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Computer-assisted translation becoming more helpful

Addressing regional representatives of the Church in April 1974 on the subject of taking the gospel to the world, President Spencer W. Kimball said, "I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse."

In the quarter-century since President Kimball made that statement, technology has made phenomenal advances in many areas. It has impacted the work of translation as well, in terms of both means and application.

"We can't make much use of machine translation, because it is more or less a word-for-word substitution, and the result is not acceptable gramatically," said David Frischknecht, managing director of the Church Translation Department.

"But computer-assisted translation is starting to become much more helpful. A computer can store in memory how you translated a given sentence or phrase, and when you come to that sentence or phrase again, the computer will pull up your previous translation of it. We call that 'translation memory.' It speeds up production, because you don't have to recreate portions of the former translation again; it appears on the computer screen automatically. When translation memory has been built up in a language over several projects, the next project can be done more quickly, and the consistency in expression is improved."

Meanwhile, there are technological applications where translations have already been completed.

"There is a growing demand for us to translate software," Brother Frischknecht said, "that is, to translate computer programs so software can be used by people who don't speak English."

Personal Ancestral File is an example of Church software programs that have been prepared in other languages by the Translation Department.

With all of the rapid development in technology, it must be remembered, however, that much of the world — and much of the Church membership — still receives information through the tried-and-true method of printing on paper.

"There are places in the world where they don't have electricity, let alone computers," said Richard Romney, director of the Curriculum, Planning and Editorial Division of the Curriculum Department of the Church. "In most areas of the world, the printed page is still the main means of getting material to people. So we have a broad spectrum: everything from economically challenged nations where anything printed on paper is cherished because they have no worldly possessions at all, to people who are on the cutting edge of technology and want everything downloadable to a hand-held electronic device."

Thus, the servants of the Lord will continue to use a variety of means to convey His word to His children.