Translation Forum Russia 2020: Virtual Postcard From Kazan

Conference report by Yulia Akhulkova.

Kazan, Tatarstan, online

On August 21 and 22, 280 participants from 16 countries met for the 11th Translation Forum Russia (TFR).

TFR in Kazan, Tatarstan. Photo by Irina Rudakova

The conference has been held annually for over a decade, but for the first time it switched to online. Fortunately, the new format didn’t put a damper on the TFR’s usual heated discussions, provocative presentations, and innovative ideas.

Renato Beninatto: keynote speaker at TFR

The program featured three tracks: business, technology, and language. Nimdzi’s CEO Renato Beninatto was among the the first day’s keynote speakers, alongside Linda Pereira of CPL Events, Olga Egorova of MSLU, and Elena Kislova, Chair of the TFR Organizing Committee.

Elena Kislova, Chair of the TFR Organizing Committee

While Renato’s speech was pre-recorded (it would have been hard to present live due to the time difference), some participants were still able to benefit from the hospitality of the partners and organizers in Kazan. Not only did the event receive support from authorities such as the Tatarstan Investment Development Agency, it also featured a Tatar Cuisine Workshop (online participants were provided with a list of ingredients so they could cook at home along with the chef).

In fact, that workshop was the “cherry on top” of the Tatar language section. According to the organizers of TFR, translation from/to Russia’s indigenous languages has been part of the forum for three years, and this year’s Tatar language section broke the viewership record.

Kazan national dessert, chak-chak, at TFR’s Tatar Cuisine Workshop. Photo by Irina Rudakova

The two-day conference was preceded by several noteworthy activities:

  1. Literra held their regular “Running City.” They had to quickly adapt to the online format and managed to create an interesting city quest in a week. The organizers used Yandex Panoramas, Wikimapia, and pastvu.com's “Retro View of Mankind’s Habitat”  (which, as it happens, stopped working exactly the day of the event).
  1. As with the previous TFR, Transeller Consulting organized their paid corporate training Transeller ONE. This time, the 65 participants were not only able to learn B2B sales techniques, they were also able to study the psychology and neurophysiology of communicating with customers. The trainers were Dmitry Pavlov (business coach and founder of Transeller) and Alexey Bekmansurov (Transeller partner and owner of Schwarzwald marketing agency). The participants of this eight-hour training were both regular Transeller clients and “new” LSPs from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
  1. Translationrating.ru hosted an informal networking event for attendees and other interested localization folks.

Remo tables and rooms: Screenshot by Irina Rybnikova

Networking was held on Remo, the same platform that attendees of LocWorldWide had a chance to test out a few weeks ago.

TFR highlights

Over the span of two days, 122 live presentations were broadcast via the Telemice platform used for the event.

Continuous localization

One of the most popular topics this year was continuous localization (CL). The technology track featured four different sessions devoted to CL:

  1. “Continuous Localization DIY With Fewer Developers and Budgets [sic]” by Natalya Kurysheva from Agilent Technologies
  2. “Effect of Localization on Internal Processes and Client-Contractor Relationships” by Igor Afanasyev from Smartcat
  3. “Large Scale Continuous Localization Design” by Gary Lefman from Cisco
  4. “Continuous Localization: Behind the Scenes” by Nadezhda Fokina from 1C International (on the 2nd day of the conference)

Gary Lefman, Irina Rybnikova (moderator of the tech track), Igor Afanasyev, Natalya Kurysheva. Screenshot by Irina Rybnikova

After such a deep-dive, one may think the CL subject fully covered, but as we’ve said before, not everything is as continuous as it is made out to be. So we can expect to see discussions and publications on this subject to continue in the future.

International guests

As always, the TFR conference attracted many international guests and speakers. In addition to the “usual suspects” Renato Beninatto (keynote) and Doug Lawrence (“Emerging E-commerce Market”), we were lucky to see Yuka Nakasone — for the second year in a row. She made a guest appearance with a beautiful speech about Japan, “a Country of Contrast.”

Yuka Nakasone. Screenshot by Irina Rudakova

Both Doug’s and Yuka’s presentations were part of the section designed for and devoted specifically to small language service providers (LSPs). This section on small translation agencies held by Anastasya Intse and Svetlana Vasyanina, two CEOs of smaller Russian translation agencies, met with rave reviews at TFR 2019 and was very well received this year. 

