Thoughts on 30 years of TRADOS

Update October 9th 2019: This blog refers to adaptive/statistical machine translation, which has now been replaced by SDL’s powerful neural machine translation (NMT) solution. To learn more about NMT please click here.

As it is the 30th anniversary of Trados, I had the opportunity to reflect on translation technology, the language industry and in general how our world has changed.

I have been asked to put together a presentation for a conference, VVIN in The Hague: the evolution of translation technology over the years and how it has affected our industry.

I launched myself into Wikipedia (how can you not?) and did a bit of general web research. I am still no expert! And it was interesting to see for how long there have been attempts at creating a technology that can speed up the translation process. Machine translation has been around since the 50s, and the concept of translation memory has been also been around since the 70s.

Yet it took a while to have a commercially viable product. From what I could see, Trados was possibly the first translation productivity tool available. When it comes to machine translation, although it has been around for quite some time it is only in the last few years that it has started to deliver better quality results.

Meanwhile around us some key forces have helped the translation industry grow:

  • Globalization: trading has been going on for a very long time in the world. I am always amazed to see how ancient civilizations, which appear to be geographically remote from each other, were already trading thousands of years ago, but what has happened since the 80s is extraordinary. The amount of global trade has sky rocketed and has grown from a few billion (I know still a lot) to 20 trillion! Interestingly, the introduction of containerization in freight transport seems to have been a big driver in the 60s and 70s and we can see the impact on global trade all the way up to today. We went from 5 trillion USD worth of global merchandise trade in the early 80s to almost 20 trillion USD of these days. This is a phenomenal increase.
  • Internet: we have all witnessed the exponential growth of internet communication, from the 90s it has gone from having a few million users to the current 2.7 Billion. When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, he couldn’t have predicted how phenomenal the usage would be.
  • Digital content: this boomed later than the Internet, it is only from 2005 to 2006 that we have started to see unimaginable levels of growth in the amount of digital content in the market.

Do these changes matter to the translation industry?

Of course. Companies started to enter more markets, consumers had access to large amounts of information and to top it all purchasing behaviours changed, with pre-purchase online content and comparison being almost more important than physically seeing a product.

The internet has introduced a global marketplace. This has meant that more than ever content creators have to translate larger volumes of content in more languages to reach people all over the world.

Keeping up with the huge amount of content is difficult and technology can certainly play a part in helping delivery of this translated content.

The world of translation memory has changed, but, interestingly, not conceptually in any dramatic way. If I look at our own SDL Trados Studio – the key principles of translation memory and terminology are still the pillars that drive the productivity. Of course we have added a lot of very important and productivity features over the years, as we focus on making the tool more speedy, simpler to use and increasingly agile. But it is only in the last couple of years that I have seen a more significant change in productivity and that is through the convergence of different technologies and the introduction of post-editing.

Talking to people in the industry, this is a hot topic. Hot in both a good and a bad way. I think there are many things that still need to be sorted out by the industry, in particular rates and how to calculate the amount of work. On the other hand, post-editing as a practice and the combination of CAT tools and machine translation is more accessible to everyone than ever before. Given how much the world is changing – whether we like the changes around us or not – I think there is room for post-editing as a practice to help and drive translation of more languages and more content.

As Trados turns 30, I see how translation technology can evolve further and the possibilities that are offered by our latest release and its combination with our cloud solutions. SDL Language Cloud which enables users to access machine translation, industry specific engines and the ability to customize the results with dictionaries, demonstrates how the convergence of different technologies can lead to increased productivity. If we can find the appropriate way to reward the effort entailed in post-editing content, we will hopefully have the chance to see websites not just translated into 5 languages but perhaps into 10, 15 or more languages… instruction manuals might not be confined to English and Italian anymore, but perhaps localized into every target market languages and small to medium companies might have the opportunity to grow their international foot print even further while delivering a consistent customer experience.

So Happy Anniversary to Trados

So Happy Anniversary to Trados, and more importantly a thank you to all the customers who have worked with us over the years and all the people in the industry who have collaborated with and supported us and our predecessors to help us shape and improve translation technology so that multilingual communication can increase further into the future.

These are just some of my personal thoughts… What do you think will happen to the language industry? Is there any technology you think can transform how we work in different ways? Are there other factors that can affect us? Is there another revolution like the Internet waiting to happen?

Watch the video below for further reflection or join the Trados is 30 celebrations online.

Trados 30th Anniversary Discussion