Monday, June 20, 2016

The trouble with Memsource

A major customer of ours recently switched from SDL Trados Studio to Memsource.

I don't know why our customer (a translation agency) chose Memsource. Probably a mix of several reasons, including that no software needs to be installed, since Memsource works in the cloud. Also, they can peddle it to translators as a "free" tool.

Memsource may be suitable for simple projects, but for more complicated ones and for advanced users it suffers from several serious drawbacks.

The most serious is that in the free version of Memsource you can't use your own memories and termbases—the program lets you work only on projects prepared by translation agencies, and only using the resources selected by them. Possible solutions to this are:
  • Upgrade to a paid version of Memsource, in which case you can add your own memories and termbases to a project. 
  • Load your translation memories and termbases in Xbench (or a similar tool), and use Xbench to search them. If you do this, however, you can use your resources only for reference—Xbench doesn't offer any automatic way to add new segments to a memory. Also, this workaround needs extra steps, so it slows you down.
  • Use a different program (such as memoQ) to translate your Memsource projects. Yet, if you do so, while you can use your own memories, you lose access to Memsource's ones. 
Another problem is that sometimes Memsource is painfully slow, even on a fast Internet connection. In certain segments of a recent project, 9-10 seconds passed between the moment I hit a key and the time the corresponding character appeared—this meant typing blind. When I complained about this to Memsource support, they told me the segments in question contained joins, tags, and were long, and this slowed online processing. I believe this speaks volumes about the limitations of the tool, although, to be fair, a Memsource representative told me they know of this bug and are working to correct it.

Memsource looks and acts like a stripped-down version of more powerful tools. This might be good for those who feel overwhelmed by too many choices, but experienced translators miss the advanced features they expect from professional translation tools. The first flaws that come to mind are:
  • Far fewer find and replace options than memoQ or Studio; 
  • Find and replace in memoQ, Studio and Memsource
    Find and replace in memoQ, Studio and Memsource
  • No such thing as memoQ's LiveDocs and Muses, or the wealth of added features SDL offers through the Open Exchange;
  • Limited segment filtering when compared with memoQ or Studio—for example, no regular expressions in the filters;
  • No auto-complete in the desktop editor;
  • Fixed screen layout. You cannot increase the size of the lower panes (CAT, Search, Changes). The little you can change, such as moving the panes from the right of the screen to the left, you can't save: next time you reopen the program, the panes are back where they started.
  • No way to show tracked changes inline in the Memsource editor—you can only see the differences in the Change pane, and that is not enough.
The lack of advanced features, the occasional slowness, and the fact you either cannot use your own memories and termbases or have to rely an external tool to search them, means that Memsource makes you less productive. According to our estimate, confirmed by what other colleagues say, we suffer a 30% drop in productivity when we work in Memsource instead of memoQ or Studio.

The supposed advantages of using Memsource

If Memsource was all bad, nobody would use it. So, what advantages does Memsource offer?

According to a Memsource representative, the main advantages are that it's cloud based, that it allows simultaneous access by several people to the same translation memory, and that for translators it's free.

Let's look more closely at these claims.

For translation companies, using a cloud-base tool may offer an enticing benefit: no need to install anything locally, and no need to migrate data when changing from one version of a program to a newer one, thus avoiding the risks associated with such migrations—though I wonder if these risks, far from being cut out, are instead passed to Memsource and to their staff in charge of the cloud servers.

Also, a cloud based tool means that project managers can work on the program remotely, even without personal computers: they can create and manage projects using a tablet or even a smartphone. I doubt, though, whether trying to create and manage projects using smartphones would be wise.

For translator teams and for translation companies another claimed advantage is that Memsource allows simultaneous read and write to the same memory in real time. I normally work on projects where I am the sole translator or editor, so this isn't much of a benefit for me. Even for projects with multiple translators, though, updating the same memory in real time can lead to fast spreading of undetected errors. Better to wait until a job has been edited and proofread before sharing the memory with others. Project managers may set up memories in Memsource so that only translations that have been reviewed and corrected are shared with others, but in my experience many project managers either are unaware of this feature, or choose not to use it.

