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A software that works with translators

Used by professional translators in a range of sectors, Hungarian-made memoQ incorporates humans into the process of machine translation.

Kilgray co-founder and CEO István Lengyel.

Despite the progress made by applications like Google translate, software for translation is far from perfect, and still requires a lot of human input. 

Facilitating human input is one of the strengths of memoQ, a computer-assisted translation software that was born right here in Hungary, created by Kilgray Translation Technologies Ltd. The company’s software is used by individual translators, agencies and companies in many industries including law, life sciences and even gaming. memoQ offers users the ability to filter and highlight text, look up references, comment and review translations through a dynamic interface. Some of the key elements that Kilgray stresses are compatibility and collaboration.

“Most companies and translators use multiple tools which have to comply with different systems and requirements” says Kilgray co-founder and CEO, István Lengyel. Kilgray’s success comes from having taken this into account. Users of the software note that project flows can also be much more creative with collaborative translation and online projects.

For instance, espell, a leading translation agency located in Budapest, has been using memoQ in an integrated translation environment since 2011 and as its primary translation platform for the last three years. Gábor Faragó, a translation technology architect at espell, notes: “Turnaround times are more and more pressing each year, so the innovative translation flows enabled by memoQ are vital.”

The three founders of Kilgray originally met while working at a company engaged in the development of spell check software and online dictionaries in 2004. Lengyel had actually studied economics, but began translating as a side job and realized he had a passion for it, which eventually led him to ELTE University’s doctorate program in translating. The industry focus at the time was on developing machine translation and, as Lengyel states, “we wanted to support human translation”. Kilgray’s initial idea was an experiment in collaborative translation. Now the company is number two in its market, and has three main locations in Europe; Gyula and Budapest in Hungary, and Bonn in Germany with 78 employees between these locations.

A human side

One of the company’s strengths is its incredibly responsive user-base. Kilgray emphasizes that it is a human-faced company and it has created a community with its user-base. The company leverages its close relationship with users to gather input and test assumptions.

“We take user feedback into consideration to get a sense of where the industry is moving,” explains Lengyel. Kilgray organizes a yearly event called “The User Strikes Back”, where the company fields questions, comments and feedback from users in a conference setting. Lengyel says that user input has been elemental in Kilgray’s continued improvement of the memoQ software and the company learns from its users’ trials and challenges. And this approach appears to resonate with users. “Software developers often seem to live in a different world to their end-users, and try to sell them the way they imagine things should be done rather than listening to their users and putting themselves in their users’ shoes. memoQ developers live in our world and listen to the users,” says Faragó. Kilgray can often respond to user problems and inquiries in less than 24 hours.

The software is not the only thing that has continued to develop; the company has also experienced many different stages of growth over the past decade. “There was a lot of momentum at the start” explains Lengyel. Now the company is at a stage of renewing, of “bringing innovation beyond what is there” as Lengyel puts it.

The company has transformed from a garage-style operation and through swift changes, has grown to become more professional. The ownership’s approach to this is to question the status quo and to question its own assumptions. “The rules of the game have changed, we take it seriously and it requires discipline.” Above all, Lengyel notes that the business’ success depends on its people learning and improving constantly.

Adapting to new roles

The Kilgray team is in the process of adapting to new roles, always maintaining a focus on initiatives. Lengyel recognizes that an important part of the company’s development process was for the original founders to take a step back and to implement some changes in the management team. This comes as a result of the company being created entirely through self-funding. A start-up that receives outside or investor funding may also receive some external management expertise along with it. Kilgray did not have this type of support in its early years and is currently in the process of bringing expertise on-board in order to beef up its management and internal organization, which is a key step for any company transitioning from a “start-up” to a larger and more established operation.

Another aspect of Kilgray’s evolution is that the basic technology used in the industry has changed and continues to transform. Now translation can be done using a web browser and a lot of work is done online and in the cloud. “The cloud enables collaboration and business transactions with multiple people,” says Lengyel. Traditionally, each company would have had its own separate server. Now businesses and translators are seeking single cloud-based systems not only as a way to collaborate but also as a solution to rising administrative costs. As the size of translation jobs decrease, bookkeeping becomes a challenge and higher administrative costs are incurred.

Language changes too

In addition to evolving technologies, language itself presents some constantly changing variables. One challenge that the profession faces is the internationalization of text and software required for localization projects. When a company opens a branch in a new country or completes an acquisition abroad, they will usually need to “localize” standard materials such as internal operational policies, legal documents and instructional training manuals to the local language. This also requires software that can recognize the structure of different languages such as Arabic, which is written from right to left, or Thai, which does not apply English-style punctuation.

“Windows and other computer systems have only recently started processing certain languages, and features of a language can change,” notes Lengyel. “It is often surprising how many challenges there can be with some languages, as writing systems and other features vary.” Programs like memoQ are tasked with keeping up with these changes and preparing solutions to fit users’ needs.

“espell needed an integrated approach as the number of languages in any localization project is anywhere between six and 40, with up to a dozen files for each language,” says Faragó “Server-based distribution and control of all these resources, workflow assignment of the files to the translators, flexible licensing and a fast learning curve to onboard new translators quickly are the key advantages to using memoQ.”

While Kilgray aims to offer tools compliant with other software, it recognizes that it cannot reach 100%, and it may not want to. “You need to find a balance. If you want 100% compatibility between systems, you would need to standardize everything, but then there is no room for innovation,” says Lengyel.