To Align Or Not To Align Translators and computers translation jobs
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To Align Or Not To Align

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For those who don't know what alignment is, I'll take a stab at explaining: in the context of most computer-assisted translation tools, alignment refers to the process of selecting file pairs in the source and target language that were translated outside of a translation memory environment, matching all the segments (sentences, headings, etc.), and creating a translation memory database from those matches. The resulting translation memory can then be applied to translate similar or identical texts. SDLX, Trados, Star Transit, and Déjà Vu all contain alignment modules in some or all configurations. At first glance, alignment seems like a great process that anyone starting to use a translation memory tool should do to build up a nice translation memory database.

True, alignment is indeed a helpful process, but it's often misused. I've encountered many situations where new users (both freelance and corporate) became so enamored with the idea of using alignment to "magically" turn their existing translation materials into one large translation memory, that they spent days or weeks devoting their time to this task and in the process became so frustrated with the use of their new tool that they laid it aside completely. The reason that alignment is often (and correctly) perceived as a tedious process is its manual nature. Although each of the alignment modules in the above-mentioned tools applies well-chosen parameters to the alignment "suggestions," they all have to be verified, and -- as anyone knows who has done alignment before -- often fixed. The parameters are typically punctuation and paragraph markers, repetitions, and non-linguistic matches such as numbers, abbreviations, etc. This can go a long way toward making correct matches, but it often requires user intervention. Typical cases where manual changes are required are differences in sentence delimitation (one sentence in the source becomes several in the target or the other way around), shifts in the order of segments, different use and/or placement of footnotes, index markers, etc.

With all these difficulties, why would alignment still be a helpful process? Alignment can be a very powerful tool if you have specific sets of already translated documents that correspond closely to new documents that now have to be translated. The amount of time you can save and the level of consistency and quality you can achieve by aligning the existing documents and using that as the basis for your translation can be immense, and there's simply no reason not to go that route. But for other documents, unless you can hire someone else to do mass alignment of existing materials (someone with the odd combination of being both cheap and well-qualified…), I would strongly advise you to build up your translation memory database by simply performing translation in the tool of your choice and adding material to your translation memory segment by segment.




© International Writers' Group. Excerpt from the Tool Kit Newsletter, a biweekly newsletter for people in the translation industry who want to get more out of their computers. For more information see

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