This report contains a summary of the results of a survey of 171 translators working with the Japanese language. The survey was carried out in May 2007, and investigated aspects of the usage of computer and communications technology in their work.
In preparation for a presentation on Japanese Translation and the Computer to the International Japanese English Translation (IJET) Conference in Bath (UK) in June 2007, the author carried out a survey of translators working with Japanese to determine the usage of computers, communications and online services in their work, the changes in that usage over time, and their opinions on various aspects of the interaction of computers and related technology with their work.
The survey was carried out over a three-week period in May 2007 using a WWW-based system developed by the author. (The questionnaire can be seen at: http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/enquete.) Invitations were issued on the Honyaku mailing list, which is a major discussion forum for people working in Japanese translation, with the request that the invitation be passed on to other related mailing lists within national translation associations, such as JAT (Japan), ATA/JLD (USA) and ITI/J-NET (UK).
171 usable responses were received to the questionnaire. This report summarizes the information provided in those responses.
The initial questions were to determine a broad profile of the respondents; their nationality, country of residence, length of time translating, etc. The results are summarized in the following tables.
|Country of Residence||49||20||74||9||3||2||1||9|
|Time translating||0-2 years||3-5 years||6-10 years||> 10 years|
|Working Mode||In-house||Freelance||Mix of in-house/ freelance|
|Translation Direction||from Japanese||into Japanese||a mix|
Of the 36 respondents who reported translating in both directions, 13 were Japanese nationals for whom the average proportion of translation into English was 46%. The other 23 reported translating into English an average of 81% of the time.
|Translation as an Occupation||Sole Occupation||Main Occupation||Second Occupation|
A wide range of other occupations were reported, among which teaching (Japanese and other languages), editing/proof-reading, and consulting were the most common.
Respondents were asked for the Operating System they used, the age of the computer they while translating, and the average expenditure on computer-related facilities in recent years.
|Operating System (Primary Computer)||Windows||Macintosh||Linux/Unix|
|Operating System (Secondary Computer)||None||Windows||Macintosh||Linux/Unix|
|Computer-related Expenditure||Hardware||Software||Electronic Dictionaries||Internet Connection||Other|
|Number of Respondents||147||139||80||150||78|
|Average Annual Expenditure ($US)||1967||844||393||730||501|
Respondents were asked for the approximate percentages of documents they received in various forms and media, and for comments on any changes in the patterns of format and media in recent years.
|Delivery method media||Hard-copy - mail||Hard-copy - facsimile||Electronic copy - email||Electronic copy - disk/CDROM/etc.||Other|
|Respondents for media type (%)||15.8||8.5||85.7||17.8||18.6|
|Electronic Documents - file types||Word-processing||Spreadsheet||Database||Presentation||WWW page||Plain text||Other|
|Respondents for file type (%)||58.8||41.5||15.2||15.0||9.8||10.2||6.5||15.3|
Comments from respondents included:
Respondents were asked about their use of dictionaries and glossaries, including usage patterns of paper dictionaries, electronic dictionaries and online dictionaries.
|Paper Dictionary usage||Rarely use||Use but less than before||Use just as much as before||Use is increasing||Only use|
Paper dictionaries mentioned by respondents included: Kenkyusha JE - 4th and 5th editions (45 mentions), Nelson (28), Daijirin (9), Kojien (6), The Kanji Dictionary (5). In addition some domain-specific dictionaries were mentioned several times, such as Blacks (law) and Stedman (medicine).
|Electronic dictionary usage||Rarely use||Use but less than before||Use just as much as before||Use is increasing||Only use|
The local-file-based electronic dictionaries which were mentioned most often included the Kenkyusha JE 5th edition (24 mentions), Eijiro (17), EDICT (16), Kôjien (11) and Daijirin (5). The Jamming package was mentioned quite often as a client for searching dictionaries. Most popular among the hand-held dictionaries were models by Seiko (13 mentions), Canon (11) and Sharp (3).
|Online dictionary usage||Rarely use||Use but less than before||Use just as much as before||Use is increasing|
The dictionary server which was mentioned most often was Eijiro/ALC with 81 mentions, i.e. almost half the respondents. The other sites which were often mentioned were WWWJDIC (41), Glova (34), Kenkyusha (16), Goo (8), Jeffrey's (8) and Yahoo (6). A wide range of subject-specific online glossaries were mentioned, although no single glossary dominated.
Finally, respondents were asked to assess their overall use of dictionaries (as opposed to other sources of information).
|Overall dictionary usage||Declining||Staying much the same||Increasing|
A series of questions were asked to determine the use of WWW searches, mailing-list archives, etc. as an aide to translation.
|Use of WWW search engines||Never||Occasionally||Often||Very regularly||Many times a day|
|Usefulness of WWW in translation||No use||Limited||Quite useful||Very useful||Indispensable|
|WWW usage over time||Decreasing||Same level||Increasing|
|Mailing list archive usage||Never||Occasionally||Often||Very regularly||Many times a day|
|Mailing list archive usefulness||No use||Limited||Quite useful||Very useful||Indispensable|
Respondents were asked if they searched any other corpora. Less than a third nominated such corpora, with searches of prior translations being the most commonly mentioned, followed by Wikipedia.
