Redefining translation courses with cloud-based technologies

The word innovation is catchy, but it does not happen overnight. While university students badly need practical experience worldwide, lecturers are overloaded with academic research and administrative tasks. Language service providers (LSPs), on the other hand, are constantly searching for employees who are already familiar with translation tools and experienced in translation projects. While technology vendors tend to prioritize functionalities to make their software more capable, technology evangelists can work to bridge the gaps between the two. Technology evangelists can offer internships for students, network with academicians and talk to technology vendors with the right language. They also possess the experience LSPs require in the field. The question here is how to innovate courses on translation technologies, bringing all parties together to exchange know-how.

Community engagement

Our company, an Istanbul-based LSP, had been visiting universities and offering internships for almost a decade. We developed and used our own translation management system (TMS) for years, but after a while came to a dead end. Various computer-assisted tools were part of our everyday life, but there were often issues with managing traditional desktop-based solutions. In 2010, we started looking for a professional TMS. My main responsibility back then in the company was to compare available tools, migrate our data and train in-house staff. Management got a lot more (up to 50%) efficient from the moment of the switch onward. In 2012 we met the cloud technology vendor XTM International and switched to their platform. Integration with other tools was my major focus for at least half a year. In 2013, we white-labeled XTM’s product as Nubuto Cloud in Turkey and started marketing it. Our team visited 15 universities in five cities.

The real opportunity in Turkey is that the stakeholders of the translation industry have been actively searching for novel collaborations. LSPs, translation associations, universities and student clubs are willing to come together, address common issues, exchange information and establish partnerships. Both Translation Interpreting Association Turkey ( and Association of Translation Companies ( organize university meetings bringing different LSP representatives together and covering topics such as translation technologies, technical translation and project management. Moreover, both student clubs and university departments are actively involved in inviting new representatives into classrooms. We even had the occasion in which a student club requested training on Nubuto Cloud, coming to our office in two small groups. Professors were also contacting LSP owners to look into the possibility of long-term partnerships.

Following our visit to Istanbul Arel  University in Fall 2013, the head of  the department, Senem Öner, kindly invited us to their course in the upcoming semester titled “Translation Profession: Contemporary Practices II” that was the beginning of our pilot project. There was already a lecturer assigned to this course, and our team was there to define a real project — localization of two Nubuto Cloud manuals. While around 25 students were enrolled to this course, 15 others volunteered and regularly attended classes (Figure 1). Volunteers were assigned to a smaller project (a 15-page “Getting Started” manual) while the bigger group was to localize a 45-page advanced (albeit summarized) manual. Students were given real responsibilities, and not all of them were working on translations. They volunteered as project managers, terms experts, translators, correctors, reviewers and desktop publishing specialists within this project. We wanted to convey the message that being a translator is only one of the options available in the translation industry, and translation means a wide array of tasks squeezed into one simple word by customers. During this pilot project we were guest-lecturing in the class every other week for discussions and progress monitoring; both the lecturer and the head of the department were supervising all groups of students the other weeks.

The university had a clear idea of long-term achievements. Referring directly to Luigi Muzii’s article “A Three-Legged Table” in MultiLingual in December 2013, they wanted to incorporate the translation industry’s know-how into translation classes. It had to be project-based, including real tasks for students and introducing real issues for them to deal with. The presence of industry representatives provided the department with a real project and enabled direct contact with a so-called client (in this case, it was us) to discuss translation decisions — the extent of which was to localize basic terms and abbreviations. The result was impressive both because of the size of the volunteer group and the resulting success of the project. Unlike individual assignments, students undertook responsibility for the whole project and submitted the manual on time (before the end of the semester) and in full. Certain students stepped forward to assume greater tasks such as the full review of the terminology or the text itself. After creating an online blog, one student coordinator was sharing the news on weekly assignments and project progress with her peers.

GALA has been addressing the issue of “talent gap” for quite a while. This does not mean that universities are unable to provide students with relevant skills. It simply calls for a new collaborative environment in which stakeholders of the industry join together. And, indeed, LSPs, technology providers and integrators should help bridge the gap between students’ fundamental knowledge and the industry’s fast-growing need for new skills. Internships are definitely a good way to acquaint students with the required knowledge and skills for the industry. Additionally, students can always register for eLearning courses to join virtual classes and close existing gaps on their own. Our approach, however, was to take things a step further and be prepared to meet students in a translation class to work on real projects using actual cloud software.

Being in the cloud was definitely of great help, as it powered up accessibility and usability. We were well aware of similar practices worldwide. Among others, University College London and Middlebury Institue of International Studies at Monterey provide courses based on cloud solutions. This was the exact message that we wanted to convey to our students: what you see here is part of a global and innovative education model. Once this pilot project was a success, the department offered me a part-time position from the next semester onward, and the faculty and the dean himself joined our classes during the pilot project. GALA kindly sent letters of thanks to the students who had shown outstanding performance.


