Post-Editors, MT Engineers, PE Consultants — Here Are the Skills You Need

Post-Editing Machine Translation Research 2022

Since post-editing has become an industry standard, some translators regard it as a “tedious and repetitive task,” according to research. This could be perceived as threatening the profession of translation or having a deprofessionalizing effect on it, another study suggests.

However, Jean Nitzke, Associate Professor at the University of Agder, and Silvia Hansen-Schirra, Professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, do not share this opinion. On the contrary, they believe that “post-editing is a complex task” and “a qualified post-editor needs specific competencies to be able to fulfill all the requirements of such a task.” 

In November 2021, Nitzke and Hansen-Schirra published a short guide to post-editing, proposing a comprehensive post-editing competence model and three possible post-editing job profiles.

Post-Editing Competence Model

The authors suggest that post-editors should be skilled translators, as they share the same basic skill set. Therefore, translation competencies, including bilingual, extralinguistic and research competence, form the basis of their model. 

Apart from the basic competencies, post-editors need some additional ones, such as error-handling, machine translation (MT) engineering, and consulting. Error-handling has to do with dealing with errors in MT output and includes error-spotting, -classification, and -correction.

MT engineering competence describes not only the knowledge post-editors need to have about MT systems but also the ability to train and evaluate them. Consulting competence goes hand in hand with risk assessment, strategic, and service competence and describes a post-editor’s ability to inform customers about potential risks and provide them with problem-solving strategies.

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On top of that, post-editors need specific soft skills, such as

  • Psycho-physiological components (concentration, attention despite repeated errors, stress-resistance, logical reasoning, analytical thinking, and quick-wittedness);
  • An affinity for the latest technological advances;
  • The ability to handle a post-editing brief (information on target audience and skopos) and post-editing guidelines (for light and full post-editing);
  • Self-awareness; and
  • A professional work ethic, among others.

Basic competencies and soft skills are, of course, always important. However, according to the authors, additional ones may play major or minor roles depending on the specialization; thus resulting in three possible job perspectives: post-editor, MT engineer, and MT consultant.

The Post-Editor

Given that post-editors are in charge of dealing with errors in MT output, error-handling is the primary focus in this case. Post-editors should be able to spot the errors in MT output (even the most minute ones made by MT systems), identify each error type, and decide whether an error has to be corrected or not according to specific post-editing guidelines, thus avoiding preferential changes.

To avoid preferential changes and over-editing, post-editors should be willing to accept that the target text does not always have to be perfect to fulfill its skopos (i.e., its aim or purpose) and deliver fit-for-purpose post-edited texts.

Basic MT knowledge might also be helpful for post-editors. Knowing how MT systems work, which possible pitfalls each system may generate, and which system was deployed in each case will help post-editors spot potential errors more easily.

Consulting, risk assessment, and service competencies play a minor role and might be helpful, especially for freelance post-editors who want to negotiate with and consult for their own clients.

The MT Engineer

MT engineers are more technologically oriented. They are mainly responsible for selecting and training the most suitable MT system for a particular project or client, for collecting or even creating the appropriate training data, and for evaluating the performance of MT systems.

Therefore, they should have good programming skills, deep knowledge of MT architecture, as well as in-depth knowledge on how to train and maintain MT engines and how to evaluate and improve MT output. In addition, they need risk assessment, consulting, and service competencies to be able to evaluate the requirements of each project, recognize the risks, and provide solutions.

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The PE Consultant

Quoting the authors, “post-editors should perceive themselves not only as mere [proofreaders] of MT output, but as competent language consultants and experts in creating post-editing processes to establish post-editing as a professional task in its own right.” 

A consultant’s main job involves assessing project requirements, analyzing potential risks associated with using MT systems in the post-editing workflow, communicating with stakeholders, and making strategic decisions that are important for setting up a post-editing project.

To this end, consultants should have a basic knowledge of post-editing and MT engineering and must also have a profound knowledge about risk assessment, since they are the ones who decide which texts and projects can be post-edited and which cannot.

PE consultants should know the translation market very well, including all aspects of machine translation and post-editing — and they should be able to negotiate with clients.

Furthermore, they should be able to match the client’s needs with the setup of the post-editing project as well as with available resources, and then make a reasonable offer that calculates a realistic time and cost frame for the project.