Tuesday, 7 November 2017

2017 Portsmouth Translation Conference

In a world in which machine translation (MT) is becoming ubiquitous, the theme of the 17th Portsmouth Translation Conference “Translation and Disruption: Global and Local Perspectives” on 4 November 2017, at which MT attracted special attention, couldn’t have been more topical. It brought together translation researchers and students, language professionals and industry stakeholders, who were all keen to discuss human and the latest technological aspects of translation.


Isn’t it stunning how often the word “magic” appears in descriptions of Neural Machine Translation (NMT)? NMT already outperforms Statistical Machine Translation (SMT). However, the mechanisms of NMT are indeed so complicated that often its intricacies are not even fully understood by its developers. According to Prof. Dorothy Kenny from Dublin City University, one of the keynote speakers, the most worrying part of NMT therefore is its opacity, which opens the door to error and misuse.

Sarah Griffin-Mason, ITI chair and senior lecturer in translation studies at the University of Portsmouth, enthused us with her optimism about the future of professional translators and interpreters. Without a doubt, there will always be sectors with a need for premium suppliers. She encouraged us to make a big noise about what we humans do – what machines can’t do – and why we’re so brilliant!


The conference was rich in insights and furthered an understanding of the underlying issues of machine translation and what’s at stake for language professionals. The way forward amidst the impending disruption seems to lie in adapting appropriately to the challenges ahead. In other words, we need to work out “where we fit” – and then communicate this clearly to clients!

The 2017 Portsmouth Translation Conference focused on machine translation.

In summary, the 2017 Portsmouth Translation Conference provided a powerful glimpse into the future of translation and interpreting. I came away from it feeling passionate about my profession and confident that, despite the recent hype about Neural Machine Translation, a safe future exists for all translation and interpreting professionals who remain committed to the cause.

It was generally felt that, although machine translation might fundamentally change how we work, the overall outlook remains positive. There seemed to be a general consensus that machine translation is no longer to be looked down upon as a “dirty” activity, as it is perceived by many in the industry. Finally, it should no longer be regarded as the taboo issue that no one wants (or dares) to talk about.

The overall outlook for translation and interpreting remains positive.

You can find out more about the 2017 Portsmouth Translation Conference by looking up the hashtag #2017portxl8 on Twitter.

I've written a more in-depth article about this conference, which will appear in the January/February 2018 issue of the ITI Bulletin.

Related posts on this blog:
12/9/2017: DeepL: Tool or Threat for Translators?
10/5/2017:  Dispelling the Myths: Translation and Minimalism
27/4/2015: ITI Conference 2015
16/9/2011: Top 10 Misconceptions about Translation and the Translation Profession