Translation Bureau overview: Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs—February 27, 2020

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Commitment for the Translation Bureau

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) continues to enhance the quality and capacity of services delivered by the Translation Bureau.

In addition, the Government of Canada has made the reconciliation with Indigenous people a core priority and the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada has been mandated to “leverage the expertise of the Translation Bureau to help preserve, protect and revitalize First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages by increasing the availability of translation and interpretation services”. The bureau is working to develop its capacity to increase the availability of linguistic services in Indigenous languages, in partnership with Indigenous communities and organisations.

Key messages for the Translation Bureau

In this section

Services in Indigenous languages

Following the June 2018 report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) on the use of Indigenous languages in the proceedings of the House of Commons and committees, the Translation Bureau (TB) committed to seeking and forming strategic collaborations with various Indigenous communities along with implementing strategies that contribute to improving the use of Indigenous languages.

Key considerations of services in Indigenous languages

The TB provides translation and interpretation services in Indigenous languages to federal departments and parliament upon request.

The TB has provided Indigenous language interpretation services to the House of Commons on 5 occasions since January 2019, a historic milestone. Currently, the Translation Bureau is able to meet the demand for services in Indigenous languages.

The TB has a list of approximately 100 interpreters and translators proficient in 20 different Indigenous languages and dialects. There are approximately 90 different Indigenous languages in Canada, grouped into 11 families. There is therefore a limited number of freelance interpreters qualified in these languages. The TB requests reasonable notice for interpreting services in order to give it the leeway it needs to find qualified and available simultaneous interpreters.

The TB is currently working to increase its capacity

Remote interpretation: Safety of interpreters

Technological developments in recent years have made it possible for people to work from home and to attend meetings virtually. This has resulted in a marked increase in requests for interpreting by teleconference or telephone.

However, the sound quality is frequently insufficient for the purpose of simultaneous interpretation and is further deteriorated by the use of devices such as Polycoms, cell-phones and other hands-free devices. Furthermore, the limited frequency range, the added noise and hum, and the high level of distortion, make it almost impossible for interpreters to offer quality service without putting their hearing at risk.

In the last 2 years, there were about 30 health and safety incidents related to sound issues in teleconference settings.

In the short term, the TB has taken immediate measures to provide interpreters with a safe work environment:

In parliament, interpreters are always protected against acoustic shock. The 2 new legislative chambers now have ISO-compliant simultaneous interpreting systems and equipment to protect interpreters against acoustic shock injury, and work is being done to have integrated compressor/limiters in all committee rooms in the parliamentary precinct by summer 2019.

As an additional protective measure, the TB provides all permanent and freelance interpreters with portable sound limiters. These devices reduce the volume of those parts of the signal that persistently exceed the threshold determined by the user.

The issue of interpreters’ health and safety is not unique to Canada. It affects a number of organizations, including the European Union, the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Like the TB, these organizations are taking steps to protect their interpreters’ hearing and to ensure the quality of the service delivered.

The TB is working with interpreters, its partners and the industry to implement a long-term solution, which should be in place by 2021. Additionally, TB is currently negotiating a service agreement with the School of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Geneva to conduct a remote interpreting study.

New procurement tool for parliamentary and conference interpretation

In the fall of 2017, the TB created the Conference Interpretation Advisory Panel, which struck a special procurement working group consisting of members of PSPC and of the private sector to propose a new open contracting process. This process is the result of extensive consultation efforts led by the TB and PSPC with the conference interpretation sector to provide quality interpretation services to judiciary, government departments, agencies and the Parliament of Canada.

Key considerations for the new procurement tool

The interpretation community responded positively and with a high rate of participation to the request for proposal from the Translation Bureau for parliamentary and conference interpretation services, which allowed the creation of a pool of 143 accredited interpretation service providers for a total of 187 contracts. These contracts are in place for interpretation and translation requests for official languages (English and French) only and will be used by parliament and the Government of Canada. In the case of requests in other languages, a contract will be put in place per request. The contracts will be in place until June 30, 2020.

