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Army Translator

Dev Ganesan

The bilingual Canadian military has faced a unique challenge for most of its history: How do you make sure training manuals, documents and other written material say the same thing in French as they do in English?

For soldiers being trained to clear minefields, land planes and operate sophisticated weapons systems, accurate translations have life-and-death import.

"In the military, it isn't good enough that the translation just gets the gist of it," said Capt. Brian Nelson, head of terminology in the information management group of the Canadian National Defence.

To address what has been a historic need for translation services, the Canadian defense department earlier this year turned to Trados Corp., a small company in Alexandria, Va., that has turned datamining tools into aid for translators. Trados' technology will help the Canadian military translate manuals and other documents.

Canada isn't alone in needing translation services. The potential market for these services is large and growing, according to market research firms. Allied Business Intelligence Inc. of Oyster Bay, N.Y., estimates the value of the translation market worldwide at $13 billion, with the volume of translations growing at between 25 percent and 30 percent a year.

The driving force are governments that must work together and corporations that increasingly are reaching across borders to look for new markets, government and industry officials said.

Trados' approach to this market is to employ software that uses powerful algorithms to collect, store and identify translations. But the software does not cut out the role of the human translator, said Dev Ganesan, Trados president and chief executive officer. The software also works over the Web, allowing wide access to the translation database, he said.

The Web access was a major selling point for the Canadian military, Nelson said. "Part of our need was to have one product suite that allows us to integrate and manage our terminology and then get it out to the people who need it," he said.

The initial phase of the contract, signed with Trados in June, is for one year and is worth about $300,000 in U.S. dollars. Options are available for another four years, which could bring the total to about $3 million, Nelson said.

The first task will be the collation of English and French terminology used in 250 manuals the Canadian military has for its operations.

While there is a role for automated translation software for simple documents, human translators still are needed for complex and critical translations, Ganesan said. "To get the context right, a document needs to be seen by a person," he said.

Nelson said there is a standing joke about automated translation: A venetian blind either comes back as a blind in the style of Venice that covers a window, which is the correct translation, or it comes back as a blind person from Venice.

Trados' software builds a database of words and phrases as the human translator works on a document. In subsequent translations, the software will recognize words and phrases from previous translations and ask the translator if he or she wants to use the translation that was previously done.

"We make the process more efficient and easier," Ganesan said.

The company was founded in 1984 in Stuttgart, Germany, to provide translation services to IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y. But the company's growth didn't pick up until 1997, when Ganesan and other managers came on board. The company moved its headquarters to the United States and received a $2.5 million investment from Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., Ganesan said.

The software giant also uses Trados to translate its products and manuals to the local languages Microsoft is selling its products in, he said.

In 1999, Trados revenue was about $9 million. In 2000, it hit $14 million and picked up a $5 million investment from First Union Capital Partners. Ganesan said the company should pull in $20 million and become profitable by the end of the 2001. If market conditions are favorable, the company could file for a public stock offering in 2002, he said.

While Trados has signed on commercial customers, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Volkswagen AG and Olympus Optical Co., many of its early success were with government agencies, especially with the European Union and NATO, said David Scanlon, a principal with First Union, who also serves on Trados' board.

The worldwide trend toward globalization was a major factor that attracted First Union to Trados, he said.

"When I talk about globalization, I'm talking about corporations and countries that are moving goods and services across borders to stabilize their economies," Scanlon said.

That trend isn't going to abate, even with the recent economic downturn, he said. Besides NATO, the Canadian defense department and the European Union, Trados counts as government customers the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organization of American States.

U.S. customers include the departments of State and Agriculture and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Ganesan said the company also is accelerating efforts to reach U.S. government customers and wants to partner with systems integrators to do that.

The company's capabilities have caught the eye of Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, said Michael Daniels, a sector vice president with SAIC.

"Any company like SAIC that is a large government contractor and a global enterprise has translation needs," he said. In addition to bid and proposal documents, there is a large volume of internal documents that need to be translated.

While SAIC hasn't signed with Trados yet, the company appears to be the leader in the translation software field. "Trados "is definitely a company to watch," Daniels said.

Besides selling its software package to companies and agencies that have their own in-house translators, Trados also sells to translation companies.

A third option, which was released in July, is a Web-based marketplace for translators that is targeted at users who may only have one document that needs to be translated, Ganesan said.Whether it's working with Haitian refugees, nation-building efforts in Somalia or peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, the U.S. military is increasingly finding itself in situations where foot soldiers have to interact with citizens.

Language barriers abound, and communicating even simple commands can be a challenge. But technology is being developed that may ease that problem.

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Army chaplains in April tested a technology that does instant translations using a laptop computer outfitted with a microphone, speakers and a voice synthesizer.

The $615,000 test took place in Croatia and succeeded well enough that Lockheed Martin sees other military uses, such as special operations, the medical community and military police, said John Moody, a Lockheed Martin engineer who worked on the field test.

"It did a good job getting the basic ideas across," he said. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is working with Lockheed Martin on the research project.

The technology works best in conveying direct, simple ideas, Moody said.

The chaplains did role-playing exercises where they asked questions, such as "Can I help you?" or "What do you need?" The Croatian speaker would either listen to the voice synthesizer speak his native language or read the translation on the screen.

"We probably have the world's only Croatian voice synthesizer," Moody said.

Because the field test involved Army chaplains, words and phrases that a chaplain uses were entered into the database on the computer in both Croatian and English.

The quality of the translations by the computer may not pass translator's muster for accuracy, but accuracy was sacrificed for the real-time results, Moody said.

Besides Croatian, Lockheed Martin also is working on Spanish, German, French, Haitian Creole, Korean and Arabic versions.

There are still kinks being worked out. For example, the voice-recognition software works best when a male voice is speaking. Voices of children, women and the elderly can cause problems, Moody said, "but it is getting better."

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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