Automatic Speech Recognition software event, University of Leeds – Rhys Morgan writes:

Saturday 6th of February saw YTI members once again battling the elements, this time to get to the University of Leeds for an extremely well-attended event on Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) software led by the ever-enthusiastic Dragoș Ciobanu.

While most of the audience had never used ASR (even though it turns out that everybody with a smartphone can use it to write messages), there were mixed opinions about its benefits amongst the few audience members who already had experience with it. The presentation was a good opportunity to learn about how ASR works and to discuss the pros and cons of using it.

Essentially, it works by recognising phonemes then using probability scores to predict the word that was said. It uses a similar system to predict phrases based on the probability of certain words following certain others.

The reported benefits of using ASR relate to both a translator’s productivity and their health:

–          ASR gives, on average, a 30% productivity increase. Some professional translators surveyed even claimed a 500% increase, but remember that people like to brag and exaggerate.

–          It can help to prevent eye strain, neck pain and back pain by allowing you to move away from your desk and computer screen as you dictate (if you have a wireless microphone, of course).

–          It can also help to prevent repetitive strain injuries by allowing you to type less. A normal working day for a professional translator can involve 96,000 key presses, or 16 tons of force being applied by the fingers every day!

The disadvantages of using ASR were mostly related to operating the software and the amount of editing that can be required if the software doesn’t do a good job of understanding your speech. For ASR to work optimally, you need to:

–          Modify your speech. Your pace must be normal, and you should speak with predictable sound patterns. You must not speak in syllables, as ASR will likely transcribe each one as a separate word.

–          Speak with punctuation (“For example comma like this full stop”).

While it uses probability scores, ASR may get confused with homophones. For example, ‘know’ and ‘no’. Again, this can mean a fair deal of manual editing unless you master how to control your entire computer with your voice.

The true test of the software came at the end of the presentation with some audience participation with a particular piece of ASR software, namely Dragon Naturally Speaking. Faced with a rather broad Glaswegian accent, the poor thing didn’t know what had hit it. Making mistakes which had the audience in fits of laughter, there seemed to be no way back for it. The software had one last trick up its sleeve, though – it could be trained to recognise a new user’s speech. So, a few minutes later and having been given a crash course in Glaswegian, Dragon Naturally Speaking found its feet and transcribed nearly everything being said perfectly. Another victory for technology.

Personally, I believe that ASR software would be worth the investment if you learnt to use it properly and made the most of it. That being said, there are some people who say it isn’t worth the hassle. The only way to find out if it works for you is to try it for yourself!

Winter Walk – Saturday 16 January – Katie Lovell writes:

After a week of slightly crazy weather, it is fair to say that I was a little apprehensive for the walk as I had visions of us blowing around in blizzards on top of the hills. Instead, Saturday morning turned out to be a lovely day weather-wise and “we couldn’t have asked for a better day” was the general feeling among the happy YTI walkers.

I arrived a bit late at Menston train station and spotted the YTI walkers immediately as they stood in a circle of waterproof layers looking ready and raring to go. After collecting Carmen off the delayed train, we set off. Well, sort of. We set off in search of toilets, which, as we found out, are relatively hard to come by in Menston.

After a visit to the church hall’s toilets, we were really off this time. We ambled through Menston and eventually worked our way off the beaten track where we were overtaken by some keen looking runners. Kerry wowed us and revealed that she had in fact run parts of the route beforehand – I for one was very impressed.

The cold weather had done us a favour and had hardened the ground which otherwise would have been boggy and messy. However, we soon reached a farm and seasoned YTI walkers had flashbacks to ‘cowgate’ on a previous walk. It was here where we realised that perhaps the cold weather conditions weren’t working in our favour after all, as we were faced with a steep, icy slope that was the farm’s driveway but that more closely resembled a luge run (or is it skeleton? We never did work out the difference but decided you’d be mad to try either). Fearless in the face of danger, the YTI walkers traversed the icy slope and continued to follow in Kerry’s footsteps.

The walk started to climb up the hills and we were faced with fantastic views at the top. We held onto our hats as the wind picked up and remarked at what a great day it had turned out to be for a walk. On the other side of the hills, the ‘waterproofed warriors’ proved that teamwork makes the dream work as we encountered a small stream to be crossed. With the rocks being slippery from all the ice, it was tense. But no translator was left behind and we all managed to cross upright and with dry feet. On the other side, we noticed something beautiful which can only be described as Narnia-style grass. Luckily, Paul managed to take some pictures.

A perfect stop for a pit stop presented itself and we regained our strength by way of coffee and biscuits. After the dramas with slippery slopes and raging rivers, we celebrated our achievements with a team photo and set off in search of more Winter Walk adventures.

