Icebreaker 27, December 2017

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Welcome to the December 2017 issue of Icebreaker, the STP newsletter

Christmas is just around the corner and however you celebrate the season, STP wishes you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2018.

In this edition of Icebreaker, we celebrate moving to new offices in Bulgaria while at the same time being honoured with an award for employee wellbeing. We meet Joachim Bowin, one of our Swedish Account Linguists, who dreams of being a rock star. We explore the increasingly sophisticated world of machine translation, and we delve into the peculiarly Nordic tradition of moose hunting.

Company News

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Staff wellbeing and Bulgaria’s big move

We have two pieces of Company News in this edition of Icebreaker.

Firstly, after months of meticulous planning, STP founder and executive chairman, Jesper Sandberg, officially opened our spacious new office in Varna, Bulgaria.

The office remains in the same building as it was before, but since our growing Bulgarian team was fast running out of room, we made the decision to relocate to the ground floor. Now, the team can spread out over 200 square metres of bright, modern, open-plan office space complete with separate kitchen and meeting room.

The new office is easily commutable by public transport, has plenty of parking, and a broad selection of shops, markets and eateries nearby.

We are also very proud to announce that STP has been recognised as a top employer in Adaptive Globalization’s Best Employers in Localization Awards (BELA 2017). In the under $25 million revenue division, STP was named Best LSP for Employee Wellbeing and runner up Best LSP for Employee Benefits.

The win comes on top of glowing results from last year’s Staff Satisfaction survey which revealed that 96% of staff would recommend STP as a good place to work, 98% believed that employees are treated with respect, 92% believed they have the opportunity for professional development and growth and 80% would choose to stay with STP even if they were offered a similar job with slightly higher pay at another company.

For the full story, click here.

Staff Spotlight

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Q&A: Joachim Bowin, Swedish Account Linguist

In this month’s Staff Spotlight we meet Joachim Bowin, our pancake-loving Swedish Account Linguist and Rolling Stones fan. Joachim has lived in the UK for two years and joined STP in March.

Which languages do you speak?

Swedish, English and a little bit of Russian. I am also picking up some Norwegian, Danish and Finnish as I work in a team with members from all these countries.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A Rock ‘n’ Roll star.

How did you first hear about STP?
I did some research on available work for Swedes in the UK when I moved to England two years ago. A Google search showed that STP is a company with a great reputation among both its in-house staff and its freelancers.

What does it mean to be an Account Linguist?

Being an Account Linguist means multitasking at the highest level, since the role includes project management, translation and revision. The most exciting part is the Sherlock Holmes part of it. With all the research involved, you invariably learn so many things you didn’t know before.

If you could do any other job for a week, what would it be?
That’s easy! Playing the drums in the Rolling Stones.

If you were only allowed to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pancakes of course. Complete with their endless variety of toppings!

Do you have any hidden talents?

I am a keen chef. I love to watch cooking programs but equally I love to cook. I’m also a pretty good drummer.

Who do you most admire, and why?

My wife, for obvious reasons. She still lives with me after all, so that’s pretty admirable.

Machine translation – friend or foe?
I think that machine translation is the best thing since sliced bread. It makes the translation work easier by, for example, showing the terminology that the client wants to use. The longer you work for a client the better and more consistent the translation becomes. So, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Any advice for new translators starting out in the industry?
I would advise new translators to dedicate themselves to becoming an expert in a specialised area, such as finance, medical or IT, but also to challenge themselves with new things every day. You can be a specialist and still be knowledgeable in other areas.

Industry Issues

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MT and NMT – what’s the state of play?

Sophisticated machine translation (MT) and neural machine translation (NMT) technologies are emerging in the translation industry at an ever-increasing pace. Hardly a month goes by without a tech giant announcing a new advancement or releasing a device that purports to solve the world’s translation woes.

But what is the difference between MT and NMT, and what is the state of play with each?

Statistical machine translation (SMT) has been the most widely used technology over the last decade. It uses statistical algorithms to process large volumes of data from existing translations (translation memories). Rather than just learning individual words in isolation and attempting to string them together in a meaningful way, it learns by processing so-called “n-grams”: chains of up to six linguistically linked words (rarely above four). Where it fails is when linguistic rules occur outside or at the juncture of these word chains. Basically, SMT cannot capture nuance, humour, artistic expression, cultural and political references, which are crucial to understanding.

Ask any professional translator today and they will agree that although machine translation can be impressive, it has a long way to go before we can expect it to consistently deliver acceptable results. It is therefore most widely used for what’s known as “gisting”, where the reader only expects to be able to understand the gist of the message and isn’t concerned with linguistic quality (correct grammar, semantics, idiomatic quality).

In the professional translation sector, where publication quality is expected, SMT plays a less widespread but still significant role as a productivity-enhancing tool. Rather than having to think up the full translation from scratch for each sentence, the translator instead proofreads and edits the raw machine translation output to, ideally, make it indistinguishable from a fully human-produced translation.