Although this is a large pool, peak periods of government and parliament activities could still represent a capacity challenge to meet all requests. Quality remains the department’s and the Translation Bureau’s priority throughout this competitive process. The main decision factor to issue task authorization contracts’ is the quality of services, not the cost.

Digital transformation of linguistic services

Recent advances in machine translation, combined with heightened client expectations for high quality, low cost and timely translations of an increased amount of content, are creating a major overhaul of this sector in Canada and globally.

Key considerations of digital transformation

The TB is embracing this opportunity to test various means to incorporate machine translation into its processes. For example, it is currently testing new tools to support the work of translators.

One example is a pilot project with the Department of Canadian Heritage, where bureau translators are using machine translation to do the first cut of a translation and then revise this version. Initial results are showing high client satisfaction and efficiency gains.

Used alone, machine translation poses risks to the quality of communications with Canadians. When backed by an expert revision function, machine translation provides an unparalleled opportunity to produce quality results in a timely fashion.

Questions and answers for Indigenous languages services

In this section

Question 1

What is being done to bolster the Translation Bureau capacity in Indigenous languages services?

Answer 1

The Translation Bureau plans to improve its offering in Indigenous languages by increasing the number of languages for which language services are available and expand its access to more than one service provider for each of these languages.

The Translation Bureau currently uses a roster of approximately 100 interpreters and translators covering 20 of the 90 different Indigenous languages and dialects.

The Translation Bureau hired a project lead on Indigenous languages and outreach to build relationships with Indigenous communities.

Workshops are organized to help potential candidates become familiar with the role of linguistic suppliers for the Translation Bureau. This also allows the bureau to assess the candidates' ability to do the work in a government environment.

Established in 1934, the bureau offers a full range of translation, interpretation and terminology services in both official languages, in Canada’s Indigenous languages, and in foreign languages to federal departments, agencies and parliament. It also offers sign language interpretation services and closed captioning. Its enabling legislation is the Translation Bureau Act.

Moreover, through a Treasury Board decision, the bureau was granted status as the sole employer of translation group (TR) classified employees for the provision of translation, interpretation and terminology services to the Parliament, the judiciary and the federal government, for an indefinite period. The bureau is also responsible for the Language Portal of Canada, a website that provides a host of free resources to help Canadians write well in both official languages, including reference material on: grammar, punctuation, solutions to common language problems, and vocabulary used in specialized fields.

Questions and answers for linguistic services

In this section

Question 1

Is the Translation Bureau currently reviewing its business model?

Answer 1

The Translation Bureau is a world-class centre of excellence in linguistic services.

The Translation Bureau is implementing a new business model in providing linguistic services that embraces technology and timely, personalized services of the highest quality. Consultations with key external and internal stakeholders were invaluable in ensuring the business model reflects the changing industry landscape due to technology and client expectations for faster, better and cheaper linguistic services.

Questions and answers for quality of translation and interpretation services

In this section

Question 1

What is the Translation Bureau doing to ensure the quality of its translation and interpretations services?

Answer 1

Ensuring quality services is a priority for the Translation Bureau. To that end, a chief quality officer was appointed in 2017 and is implementing an annual quality evaluation for all linguistic services. Work is underway to develop the quality framework for interpretation and terminology. The government is committed to promoting official languages and upholding the spirit of the Official Languages Act by supporting linguistic duality within the Government of Canada and in serving Canadians. The bureau supports this commitment by providing quality linguistic services to government departments, agencies and parliament.

Questions and answers for use of new technologies in translation

In this section

Question 1

Why is the Translation Bureau moving towards the use of new technologies, such as automated translation?

Answer 1

The linguistic services sector is undergoing a profound transformation with technological advancements that will yield translation products and interpretation services more efficiently and of higher quality. The increasing sophistication of free neural machine translation tools available online offer a perceived solution for quality, fast and low-cost services when compared to the bureau’s service. Integrating such technologies into the translation process will enable the Translation Bureau to respond even more effectively to the growing needs in official languages. Such tools enable language professionals to shift their focus on quality and processing requests more efficiently.

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