Some of the topics they developed revolved around lessons and opportunities to help keep  smaller businesses alive and thriving in today’s economic climate. The discussions ranged from the regular “sales technologies during and after a crisis” to “emotional intelligence for managers.”

Opera singing 

In terms of less featured topics, the audiovisual translation (AVT) section of the 2020’s TFR was treated to opera singing! This was part of Evgeniya Malenova’s presentation on subtitling opera: “Stiff Rules Are Fickle.” 

Yes, you guessed it! It has something to do with Rigoletto’s “La donna è mobile”. The famous song tells us that a woman is fickle, and so is the line of subtitles you need to accommodate the general flow of an opera’s song and musical rhythm. Add all the singer’s peculiarities, duets, quartets, and a choir singing simultaneously with the lead vocals, and you’ll find yourself in a very tricky subtitling situation. So Evgeniya shared some of the best practices on how to deal with all the ritenutos, cadences, and fermatas, and also sang along in the process. 

Positive Technologies

Continuing with the audiovisual discussion, we should mention the speech-to-text tool that wooed the hearts and minds of the TFR audience: Live Presentations, which creates subtitles and makes them available in real time in PowerPoint for web. 

Gary Lefman used this tool during his speech on CL. His speech was automatically recognized and machine translated into Russian. The resulting subtitles (see below the screenshot, courtesy of Irina Rybnikova of Positive Technologies, moderator of the technology track) were a bit misleading for the human interpreters and, as still often happens with MT, they were sometimes quite laughable. But in some cases, the automatic subtitles turned out to be even closer to the subject than human interpretation.

The subtitled text can also automatically rearrange itself as the speaker completes their sentence. However, it may be difficult to read sentences while they are constantly changing.

Screenshot by Irina Rybnikova from Positive Technologies

If you’re interested in learning about other advanced solutions in this area, check out Nimdzi’s recent publication on automated subtitling and voiceover. While live captions are constantly being added to the tech stack (e.g. Rev Live Captions application for Zoom Meetings was released earlier this year and became available in Zoom Webinars right after the TFR), machine interpreting has been here for a while already.

Technology providers who feature machine interpreting represent a subsection of the Interpreting Systems category of the 2020 Nimdzi Language Technology Atlas:

This type of language technology helps make communication more accessible and inclusive in our digital, post-onset-of-the-pandemic world. However, not all languages are supported in each platform, and the quality sometimes leaves much to be desired. But we’ll get there. One day.

Back to the human side of interpreting, each year TFR is held in two languages (Russian and English). In 2020, interpreting was enabled via volunteer interpreters and the RSI platform Speakus.

Game localization

On a more playful note, during the Women in Localization Russia section, the conference featured very interesting presentations from Playrix and RJ Games. They were devoted to mobile game localization. The conversation was moderated by Nimdzi’s very own Yulia Akhulkova (who is also author of this report and newly anointed member of the board of Women in Localization Russia).

Marina Ilinykh of Playrix talked about the ins-and-outs of in-house mobile game content localization, and Ekaterina Zaysteva of RJ Games shared her team’s case study on continuous communication in games (from the perspective of a manager and translator).

Tools and processes for game localization, RJ Games

This technology setup expands to the tools on the vendor side (“инструменты вендоров” in the screenshot) which adds to the general arsenal of tools a game localizer should be aware of and, ideally, master.

By the way, another of the great  mobile game localization gurus, Miguel Sepulveda, recently published a report on how to integrate language technology into the game development process. The report provides further examples of technology game companies should include in their tech stacks.

Onward and upward

As we stated above (and as we’ve all certainly noticed over the course of the past few months), the switch to an online format for the big events brings us face to face with new technology solutions, new challenges, and new experiences. Yet, it also adds a new level of comfort for people — speakers and attendees of the conference in our case.

For example, at TFR 2020, switching between tracks no longer involved sprinting down the hallways of the venue: it was as easy as scrolling down your web page for a second and hitting “play” to watch the next video. At the same time, some of the online public discussions are becoming more open than one could imagine in real life.

Even though the attendance of TFR was not as big as it might have been if held offline in Kazan, it was fun. And full of insights.


The Translation Forum Russia 2020 Conference Report was written by Nimdzi's Senior Technology Researcher, Yulia Akhulkova. If you wish to learn more about what went down at TFR in Kazan, feel free to contact Yulia at [email protected].

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