An ever increasing number of translation tools on the market means more choices and decisions for translators. Here, a review of STAR Transit NXT Version 4.0. BY MICHAEL SCHUBERT
The Swiss STAR Group was founded in 1984 as a technical editing and translation services company and now has 48 locations in 31 countries. STAR initially developed Transit as its in-house translation tool and began marketing it worldwide in 1991. The latest version, STAR Transit NXT, was released in November 2008.
The 150 MB download installed in under five minutes with no reboot required and also uninstalled quickly and cleanly. Comprehensive PDF user manuals are available in German or English (of sorts). The program user interface can be displayed in U.K. English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Czech, Swedish, Chinese or Japanese.
STAR Transit NXT is a standalone application with an integrated user interface made up of dockable windows for source text, target text, terminology, markup and reference material matches (see screenshot). Source files are imported from their native format into this uniform working environment and afterwards exported into a target-language version in the original format.
Looking at elements 1, 2 and 3 in the screenshot, you’ll see that Transit uses the Office Fluent User Interface introduced in Microsoft Office 2007. The Transit button, Quick Access toolbar and Ribbon bar all mimic the Office 2007 interface in their layout and functionalities. Pressing the Alt key even displays the assigned keyboard shortcuts, just like in Office 2007—a welcome feature for those who like to keep their hands on the keyboard while working. Aside from imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, this is smart: The more our key applications begin to look and act alike, the faster we can acquire skills in new applications and the lower the intimidation threshold.
For those who prefer to translate in the source file environment—without any CAT tool or with a macro tool such as Trados Workbench or Wordfast Classic that allows you to translate Microsoft Word files directly in Word—an integrated, proprietary user interface with its colorful functional hubbub may seem cluttered and alienating. But the efficiency and growth potential offered by such uniformity and integration more than make up for the effort invested to learn the program. What’s critical is that such an interface offer adequate options for customization to your preferences.
Transit NXT offers many such customizing options. One example is the role concept. Twelve standard roles—Translator, Reviewer, Project Manager, etc.—allow you to customize the interface to show only those functions pertinent to that role. The roles are essentially function filters that adjust the view, hide unnecessary windows and gray-out unneeded functions from the interface. For those who prefer to see all possible functions at all times, there is a “Super User” role. And finally, you can even define your own custom user roles if none of the standard roles fits your exact preferences. You can switch user roles quickly and easily without restarting the program.
The component windows can be closed, resized or moved (including to a second screen) to suit your preferences. Source and target text windows can be filtered to display only specific segment types, such as untranslated segments. Certain elements, such as the preview windows, are configured by default as “floating windows” that appear when appropriate and then disappear again afterwards unless you click the thumbtack icon to pin them in place.
WORKING IN STAR TRANSIT NXT
STAR Transit NXT uses a project-based approach. A project collects all the settings and files associated with a job: original files, working files in the Transit format, a translation memory (“reference material” in Transit), one or more glossaries or termbases (“dictionaries” in Transit), formatting information to enable target file export, etc. You can create your own projects and exchange project “packages” with other Transit users throughout the translation chain. You can also extract and exchange subsets of files—removing internal repetitions or previously translated segments, for example.
Translators who work with only one language combination and have jobs consisting primarily of just one file may feel vexed by the number of decisions to be made. To get a quick idea of the scope of a prospective job, for example, you must create a project, import the files and pretranslate them against defined reference material to generate a report. This process can be somewhat facilitated through the creation of project templates, however.
STAR Transit NXT relies not on a centralized segment-based translation memory (TM) but on decentralized “reference material”—linked, indexed file pairs. Reference material in the Transit-specific format can be created by importing TMX files (TM exports from other tools) or aligning source and target reference files. You can associate any number of reference files with a particular project and even specify the priority with which they are searched based on various criteria. New project-specific reference material is generated as you translate.
Transit successfully converted my SDL Trados TMX into multiple bilingual reference files. Unfortunately, the Transit import does not include text and attribute fields—a major disappointment to anyone hoping to harvest legacy data when migrating to Transit from another tool. Another problem I experienced was that segments from my legacy TM applied during translation ran together without inter-sentence spaces. I suspect this is because these spaces are not maintained between segments, as in Trados, but as part of the segment. This means that when you export a file in which TM matches of Trados origin were applied, you end up with spacing problems. I tried to adjust the QA settings to correct this, but to no avail. The only workaround I found was to insert a space at the end of each segment applied from a legacy TM, but this is not a feasible solution.
The key advantages touted for a decentralized approach using reference material over a centralized TM approach are greater agility and the retention of segments in their original context. This must be weighed against the drawback of having an ever-increasing array of reference files spread about in disparate project folders which you must then seek out and define as reference material for subsequent projects.
FEATURES: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
The concept of source text fuzzy matches is well known: If the segment to be translated bears a similarity above a certain threshold to a segment previously captured in the translation memory, the user is prompted with that earlier translation (with the differences highlighted). STAR’s Dual Fuzzy innovation adds a target text fuzzy search—essentially a dynamic search of the reference material’s target segments as you type, akin to the autocomplete entries that are increasingly common in Internet browser address bars, search boxes, online help indexes, etc. As soon as the typed text produces a manageable number of matches, those matches are shown and can be selected to relieve the user of additional input. The more you type, the more exclusive the choices. Target fuzzy matches appear in “bubble windows”—another concept borrowed from Office 2007. Bubble windows disappear as soon as the user clicks on one of their selections or moves onto the next segment. This feature can save time during input and help ensure a consistency of content in the target text despite varying formulations in the source text that thwart source-text matches.
