An Evening with Mr. Wordfast

By Kathy Davis

On the golden spring evening of Wednesday, April 18, a group of nine NCTA translators and interpreters gathered at the home of Christine Lamar-Drake in San Francisco to meet Yves Champollion, the developer of the Wordfast Translation Memory engine. Mr. Champollion was in town on business (his first visit ever to San Francisco and his first time in California since the 1980s). The nine of us, some experienced in using Wordfast and others new to the tool, were together for a question-and-answer session on the use of Wordfast.

The evening began with introductions and quickly became a bilingual event, since most of the attendees were fluent in both English and French. Mr. Champollion spoke briefly of the development, in 1999, of the Wordfast tool, which is now at Version 5.51j, as of April 2, 2007. He is currently working on a linguistic experiment involving the use of Wordfast for visually-impaired translators. This project anticipates having the source segment read aloud for the translator, who can then enter the translation into the Wordfast segment. 

The question-and-answer format of the evening addressed the following questions:

Q: I use Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) as dictation software for translations. It does not work well with Wordfast, since the cursor jumps a few lines up and down when a new segment opens. What can I do to correct this?

A: Wordfast has a tiny, three-line macro which was written to correct this problem.  Use of the macro as a hook will change the code and bring the cursor back to the correct segment. This macro is available at the Wordfast website,

Q: I am having problems using Wordfast with Arabic-English translations.

A:  Wordfast can be successfully used with Arabic texts. However, if Latin characters are embedded within the Arabic, there may be a problem. Go to the Wordfast hotline at the website and describe the problem in detail.

Q: The Alt-Home shortcut in Wordfast, which takes you back to the segment you were originally working on, is not operating.

A: Rather than using the shortcut, select the function from the drop-down menu.  Sometimes if you use separate keyboards—for example, one for French and one for English—various shortcuts may be disabled. Check to make sure that there is a connection to only one keyboard. If a connection exists to more than one, disable the one least often used. This should enable the shortcuts again.

Q: What are the most useful features of Wordfast, beyond the basic ones?

A: The glossary feature is very useful. Word and Excel glossaries of your own can be easily converted for use with Wordfast. Convert the Excel or Word table to plain text with tab delimiters. Then save the file with a .txt extension, and specify the file as a glossary.

Q:  How do you convert multiterm glossaries to a glossary usable with Wordfast?

A:  Put the multiterm glossary into an Excel file, ensuring that there are no empty lines or spaces in the Excel file. Give the file a name, and specify that it is a glossary and not a translation memory (TM). This file can be converted to a Wordfast glossary as a tab-delimited file.

Q: When I open up Wordfast, I see four identical Wordfast toolbars instead of just one.

A:  It seems that when you upgraded your version of Wordfast, previous versions were not deleted or replaced. Therefore a toolbar is appearing for each version.  Delete the older versions of Wordfast (using Add/Remove Programs or Tools/Templates), and the extra toolbars should disappear.  

Q: How do you align texts?

A: Download the Plus Tools file, available at the Wordfast website, as well as related manuals. These will guide you in alignment.

Q: how do I work with Wordfast and an Excel file?

A:  Open your Excel file. Open Wordfast in Word and enter the translation into Excel.  Details are provided at the Wordfast website and in the Wordfast manual.
 The following snippets of information were also revealed in the course of the evening.

1.  Wordfast Office is now being rewritten in Java, and the Very Large Translation Memory (VLTM), which previously was remotely accessible, is now being incorporated into the automatic installation and upgrade process.

2.  The latest version of Wordfast is compatible with Office 2007 for PCs, but it is not yet compatible with the latest Mac upgrade.

3.  Yves Champollion is related to Jean-François Champollion, the famous French Egyptologist (b. 23 Dec 1790, d. 4 Mar 1832) who is best known for his work (1822-24) on translating the Rosetta Stone, found during Napoleon I’s 1798-9 campaign in Egypt.

4.  Wordfast is entirely compatible with Trados, which historically was the first CAT tool, developed in the early 1990s.  When Mr. Champollion developed Wordfast, he re-cycled some Trados ideas, including the segmentation look, so that it would be well-integrated with Trados.

5.  The choice of Java for the latest Wordfast version was based on making Wordfast available for Linux users. This will make it look something like a tag editor, but it will have the features and shortcuts of MS Word.

6.  It is important to only use the website for downloading the very latest free trial version of Wordfast. Other websites may offer free versions but they are often not the latest. The Wordfast website also offers genuine support and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to assist Wordfast users.

7.  For answers and assistance with questions that are not mentioned here, users can go to the Wordfast website and get on the email list to ask questions.

One of Mr. Champollion’s other projects has been the Very Large Translation Memory (VLTM), which is now available via the Internet. He demonstrated the program, which now holds 45 languages and 45! pairs of terms, all of which were gleaned from free, open-source materials available on the Internet. It was originally created by aligning the official translations of the proposed European Union Constitution. The VLTM is read-only and can be used in conjunction with your own TMs. Although it is not highly useful for finding direct matches of entire sentences, it does have the capability of context searching, in which a sentence may be found which contains a specific word or phrase.

In order to use the VLTM, you need to have a recent, registered license for Wordfast and an open Internet connection. The VLTM can be selected in Wordfast from the TM setup dialogue box. Access is in the same manner as for normal context searches (highlighting a word or phrase and pressing CTRL-ALT-C). The source of the Translation unit (TU) can be found by pressing CTRL-M.

After the demonstration of the new VLTM, the attendees partook of a delightful potluck dinner, contributed by the participants. Among the comestibles devoured were: champagne to toast the guest speaker, Greek salad, various cheeses and crackers, a red wine bottled by one of the group, tender new spring green asparagus, spicy chicken à la kabob, fresh vegetables, a large selection of antipasto elements such as sardines and mushrooms, and for dessert brownies, ambrosia, fresh fruit slices, and rum cake.   

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