Memsource is "free" for translators.
  • This is irrelevant for translators who have already paid for tools they have chosen themselves, and, if you wish to use you own translation memories and termbases in Memsource, you have to pay. A way to sweeten the deal for more experienced translators would be for Memsource to allow using a translator's own memories and termbases even in the free version.
  • A "free" tool is a real advantage only for beginners or occasional translators, who might be reluctant to pay at the start of their career for a more powerful program. Still, even if you are a beginner or occasional translator, relying on a tool that prevents you from building up and using your own translation memories is, in the long run, self-defeating. In fact, I think that beginners would be better served by other free tools—from OmegaT to Wordfast Anywhere—since they allow you to keep control of your own resources.
Overall, working in Memsource feels as I imagine a carpenter would feel if, after assembling during his career a rich set of specialized and high-end tools, his customers demanded that he use instead the simplest tools available at a dollar store and suitable only for the occasional user.

The developers at Memsource know that they still have much work to do: they started development only a few years ago, so more mature tools such as Déjà Vu, Studio or memoQ have a huge head start on them. But until Memsource catches up with its competitors, there isn't much in the program to appeal to professional translators.

Monday, June 13, 2016

How to increase your chances when contacting prospects: don't boast of obsolete software

A couple of years ago I wrote 15 tips on how to increase your chances when contacting translation companies (an article that was later followed by a response from a translation company: How to increase your chances when contacting translation companies - from a translation agency’s point of view)

Another suggestion I think some translators might find useful:

16. If you use obsolete software, don't advertise that.

I've just received a message that, among other things, proudly announced that this translator uses as software tools Microsoft Office 2007 suite, Adobe Acrobat 9 Standard, and Trados Studio 2011.
  • Office 2007 is nine years old, and Microsoft has since released three new version: 2010, 2013, and 2016 (and also Office 365). 
  • Acrobat 9 is eight years old, and also has been superseded by three new versions: 10, 11 e DC (in 2010, 2012, and 2015), 
  • Studio 2011 is five years old, and has been superseded by two new versions: 2014 e 2015.

If old programs still work for you, fine, but don't highlight the fact that you are not updating your software: to a potential customer this suggests that you might not be able to handle newer file formats, and also that your system might not be fully protected against malware (if you are still using software that old, it might be reasonable to assume that your antivirus or firewall also is not up to date).

Maybe you religiously update all your antimalware, and keep using old programs because they just work. If that is so, and still want to say that you use certain programs, don't mention the actual version number, and just say you use Office, Acrobat and Studio. You won't be actually telling a lie, and your prospects might assume that you are using the very latest versions of each program. 

A better option, of course, would be to keep your software up to date.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Quick Tips: How to translate a MemSource project using memoQ

Recently a major customer of ours changed from using SDL Trados Studio to using MemSource, an online CAT tool. Our customer probably has good reasons for switching to the new tool, but for a translator accustomed to more powerful CAT tools, using MemSource has a downside: many of the functions we have come to rely on are missing.

I will probably write more about MemSource in the future. For now a quick workaround if you find yourself having to translate a project in MemSource but would much rather use memoQ instead - for instance, because you find that MemSource lacks some feature you love in memoQ, or more simply because you find that MemSource is slowing you down.
  1. Log in to the MemSource cloud, accept your project, pretranslate it, and download it as a bilingual .mxliff file (just as you would if you wanted to translate using the MemSource desktop editor).
  2. Open your .mxliff file in the MemSource desktop editor. Join or split all segments that need to be joined or split (Important: do this in the MemSource editor - don't wait to do this operation in memoQ: you might end up with a translated file that doesn't load cleanly in MemSource). Save your file.
  3. Open memoQ. Create a new project, and add to it your .mxliff file. When adding your document select "All files" (don't select "All supported files" or "XLIFF files": memoQ doesn't yet recognize the .mxliff extension, but correctly handles .mxliff files once loaded).
Select "All files" to import the .mxliff file
Select "All files" to import the .mxliff file
  1. In Document Import Options, change the filter from "Unknown" to "Xliff".
Select "XLIFF filter"
Select "XLIFF filter"
  1. At this point you'll have successfully imported your file in memoQ, but you'll see that all the MemSource tags are unprotected. You need to use memoQ's Regex Tagger to protect them.
  2. First, identify all types of MemSource tags in your document. You can do that by simply filtering your source text searching for the character "{". Once you have identified your tags, clear your filter (otherwise the Regex tagger won't work).
  3. Go to the Preparation ribbon. Select Regex Tagger. In Tag current document you'll have to add the rules to correctly protect the MemSource tags. The rule for protecting the {b> (begin of bold text) tag, for example, will be \{b>. A more efficient rule that works for {b>, {bu>{i> and {u> would be \{[a-z]{1,2}>. Repeat, adding all the different types of tags you have in your document. 
Use Regex Tagger to protect the MemSource tags
Use Regex Tagger to protect the MemSource tags
  1. Save your configuration (to tag future projects). 
You are done. You can now translate your MemSource project in memoQ. At the end export your translation, test it by loading it in the MemSource Desktop editor, and from it upload it to the MemSource cloud server.

