Lingtech: A translation agency using machine translation
Lingtech A/S was established in 1993 with the purpose of translating patent texts for the Danish patent and trademark attorneys Hofman-Bang and Lehmann & Ree. At that time a growing number of patent applications was foreseen because of a new agreement concerning European patents. A patent is filed in English, German or French with the European Patent Office, but the new agreement required all patents to be translated into the national language of each country before filing with the relevant national authority. Thus all patents filed in Denmark must be in Danish. Lingtech was established to meet this growing demand for translations and it was decided to invest in the most advanced language technology tool, machine translation.
Already in 1991 a co-operation with Center for Sprogteknologi had been initiated and this resulted in PaTrans, an MT system customised to suit the special demands for translation of patent texts from English to Danish. PaTrans is based on the prototype from the EUROTRA project (EUROTRA is the European Community machine translation research programme running from 1982-1992). PaTrans was delivered at the end of 1993 and was soon in use at Lingtech.
Much has happened since 1993. Lingtech has grown to become one of Denmark's leading translation service providers specialising in the domains of medicine, pharmacy, IT and office automation, telecommunications, chemistry and mechanics. Lingtech's customers include some of Denmark's biggest companies and organisations and many customers from the rest of Europe. The permanent staff now amount to 15 and more than 50 associated freelances.
Language technology has always been a very important issue for Lingtech and today they use a whole range of tools, including translation memory tools, term bases and the PaTrans MT system, the latter is still a very important tool used for the greater part of English patents. "Several people here have a very strong background in language technology and that is a resource we seek to make the best of", says managing director Annelise Bech and she continues "We translate about 15 million words a year and 3.5 million are translated using PaTrans which is just around 75% of our English patent texts".
How Lingtech made implementation of MT a success
The introduction of new technology is resource demanding and this was also the case for Lingtech in connection with the implementation of MT, especially as they were pioneers within this field in Denmark. "We have made many mistakes", says Annelise Bech, "but we have learned from all of them. Today we are very realistic, critical and at the same time very open to new ideas regarding changing methods, procedures, work flows, tools etc. in order to ensure optimal production."
"We learned that willingness to change is one of the key concepts in connection with introduction of language technology and this applies to management as well as employees." Management must be prepared to make the necessary investments in training to ensure that the employees fully understand the potential and limitations of a system. Training people just to use a system is not enough in this connection, some key persons should have more in-depth understanding which is crucial in achieving full support for the project and enabling people to make the right decisions. Annelise Bech emphasises "We learned that in-depth knowledge of the system is important to improve performance of the system where this is possible and to understand and accept the errors that are inevitably made by the MT system."
"In connection with implementation of MT we involved the employees in all aspects concerning methods, procedures, workflows, improvements of the system etc. They work with the MT system every day and it is important that they feel satisfied with, and to some extent responsible for, their own working conditions. This resulted in a dedicated and very competent staff."
How Lingtech made MT a success after the implementation phase
"Working with MT is in some ways like a marriage", says Annelise Bech, "it requires patience, adjustments and maintenance". MT is a long-term investment and you cannot expect productivity to increase from the very first day. It takes time to develop the best workflow and usually the dictionaries of the MT system must also be further developed. "The first 3 to 6 months we coded many new terms for the dictionaries, but of course we still code new terms even today after 8 years as the creation of new terms is in the very nature of patent texts", says Annelise Bech.
PaTrans has also been improved in many other ways. When the system was delivered in 1993 it contained some auxiliary tools to facilitate work for the translator, e.g. a pre-editing tool that is used before translation to achieve optimal performance by the MT system. This tool e.g. allowed specification of text items that should not be translated and specification of dictionaries to be used in a particular order of priority. Since then the pre-editing tool has been expanded with several other facilities, e.g. for identification of the dictionary used in connection with translation of each term in the text, a concordance search displaying all the contexts a particular term appears in and a term proposal facility identifying potential multiword terms.
"We are always on the look-out for routines that can be performed faster by technology", says Annelise Bech, "and we still develop PaTrans with new or improved facilities at regular intervals". During the entire period Lingtech has had an ongoing co-operation with Center for Sprogteknologi, the developers of PaTrans. "Our co-operation has been very smooth and fruitful and PaTrans could never have been developed into what it is today without either party" says Annelise Bech and she explains "we have the experience and knowledge of translation methods and workflows to give qualified and realistic input, the developers, on the other hand, have the technical expertise to implement it".
Lingtech has experienced many advantages in using MT. Among the most obvious are reduced production costs per translated word and improved translation quality due to consistency in the use of terms, but other less measurable advantages have been achieved as well.
Expertise and know-how have become well-structured assets rooted in the company itself, and not just in people, making staff changes and outsourcing less problematic. Annelise Bech points out "MT has in many ways made us much more flexible. If necessary, we can deliver a high-quality product at very short notice which probably gives us some customers we would otherwise not have seen and outsourcing machine translated texts for proof-reading is much easier than outsourcing texts where not even the terminology has been established."
The PaTrans MT system has been a very profitable investment for Lingtech contributing to securing their commercial edge in the highly competitive translation industry. Of course it took an effort to get where they are today, but MT is today an important aspect of their strategic objectives. "We have learned that it is important to involve all translators actively in the implementation phase and even afterwards and to have some key persons who have in-depth knowledge of the system. In this way all translators are responsible for a smooth and efficient workflow and it creates a good foundation for the development of new ideas", and Annelise Bech stresses, "Language technology makes the work more interesting for the translator and it is definitely also interesting from a strategic point of view."
This article is based on an interview
at Lingtech A/S with managing director Annelise Bech in September 2001.
We thank her for her kind help and co-operation. For more information about
Lingtech, see www.lingtech.dk
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