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Translation Tools Today

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For centuries, the job of a translator was a coplex and solitary task. In addition to being fluent in more than one languages, translators were expected to be editors, academic researchers, experts in any number of fields, and graphics designers. Luckily today, there are countless tools to help simplify the process. By stripping translation down to the bare essentials, translators can focus on their craft and avoid the tedious aspects that bogged down the process in the past. And some tools can even make it a social experience! Here are some of the more popular translation tools today that have helped take the mystery out of translation:

General Translation Tools

Because so much text is both created and displayed digitally now, translations for printed text are becoming more and more of a thing of the past. Translation for text in mobile apps, websites, and software is a huge part of the industry, and has its own unique challenges. Rather than translating complete sentences and paragraphs, text is more frequently broken up into small chunks (or "strings"), many of which may be confusing or even impossible to translate without the right context.

Additionally, each medium that text is presented in may have its own structured format for storing the original text and its translations. Apple iOS apps for iPhone, for instance, may use a ".strings" file with a simple left/right original/translation format, while Android apps may use a specialized XML format that required nested tags of text and translations. Without the right tools, a specialized technical background would be needed to translate projects such as this.

Luckily, developers realized that translators don't necessarily have the same technical background they do, and most formats have specialized tool to help simplify the process, and even provide context, without the translator having to even see the original code, much less understand it.

One of the most popular formats for translating apps is the GNU "Gettext" format, which has strings and translations stored in specially-formatted files with a .po extension. Opening the .po file in a regular text editor might be a bit confusing for some, which is why the Poedit translation suite was developed. It displays the text in an easy-to-understand format and allows for what the developers call a "distraction-free approach," allowing translators to work faster. Once the translations are complete, the program will save them back into the file, formatted correctly and ready for the developer to use.

Other platforms and formats have their own specialized tools as well, which work in a similar fashion. Apple .strings files, for example, can be edited with the Localization Suite software, and Google has released its own online solution for translating Android apps called Google Translator Toolkit.

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Crowdsourced Translation Tools

While translation is typically considered an individual pursuit, with one translator localizing and entire project by him- or herself, lately there have been advances in social translation, or "crowdsourced" translation, where any number of translators work independently in individual segments of text which are then pieced back together into a whole, completed translation.

One of the more successful platforms for this kind of translation work is Ackuna. Developed specifically for translating apps, developers can upload their original text files regardless of format. Ackuna then parses the files for strings and displays them on its site. Thousands of volunteer translators then can see the text an translate it directly on the site, without ever having to download any specialized software or needing to know any of the technology it's working with, or even what platform the text will eventually end up on. Once the traslations have been submitted and voted on, the top translations are selected and placed back into the original file for the developers to plug in.

Some systems mentioned above work in this fashion as well. Google's Translator Toolkit, for example, allows multiple translaotrs and editors to be assigned to a project, where they can collaborate online and send question and comments to one another, as well as the developer, in order to provide the most accurate transltaion for the given text.

Cloud and Machine Translation Tools

Cloud translation is a modern system of translation which hopes to bridge the gap between machine and traditional tranlation, ideally combining the speed of machine translation with the accuracy of the traditional. Cloud translation works by first translating the text by machine, then having human translators compare the original text and the translation and edit them for accuracy.

Translation Cloud operates in this fashion, working much like Ackuna, but with the added step of machine translation. Translators can choose to mark the translation as correct, submit their own, or vote on translations submitted by other translators.

Other systems work on this premise as well. The popular language-learning site Duo Lingo not only teaches users a new language, but also works as a translation platform in the backgrond. As users get more advanced, they are shown increasingly complex text to translate and be graded on, some of which may be news articles or academic texts. It works on the assumption that, if enough people agree on a translation, it is probably corect. An interesting way of killing two birds with one stone!

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