A series of questions was targetted at the use of Translation Memory Systems, including patterns of usage, reasons for use, productivity gains, and issues of exchange of memory contents.
|TM Usage||never||occasionally||quite often||almost every job|
|Years of TM Use||0-2 years||3-5 years||6-10 years||more than 10 years|
|% (of TM-using respondents)||45.9||33.8||17.6||2.7|
Respondents were asked which TM systems they used, ranking from most commonly-used. Most used only one system.
|TM System||Trados||SDLX||Wordfast||OmegaT||Deja Vu||TransAssist|
Other TM systems mentioned included Metatexis, Wordfisher, Heartsome and StarTransit.
|Reasons for TM Use||Required by Client||Expect productivity improvement||Experiment to see if it helps||Build memory for topic||Always use a TM|
|Observed productivity improvement||less than 10%||10-25%||25-50%||over 50%|
|Client-supplied TM memory||no assistance||some assistance||moderate assistance||significant assistance|
|TM Portability - aware of standards development||not at all||vaguely aware||recall the occasional article||following with considerable interest|
|TM Portability - will assist?||not at all||to a small extent||quite a bit||very significantly|
Respondents were asked to list features they felt would significantly improve Translation Memory systems. Many listed basic aspects of TM packages, such as:
Desirable features mentioned included:
The degree to which respondents were using MT systems, or working at editing machine translations was examined, along with perceptions of MT quality.
|Use MT systems||Never||Occasionally||Regularly|
|Edit machine translations||Never||Occasionally||Regularly|
|Current MT quality||Don't know||Very poor||Marginal||quite good|
|Improved in recent years?||Don't know||No signs of improvement||Slight improvement||Getting significantly better|
|Is MT a future threat to human translators?||never||in a few restricted areas||generally, but quality and rewriting still needed||we will all be displaced eventually|
Respondents were also asked to name up to three machine translation systems which worked into or out of Japanese. The names given were indicative of the issues of brand identity in commercial translation software. Babelfish was named 14 times, Alta Vista 4 times and Systran 4 times - in fact all of these use the same translation system (Systran), as did Google's translation function (6 mentions) until recently. The Fujitsu ATLAS system was mentioned 10 times, but no other commercial translation packages each received more than a single mention.
Respondents were given the opportunity to express their opinions and expectations on various aspects of computers and translation. The categories in which view were sought were: technologies which have had the greatest impact on work as a translator; technologies which have not lived up to expectations; developments which could have a significant impact on translation work; and developments which could threaten work as a translator.
A wide range of responses was received. Many reflected the particular circumstances of the respondent, with the more senior translators nominating "the computer", adding such things as "I started out using a typewriter". Clearly the Internet and related applications have had a huge impact on many aspects of translators' work.
The most frequently-mentioned technologies are summarized in the following table. (* Note that for many people the terms "WWW" and "Internet" are interchangeable.)
|Technology/ facility||Internet(*)||WWW(*)||WWW Search Engines||Online dictionaries & glossaries||Computers/ PC||TM systems|
|No. of responses||86||38||55||47||28||23||19|
|Technology/ facility||Word processors||Voice input||Online documents & databases||Wikipedia||OCR||GUI OS interfaces||FTP|
|No. of responses||13||10||8||4||4||4||4|
Not surprisingly, responses in this section largely focussed on machine/online translation (36 mentions) and translation memory/computer aided translation systems (29 and 7 respectively.) Views on translation memory systems are varied, with some respondents thinking they are improving, and others thinking they are not.
Of the remainder, voice input/recognition (8) and electronic dictionaries (7) were the highest, the latter receiving comments about lack of flexibility and integration. Others included collaborative translation management software (3) and Japanese OCR (3).
A wide spread of responses was made in this section:
Other topics mentioned included: improved OCR, better online searching, more useful databases such as Eijiro and Wikipedia, more online texts, better online dictionaries, and greater English-language skill in client areas.
Approximately half the respondents did not see any particular threat to their work. Of the listed threats, the most-mentioned was the rise of low-price competition, especially from India and China (32 mentions), although 3 respondents doubted its impact. Increased use of MT (18) and better TM systems (10) were the other commonly mentioned threats. Others mentioned included: global crisis/war (6), relative decline of Japan, a rise in English skills, more restrictive IP laws, and theft of intellectual property such as glossaries and memories.
While the survey reported in this document cannot be regarded as wholly representative of the community of translators working with Japanese, as its distribution was primarily to those already working in online communities, it does provide valuable insights into the positions and opinions of a relatively large group of "computer savvy" translators.
In many ways the results confirm and reinforce the impressions formed by practitioners and observers of the translation profession that the impact of computer and communication technology has been dramatic over the last 15 years, with virtually every aspect of the industry seeing some change.
The author of the survey was mildly surprised at the relatively low level of translation memory usage reported, which when combined with the critical comments made by many respondents, indicates that for many translators either the benefits of translation memories are often overstated, or the hurdles to their use (price, training, complexity of interface, document interface problems, etc.) outweigh the advantages.
The comments made by the respondents throughout the survey are valuable, and indicate that the community surveyed is very alive to the issues associated with the business and technological environment of translation.
The author expresses his gratitude to the many translators who took the time to complete the questionnaire so frankly, and to Marc Adler, Ryan Ginstrom and James Sparks who reviewed the questionnaire prior to its release.