Bear in mind that if you choose to translate your MemSource projects this way, you won't have access in memoQ to the translation memories and termbases added to the project by your project manager: you'll be working exclusively with the local memories and termbases you have added yourself in memoQ.

Weather that is an acceptable solution for you (and for your client) is up to you.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

A step back to the past: translating without a CAT

I'm working on a large translation project. Legal documents, scanned pdf files, not really suitable for OCR (too many stamps, signatures and handwritten text). The documents are repetitive, but without major blocks of identical text, although a few occasional sentences appear almost unchanged on different parts of different files.

This is exactly the kind of project (minus the "scanned pdf, not really suitable for OCR" part) that CAT tools were invented for. I'm translating these documents with the pdf open on the left of the screen, and MS Word on the right. My fingers itch for the concordance and filter shortcuts, but that is not possible here: I cannot really search the source (although there is a way to do it... more about that later), and while I can search the files I have already translated, I cannot perform a real concordance search.

This is the way we all translated up to a little over twenty years ago, when CAT tools were first introduced. Even without CAT tools, though, I enjoy a much larger and clear screen, a more modern word processor, and a fast Internet connection for looking up references. Still, it feels like going back almost to the days of pen and paper. I know that there are translators who still work this way, who refuse to use CAT tools, and who maintain that the only translation memory they need is the one they have between their ears. The only thing I can say is that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that they should give CAT tools a try.

If you are accustomed, like me, to work on most projects using CAT tools, there are still a few things you can do if you find yourself faced with a large project to be completed using just a word processor.
  • If you know there are words, phrases and sentences that repeat themselves throughout the project, you can speed up things using a text expander program. MS Word includes similar functionality, but I prefer to use an external tool to have more control on what I do. In my case I use AutoHotkey. This scripting program allows me to create pairs of triggers and sentences. For example I can add to my triggers "<PBC", which then expands to "Provincia della Columbia Britannica." If you use a text expander, pay attention not to use as trigger a combination of letters that could appear normally in your writing, otherwise you risk getting garbage words: if you use the trigger "PR" as a shortucut for "Provincia" but then try typing "professionista", you end up with the garbage word "Provinciaofessionista". That is the reason I always add the "<" character at the beginning of my triggers.
  • Even If I cannot use CAT tools on this kind of project, I can still use translation memories and glossaries: I load them in Xbench, and use it as a search engine. I can even use Xbench shortcuts to highlight text in MS Word and transfer it to the Search box in Xbench.
  • Scanned pdf files are not normally searchable... at least not with a free pdf reader. The Pro versions of modern pdf tools, however, include OCR. So if you have Nitro Pro, for example, it indexes your scanned pdf files if their quality is good enough; you can then search them. The results won't be perfect, but better than nothing. Nitro Pro is pricey ($ 160 for the desktop version), but for a one-off project you can download the free trial version: this is exactly what I've done for this project. If you find the Pro version of Nitro useful (besides OCR, it offers a bunch of other functions), you may well decide to pay for it: it depends on how often you have to deal with scanned pdf files.
  • If you can put all your translation in a single file, MS Word search is excellent, but what if you have to create a separate word file for each of the many source files? What can you do, for example, if you want to know if you have used a certain term in previous files? In a CAT tool you can do that easily, either using the search function or, better, using filters. You can do the same on MS Word files using specialized search tools. In my case, to search the .docx files I created for this project, I used FUNDUC's Replace Studio Pro. If you decide to give Replace Studio Pro a try, read carefully the section of the help file devoted to searching and replacing in docx files. Replace Studio Pro works on many kinds of files, including .docx files. If you have to search in old-style .doc files, though, you need to use Word Search and Replace, a freeware utility again by FUNDUC. Be aware that searching in multiple MS Word files using an external tool is easy enough, but if you want to replace words you have to tread carefully, in order not to damage your files: if you damage them, MS Word might no longer be able to open them.

So, if you find yourself stuck with old-style files that cannot be translated easily in a CAT tool (some CAT tools try to give their users the ability to work even with scanned pdf files), you still have at your disposal a wealth of useful options to help you: no need to be stuck with the primitive techniques we used a quarter of a century ago.

After working for three days on this project, all I can say is that I'm amazed, in hindsight, that in the bad old days we were able to translate more than a thousand words a day. CAT tools are real time savers, and they do wonder for the consistency of our translations. They don't translate better for us, but they help us be better and more productive.