As a relatively new member of the YTI, and also a new member of the translating community in general, I found it particularly interesting hearing the topics of conversation throughout the walk. There was much discussion of future YTI events with the Voice Recognition Software Talk being hot on people’s tongues. I also found it interesting hearing about people’s views on different CAT tools, especially since the only knowledge I have on them is that they exist. The best part of the walk for me, however, was the opportunity to walk alongside fellow translators and to get to know them, whether it be how they work, what YTI events they are looking forward to, or their personal interests.

Our second pit stop was a tiny café at the top of yet another hill, also with fantastic views. By this time, we had established that we probably had had the best part of the day as the clouds started to draw in, however it did stay dry. There was a hubbub as we approached the café, as we discussed what homemade goods we would purchase; the flapjack emerged as the clear favourite. Kerry was first to order and snaffled the last flapjack, but we didn’t mind as she had led us on such a fantastic walk, and we didn’t get lost once – thank you Kerry. For me, a slab of ginger cake the size of your doorstep and a hot chocolate (complete with marshmallows) were what the doctor ordered and they saw me down to the pub at the end of the day.

We lost a few of the crew when we reached Ilkley, however the majority of us found refuge in the Flying Duck where more translators made up the numbers. Half a pint later and it was time for me to be heading off. On behalf of everyone who traipsed after Kerry that day, I would like to say a huge thank you to her for devising a wonderful route and to Charlotte for organising us all. I had a fantastic time and am already looking forward to the summer walk!

Vikings in your vocabulary – Chris Whiteley writes:

The story or Viking hordes rampaging up and down the coastal areas of these islands is a familiar one. Less familiar perhaps is the story of Viking settlement and the existence for a long period of time of a Viking kingdom that occupied a very large part of what is now modern England. You see, having started out by making an ocean-borne nuisance of themselves, rather a lot of these Vikings (mainly Danes, as it happens) decided, not unreasonably, that they would rather like to settle here – so settle they did.

This was not an invasion as we might understand it; the Saxons already living in the north and east of England were not expelled, but rather these two populations lived alongside one another and, as is the way of things, mixed, mingled and traded.

That this was possible was due to fact that the language spoken by our Saxon ancestors was pretty much a first cousin of the Old Norse spoken by the immigrants. And it is this, and the subsequent assimilation of Viking vocabulary into the Saxon language, that provided the subject matter for the lecture, given as part of York’s Viking Festival on February 16 by Dr. Richard Dance and Dr. Sara Pons-Sanz, from the Universities of Cambridge and Cardiff.

The venue, York’s riverside Guildhall, was filled by a capacity crowd, of which our own modest group from the YTI made up only a small part. Richard Dance began with an illustration of just how similar the languages of the indigenous and immigrant populations were, and why (they had been next-door neighbours back in Mainland Europe, before the Saxons migrated to this island). We learned, for example, that the phrases for “Hello”, “Would you like to buy some fish?” and “Goodbye” were pretty much identical in both languages. It is not beyond the realm of imagination then, to suppose that Saxon and Viking armies, drawn up in a field somewhere and about to engage in regime-changing battle, were able to exchange more than just a few projectiles as a prelude to the main event.

The fighting however was the exception to the rule, and for the most part the two populations in the northern Danelaw (as the area under Viking rule was known) got down to the everyday business of …well, business.

Sara Pons-Sanz then took over to explain the various mechanisms by which Viking terms were incorporated into the Saxon language, including the fact that some of them were just too useful to leave out, and also the magpie-like inclination common to many other languages to appropriate the foreign and exotic.

This process is usually described as “borrowing”, but Richard Dance then returned to point out our ancestors’ failure to return the borrowed terms to their original owners, as a result of which our modern-day English is still populated with such indispensable items of vocabulary as “sky”, “they” and “gormless”. Furthermore, having originally been borrowed into north-eastern English, Viking vocabulary is over-represented in this region in the form of place names and dialect terms – terms which Richard Dance, himself a son of Yorkshire, was at pains to point out are no less a part of English for being regionally specific.

There was time afterwards for questions from the floor, and then we were once again out into the Arctic climes of York in February for a quick stroll to Café Concerto for tea and cake. As tends to happen when language professionals get together, we spent the time enjoyably swapping stories of agencies-behaving-badly, discussing changes in the industry and debating the respective qualities of various CAT software solutions. An even smaller sub-group then continued on to the York Tap at the railway station for further discussion facilitated by artisanal beer, before finally dispersing to board trains and return to our respective homes.

A fiercely cold day then, but an interesting and rewarding one, and I for one look forward to the next such event.