Case study from Turkey

The next semester, I was assigned to the class “Translation Profession: Contemporary Practices I.” At least two major tasks were lying ahead of me. The first one was to start procedures for software acquisition. The idea was to redefine the translation course, so we tried to opt for cloud solutions. XTM International helped us offer Nubuto Cloud for greatly reduced fees, and it is our main platform in translation classes now. We decided that one license for ABBYY Aligner 2.0 would suffice for our purposes just to give students an idea of this process. Poland-based TMS XTRF kindly accepted our request for a special one-license installation. The second task was to prepare a detailed syllabus that would incorporate these tools into weekly tasks. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies and MultiLingual magazine were chosen as the two main textual resources, and they helped me design my syllabus.

Part of this class was dedicated to readings and discussion. Once a month we had guest speakers in class covering topics such as localization, machine translation and the best practices for translation into English. To avoid dummy examples to train students on how to use translation tools, we worked on different text types to simultaneously improve translation skills. Starting translation in class, students were able to continue their work outside of class hours and complete their tasks using any device. What was originally designed as a project management dashboard and freelancer’s inbox by technology vendors turned into a lecturer’s assignment tracking panel and students’ list of weekly translation assignments. We did use certain workarounds so that the software served our purposes, but speaking IT people’s language in sending our requests enabled faster solutions. Previous experience in gathering user feedback and preparing software improvement suggestions was of much help — an advantage of assuming an in-between position between users and developers.

The architecture we have is a core module for lecturers and student coordinators, and all students within the department connect to this module as freelance subcontractors (Figure 2). Creating subcontractor accounts meant additional manual work, but it allowed us to offer individual platforms to students during their four-year program. In other words, their subscription is not limited with the assignments given by lecturers; they are free to test the software themselves and work on their own translation works. This is for non-commercial purposes, and gives certain prestige to both university and the technology provider as the former can offer a professional software license for all students and the latter can acquaint young users with their product in an earlier stage.

In addition to testing and analyzing various cloud computer-aided translation (CAT) solutions, we regularly worked on translation assignments using the cloud. A different text type was sent to students in or after classes. To let students work on the same texts and to avoid what is normally the biggest benefit of CAT tools and  translation memory matches, students were to create projects and assign themselves as translators and me as their editor, thus acquiring experience as a junior project manager. Completing their translation assignments, they were to finish their tasks within the software and send the file to the next step, thus acquiring experience as a freelance translator.

Designing weekly translation assignments in training people how to use software, I ask my students to add comments to the system for the editor’s (my) attention, download their file statistics and send them to me, take a screenshot of the quality assurance flags displayed on their page as they deliberately or inadvertently make a typo. Working on this platform helped in that no one lost any data due to any system failure, as cloud software saves progress automatically. Students received notifications about approaching deadlines, and I received notifications as students finished their translation task. What I personally liked in this approach was that no paper was wasted and I did not risk losing any paper submissions as assignments piled up. Following my corrections, students can display corrector changes in an HTML file and download this feedback form. This year’s major innovation will be using advanced language quality assurance. Apart from correcting translations, I will be categorically marking so-called errors and evaluating assignments automatically using the quality assurance calculation system. The system is fully customizable and allows administrators to redefine issue types and assign a weight for each issue — minor, major or critical. Combined with weight and compared to total word count of file, issues have correspondent penalty rates.


Using the cloud

There are three main benefits of creating a cloud-based translation course.

First, students are not limited by class hours. Cloud-based tools work on web browsers, which means that no installation is required. Put the right URL in your browser, use your login information and all your data is there. Students can access their assignments anytime and anywhere — on smartphones, tablet devices, laptops and PCs.

Secondly, all students can be given licenses instantaneously. As most cloud solutions only count “concurrent” users, you can basically create an unlimited number of users in your account. Even if you have only 20 licenses, you can simply allow all the students within your department to use your system. This way, you can redefine your curriculum, widening the scope of your course. You can also translate off-site (students will still be working on your central system) and discuss issues and challenges in class.

Thirdly, lecturers become editors within a workflow. You can design your own workflow. A student can choose the lecturer as the editor of a given assignment. The lecturer can alternatively reject a task to ask for thorough revision. A student coordinator can also be assigned as the project manager, monitor peers’ progress and report to the lecturer. As technology providers keep designing new features almost quarterly (especially those on the cloud), an integrator managing the communication between a university and a technology provider can keep lecturers and students up-to-date with these latest available functions.

As you redefine your translation class, you can also redefine your evaluation methods. Segment-based correction, color-coded corrections and categorical error marking help students grasp feedback better. This method can also eliminate disputes over evaluation itself.


Benefits of partnerships

It is all about establishing a fruitful collaboration, bringing a university, an industry representative (an LSP, a technology provider or an integrator) and a lecturer together. Being open to innovation and taking a courageous step forward are the two key requirements in any such effort. A well-framed partnership with healthy communication will update students’ knowledge; diversify universities’ fields of study; and help technology providers educate future users.

While cloud solutions boost adaptation processes, an integrator who is familiar with both technical aspects of software and everyday problems of users accelerates the establishment of innovative partnerships. It is very important to note that field experts benefit a lot from universities’ knowledge. During a partnership you have the opportunity to acquaint yourself with theories and terminologies valid in your own field.