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Julian Zapata Rojas

Julian Zapata Rojas
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A New Dawn for Translation Technology

Published by Jzapa026@uottawa.ca on 2013-01-23

The New Year always brings this spirit of renewal, of change; a desire to start all over again, to do things better.


It has been a while since I last posted a blog. But I was never away from LinguisTech, nor was I from translation technology. Since last spring, I’ve published my Master’s thesis at the University of Ottawa, have worked in the development of CERTT material, and have started with my PhD in Traslation Studies. (I also taught a fun English-Spanish translation course at University last Fall!)


I was lucky enough to go on exchange at the very first semester of my PhD. But I didn’t go too far this time, physically. I had the pleasure to take part in two exciting graduate-level courses at Carleton University, offered within the framework of a Master’s program in Human Computer Interaction (HCI).


HCI is, for me, a multidisciplinary science concerned with designing and developing technology applications that will not fail, that will not disappoint users. It visits and is visited by a wide range of other disciplines where technologies are used by humans. They all share the desire to “humanize” the technology in order to ensure a more natural interaction between humans and machines. Natural interaction leads to better user experience, higher user satisfaction and better task performance. The field of translation also shares that desire! (Doesn’t it?)


I believe I put my best foot forward for the continuation of my research project by going to Carleton last Fall. The courses I took allowed me to see how much computers and software, as we know them today, are starting to be something of the past, with tablets and smartphones representing just the beginning of a new era of interaction between humans and machines. They also allowed me to confirm that it will be necessary to give a greater consideration to the human factor when designing and developing new technology applications.


Just as I was discovering HCI from my translator and translation studies researcher perspective, Sharon O’Brien (2012) coined the notion of Translator-Computer Interaction (TCI) in a recent article published in the first issue of Translation Spaces. She describes translation today as a form of HCI and –also– advocates the need to design and develop tools from the point of view of the humans, of the users, i.e., of translators. Translation tools ought to be designed by interaction designers, rather than by programmers, who rarely design with the end-users in mind.


With the arrival of new computational platforms and applications which allow a more natural interaction between humans and computers, more efficient and ergonomic applications will need to be designed and developed for professional translators in the 21st century.


It is a new dawn for translation technology. As O’Brien puts it, “translator–computer interaction would likely benefit from an increased focus on ethnographic-style, cognitive ergonomic studies of translation tools and the translation process itself. This might involve, for example, spending time observing and working with translators who interact with multiple tools and technologies to see where the ‘speed bumps’ and frustrations lie in this interaction. More experimental studies of translator-tool interaction could be carried out using formal usability research methods such as screen recording, eye tracking, and observation, the results of which could then be used by translation technology developers to improve the specifications of tools for the benefit of translators and, ultimately, the end users of those translations” (2012: 116-117).


Professional translators are in urgent need of more effective and ergonomic tools. Thus, the field of HCI will inevitably have a more vital place in future translation technology research. Simply developing computer aids won’t be enough. The key is to design the whole user experience, to think about the human, to consider what is natural when translating, to “humanize” technologies. And this is just starting to happen…


Julian Zapata Rojas