Transit offers viewers that show the layout of the text you are translating: A PDF viewer displays a static preview of source files in QuarkXPress, InDesign, FrameMaker and PowerPoint formats. An HTML/XML viewer displays dynamic previews that update each time you confirm a segment translation. A media viewer shows images, sounds and videos contained in the files. The Synch View feature ensures that all these previews open at the current cursor position.
Symbols in the source and target text editor windows also indicate a segment’s hierarchy in the text format, but these symbols are not intuitive and do not enhance the visual clarity.
Markup refers to formatting instructions in the text—tags, in other words. Crucially, Transit has avoided the fatal flaw of many of its competitors by not requiring source and target markup to match. This means you can ignore source markup and/or add additional target markup—a common necessity. Transit allows you to translate and confirm the text, then go back and apply markup later, so you can focus on text alone for a draft version and apply formatting during your review, or you can assign these tasks to different persons in the translation chain.
Transit offers a nice import option that allows you to remove a whole range of language-specific special characters that typically should not be carried over from source to target. These include page breaks, column breaks, line breaks, optional hyphens, revision bars and letter spacing/kerning. Depending on your settings, any or all of these characters are removed during import and not reinserted during export.
Another import option lets you define abbreviations—on a project or global level—that should not be interpreted as indicating the end of a segment. In my testing, however, this feature worked poorly, flagging all sorts of unabbreviated words for reasons that were not clear.
Transit’s editor lacks some of the niceties and necessities that one has become accustomed to in modern word processing. There is drag-and-drop functionality, but it is not “smart”—it does not adjust spacing automatically. Apostrophes and quotation marks are straight, not formatted. Some special characters are available from a selection box in the ribbon, but my attempts to insert the “€” symbol, for example, yielded no result whatsoever.
Segment joining comes into play when you wish to translate multiple source sentences as a single target sentence or when the source text contains an incorrect segment break. Transit’s join function comes up short on two fronts: First of all, the multi-step process is overly complex and counterintuitive. Second, the join is only virtual, meaning the expanded segment is not rechecked for possible matches in the reference material.
Whenever you open an untranslated segment, Transit automatically inserts the source text into the target box. You then “push ahead” the source text by typing in the target text. A “delete to end of segment” option will then remove this source text automatically when you confirm your translation and close the segment. I can understand why copying the source text to the target segment might be an attractive option, since it keeps the text you are translating right where your eye is. But it can also be visually distracting and annoying, and unfortunately, Transit does not allow you to simply have an empty target box open.
The concordance search function is fast, covers both source and target, and even identifies the file in which the match is found. “Dynamic linking” is an enhanced concordance feature that allows you to find all reference material segments containing a particular source term coupled with a particular target term. Regrettably, though, there is no keyboard shortcut defined for the concordance search and no option to add one without creating your own macro.
At the time I tested the software, there was no integrated online help—that is, pressing F1 did not call up a help menu for the active screen. In addition, Microsoft Office 2007 formats were not supported—a rather shocking deficiency for a tool released in late 2008. A service pack scheduled for an autumn 2009 release was supposed to integrate the online help and add support for Office 2007 files, but I was not able to verify this.
The software generates the “Exclamation” noise (error.wav) every time you confirm a segment. The only remedy for this annoyance is to mute the system sound or change the system sound settings, but no customization is possible at the program level.
Amazingly, Transit lacks a built-in spellcheck dictionary. Instead, the translated text is checked against the reference files and/or dictionaries, according to your settings. Any word found there is accepted (even if misspelled!), and any word not found there (however common) is flagged. There is a circuitous procedure for importing third-party spellcheck dictionaries, but this option does not excuse STAR’s failure to integrate such a basic function.
Transit NXT includes TermStar NXT, the companion terminology management application. TermStar has the same core interface as Transit but is greatly streamlined to focus on terminology management functions. TermStar offers sophisticated features for creating and maintaining dictionaries (termbases). TermStar interfaces with Transit through the Terminology window (displayed in the upper right by default; see screenshot). You can specify a current dictionary, to which terminology can be added on the fly as you work, and any number of additional project dictionaries. TermStar allows you to define disallowed terms, which are displayed in strikethrough in the Terminology window. Transit’s QA function will alert you if you use a disallowed term translation in the target segment. TermStar has a good fuzzy search function that finds all terms that include a given search string. TermStar allows for the easy exchange of glossaries, dictionaries and termbases through import and export functions using the XLS, TBX or CSV formats.
STAR offers online tutorials to help you learn Transit NXT, but they are extremely rudimentary with a decidedly “homemade” character. A password-protected user area provides access to many more tutorials—albeit of the same depth and quality.
STAR’s website provides no product prices, but my contact cited a price of $1,625 for Transit NXT Freelance Pro (appropriate for the individual freelance translator). The prospect of a 20–30% discount was mentioned, but no details or promotional code was offered. Those upgrading from the predecessor version Transit XV receive a credit of 85% of the price paid for the earlier version. You also have the option of “renting” NXT Freelance Pro for just under $50 per month. See www.star-transit.net  for complete information and downloads. MS