an abundance of language services.

Minako O'Hagan, a specialist on tele-translation, notes, "the significance of telecommunications to the language business is simply that when people are electronically beyond country or cultural borders, be it via telephone, fax, E-mail or visual images, they suddenly face a thick communication barrier - language. At this point, all the modern technology becomes useless because the focal point shifts from the medium to the message. The communication revolution will not be complete until the solution of the language issue is found."

In many cases the development of technology is outpacing the availability of translation services. When Japan's International Trade and Industry Ministry, for instance, offered to provide Internet-linked computers to 100 schools, it couldn't find any takers. One reason was that information on the Internet is primarily in English.

But progress is being made.

In the past decade, several interpretation services have been developed to integrate with the new communication technologies. In 1984, AT&T introduced its service, where a caller can get an interpreter online in a three-way call. The Language Line operates 24 hours a day in 140 languages. Translatel, founded in 1990 as a subsidiary of France Telecom, operates in the same manner. A Japanese version of the service, KDD Teleservice, founded in 1986, is geared almost exclusively to English-Japanese interpretation with half its calls going to the United States.

Languages Online

For computer users working with text in different languages, many other translation options are available. One is to buy translation software. The other is to use programs available online.

CompuServe, for instance, enables you to send a document of unlimited length to be translated by online software. While the translation is often crude, the service also offers editing by a professional human translator who can refine the document, for an additional charge.

Globalink, Inc., similarly, sells software that allows you to automatically translate foreign-language Web sites. While this will be valuable for English speakers, such resources may not be particularly helpful to non-English speakers since the Internet is largely "English-centric."

The Japanese firm NTT is working on a text translation program with some innovative features. Their program includes a display of the original text along with the translated text and will synthetically read the translated text aloud.

Adding Value to Translations

One of the implications for the combination of telecommunications, machine translation and computer networks is that we might become accustomed to less-than-perfect translations as long as they serve the purpose in a given situation.

Another implication is that soon we are likely to see the creation of what amounts to a "language international value-added network service" (language IVANS).

International value-added network services already exist for data interchange and electronic fund transfer. A language IVANS - essentially a permanent version of the International Channel's temporary translation work - will exploit the growing power of global telecommunications to link the human skills of translators and interpreters with powerful computers, databases and desktop publishing systems in ways we are only now beginning to imagine.

John Freivalds heads jfa, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based group that specializes in foreign language products and services.
COPYRIGHT 1996 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Freivalds, John
Publication:Communication World
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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