In Italy the future of translation seems to be elsewhere


This article was originally published on the TAUS Blog, on October 13, 2014

Last Friday, the Goethe Institute in Rome hosted an event organized by the Italian section of the DGT, in cooperation with AITIUnilingueSTradE and Biblit, to celebrate the European Day of Languages. The event’s leitmotif was the evergreen “present and future of translation”.

The congress was aimed at translators young and old and at students who are considering a career in the field of translation.

A funny, old world

During the morning program the few joys and many woes of literary translation were discussed at length and four of the six workshops planned for the afternoon were centered (again) around the different facets of literary translation.

If the figures provided by the representatives of STradE (the Italian union of translators working in the publishing industry) are correct (source: AIE, 2012), books in translation represent a mere 20% of all the books published in Italy and the Italian publishing industry has a total turnover of some 300 million euros. If a publisher invests approximately 5% of the sales price, with a bit of math we can say that this kind of market is worth less than 2% of the total domestic market value (*).

Now I love literature and I love books (some of my best friends are (e-)books). However, as it has been repeatedly proven that translators cannot survive solely on literary translation, putting such a strong emphasis on this segment is like asking translators to believe in fairies.

There were only two workshops dedicated to specialized translation. In one of them – on the pros and cons of working with direct clients – participants were invited to suggest potential acquisition methods. The strategies proposed were all low or zero cost: luck [sic], word of mouth, a highly specialized page on or a website. Visiting trade events was considered unprofitable.

The words machine translation and post-editing were uttered a few times, revealing mostly fear due to ignorance and misinformation and showing a certain rigidity. Only when personally engaged on these topics, some of the participants I talked to vaguely started to entertain the idea of wanting to learn more.

After having read all this, you might conclude that the future of the Italian translation market looks gloomy.

Gray skies could clear up

Yet, there are a few interesting things on this stale-looking market.

You might have heard of Synthema, a company founded in 1994 by computer scientists from the IBM Research Center, which has been developing speech, semantic and translation technology for 20 years. Among their products are a terminology analysis tool – Terminology Wizard – and a RbMT engine – Petra – that cut a good figure when compared to the most popular terminology tools and MT systems.

I am sure you know MyMemory, a very large – if not the largest – translation memory available online for free. Many of the participants to the event admitted using the MyMemory repository, although copyrights, privacy and the usefulness of sharing data are still very sensitive topics.

Another interesting project being developed is MateCat, a web-based CAT tool integrating an SMT engine to offer a much-needed post-editing platform. MateCat can count on the effort of, among others, one of the major Italian LSPs.

Finally, another positive element is the great effort of Unilingue, the Italian association of LSPs. In his workshop, Mirko Silvestrini, current president both of Unilingue and of EUATC, explained the necessity for cooperation and information sharing both on business practices and on technology. In the last two years, in cooperation with the TAUS representative in Italy, Unilingue has offered its 100 members a series of workshops on topics like terminology extraction, project management, KPIs, machine translation and post-editing.

Our offer

We at TAUS are aware of how things stand and are always willing to accept an interesting challenge.

For this reason, we invite all those active on the Italian translation market to get in touch with us. Let’s start a conversation on how to improve things and move speedily toward a more exciting, productive and rewarding translation market for all parties involved.

(*) Numbers based on the 2013 report by CSA.This article was originally published on the TAUS Blog, on October 13, 2014


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