Context in Linguistic QA: Why It Matters

Nobody likes something they’ve said being taken “out of context,” yet buyers of translation ask our translators, and our in-country bilingual staff reviewers, to work with words that are out of context all the time. We ask them to translate single sentences, or worse, fragments of sentences and single words, completely outside of the context in which they are being used. We want our website to be translated, and so we send the translator a set of navigation terms one day, advertising banners the next, a paragraph of text here-and-there, and never do they see the complete picture. It’s only when the page is published that everything is put into context—fingers-crossed that it all works out!

Take the word “support” in a typical website translation project. On a commercial, medical and wellness website, for example, it might be a navigation link to the website’s technical assistance service. It might be a one-word title for an article about obtaining help for post-traumatic stress. Or it could even be an online catalog description for a type of undergarment!

Each of these usages of “support” is likely to require a different translation. If the translator does not know the context in which “support” will be used, oh how wrong the translations might be! In French alone, the words used to translate “support” include soutien, support, appui, soutènement, subvention… and many more. Without context, we are asking the translator for a best guess. Mistakes can, and will, be made, despite the very best effort of professionals.

Context is not only important for word usage; it’s also essential for correct presentation and layout. When content is translated, it expands, and takes up more space. A five-word sentence in English might be rendered as a five-word sentence in German, but each word might be double the number of characters. What does that do to the way the translation looks? Does it put the beautiful page layout into disarray? If the translator does not see the sentence in the context in which it will be presented to the reader, they just do not know.

And when it comes to in-context review… a lack of context not only makes a review more difficult, it often simply means that the review is never done. Reviewers are frequently company volunteers who have no idea how translators work, nor any tolerance for the traditional tools with which translators work. They want to see what the customer will see when the translation is published. They want to do the review, effectively, in a very short time, without the frustration of having to ask lots of questions. They want to see a web page, not a pile of unrelated sentences.

We say, let’s give our translators and reviewers the “support” they need to easily do an excellent job. Let’s provide them with the exact context in which each word and sentence is used — and allow them to provide the best-possible translation, without any question or doubt. For these reasons and more, in-context translation has always been an important part of Smartling technology. We’ve learned it’s one of the key factors that enable our users to produce high-quality translations with speed and quality — the very things that make Smartling stand out from the rest. In the simplest of terms, in-context means: what you see is what you get. And when you work with Smartling technology, it’s a pretty incredible view.

In-Context Translation Technology