But now there’s a relative newcomer to the race: machine translation’s more advanced and sophisticated cousin, Neural Machine Translation (NMT).

NMT also relies on existing translation memories and statistical algorithms, but combines them with “deep learning” to emulate a human brain’s neural network. It operates on the assumption that there is a finite set of variants available for any translatable text and it calculates all the possible combinations until it identifies the best one. Finding the best one is always a work in progress and the machine, theoretically, will learn from its mistakes and improve its results with each try.

NMT is generally considered a form of artificial intelligence (AI), and a study earlier this year by Oxford University suggests that within 120 years, AI will have replaced all human jobs. However, a much more startling and impending prediction is that by 2024 technology will be able to perform translation as well as a human who is fluent in both languages but unskilled at translation, for most types of text and for most popular languages. Another prediction is that tech will be able to write a novel or short story good enough to make it to the New York Times best-seller list by 2049.

If true, this is both terrifying and awe inspiring in equal measure.

Google, Amazon, Facebook, Baidu and Microsoft are among some of the big hitters who are developing NMT systems, and it would appear that this is where the translation industry is inexorably headed. A recent report on the translation industry in 2022, by TAUS, predicted a drastically changing landscape for the coming five years as the industry adopts more and more automation in translation production and management functionalities through machine learning.

STP founder and executive chairman, Jesper Sandberg, believes the industry cannot afford to ignore the writing on the wall and must adapt and prepare to embrace the coming changes.

‘’Mine and STP’s journey with SMT started in January 2010. It would be an understatement to say I was shocked to learn back then that using machine translation was becoming a realistic prospect for professional translators, and I was apprehensive about informing our many in-house translators that STP would start using the technology as soon as possible,’’ he admitted.

Fast-forward nearly eight years, and STP now has a mature, company-wide deployment of more than 60 ever-improving SMT engines for our core languages, which our project managers and in-house translators use to aid them in their work.

Jesper said it had been a long and bumpy road with several failures and reboots along the way and with no sign of a net return on investment until the last few years.

“But these are the risks early adopters must take,” he said.

‘’Our investments in technical capacity and human skills relating to MT and post-editing have kept us in the game and may even have strengthened our market position. But I know for sure they have helped prepare us for the next big step in MT – neural.”

Nordic Focus

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You say elk, I say moose – we both mean Alces alces.

The end of autumn heralds the end of the moose hunting season in the Nordic countries. Yes, that’s a thing.

In many Nordic countries hunting moose for the table is both a time-honoured tradition and an important environmental duty. The Scandinavians, as efficient as they are, just combine the two and make the most of it.

You see, moose are extremely common in Fennoscandia because their natural predators, wolves and brown bears, are very scarce. This lack of predation makes the annual moose population explode, which has an enormous impact on the environment. That’s where humans must intervene: to cull the moose population and protect the ecology of the Scandinavian wilderness.

Moose are found in large numbers throughout Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Poland and Russia. In Sweden alone, the adult population is thought to exceed 400,000. In Finland, it’s 115,000 and in Norway 120,000. That’s a lot of hungry herbivores eating saplings, overgrazing meadows and messing up ancient water courses with their prodigious appetites.

Even in some suburban areas, it’s quite common to encounter a moose. Many Scandinavians will tell you stories of coming across one unexpectedly while jogging, walking a dog or riding their bicycle to work. Moose are so common that, last year, there were nearly 2000 moose related car accidents in Finland alone!

So, the annual moose cull is an unfortunate but necessary action, and Scandinavia-wide around 180,000 moose are hunted each year. Fortunately, the moose that are hunted never go to waste and Scandinavians have developed many traditions and delicious recipes to honour these magnificent animals.

Additionally, moose hunters must go through a rigorous training and testing regime to be able to hunt the animal legally and ethically. The harvested meat is then shared among family, friends or the wider community.

But what is a moose?

When you talk about moose to a Scandinavian, sometimes they will refer to the animal as an elk. Confusingly, elk in north America is an entirely different species of deer and look nothing like a moose. The north Americans call their elk either ‘elk’ or ‘wapiti’. They have moose too, but they call them moose. And, since British English has a close relationship with American English, people in the UK, and those who speak UK English in Europe, also call the animals moose.

If you want to get technical, and are as confused about the naming as many are, the scientific (Latin) name for what the Americans call a moose, and for the animal we are referring to here, is Alces alces.

So, next time you’re in Scandinavia and someone points out a wild moose, calls it an elk and waxes lyrically about how delicious and tender the meat is when slow cooked under an outdoor fire, you can nod wisely, enjoy the feast and know you’re doing the right thing for the environment.

STP wishes everyone a very happy Christmas, a festive New Year and a prosperous 2018.

Feedback

If you have any feedback about this issue of Icebreaker, or if you’d like to suggest a topic for a future edition, we’d love to hear from you. Please send us your thoughts and ideas by email.

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