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Using XML technology to reduce the cost of authoring and translation

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At the recent LISA Forum Europe in London, Andrzej Zydron reported on the history of publishing formats and the development of a new XML-based format for translation and authoring memory called xml:tm. xml:tm leverages the architecture of XML to allow XML-based documents to contain multiple language versions, translation information, revision history and other important information that enables end-users to much more easily handle many aspects of a document’s creation and subsequent use. In this article Zydron describes xml:tm and its benefits for users of XML-based publishing formats.

A Little History…

Andrzej Zydron The advent of text in electronic format posed a number of problems for translators. These problems were:

  1. How to mange the differing encoding standards and their corresponding font support and availability.
  2. How to present the text to translators without having to purchase additional copies of the original creation program.
  3. How to translate the text while preserving the formatting.
  4. How to build translation memories for these documents to reduce the cost of translation and improve consistency.

The problem was exacerbated by the veritable “Tower of Babel” of differing authoring and composition environments from Interleaf through to PageMaker. The typical approach was to write filters that would “lift” the text to be translated from its proprietary embedded environment and to present it to translators in a uniform but equally proprietary translation environment. After translation the text would then be merged with the original document, replacing the source language text.

ISO 8879:1986 SGML

A serious attempt to tackle the plethora of competing formats and their embedded nature was made in 1986 with the advent of ISO 8879 Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). This attempted to separate the content of documents from their form. SGML arose at a time of great and rapid change in the IT industry. The architects attempted to make the standard as flexible and open to change as possible. This laudable aim unfortunately produced something that was very difficult and expensive to implement. In addition SGML only tackled the aspect of content. Form was tackled by ISO/IEC 10179:1996 Document Style Semantics and Specification Language (DSSSL), but this proved equally difficult to implement.


The efforts of the ISO 8879 committee were not in vain. SGML allowed for the creation of HTML which allowed the early World Wide Web to catapult the Internet from a vehicle used by academics and computer scientists to what we know today. HTML was initially based on strict adherence to the SGML standard, but soon diverged as the limitations of ISO 8879 became apparent.


By 1996 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) began to look for a solution that was better than HTML. What was required was something that would allow for the semantic exchange of information. It needed to be able to propel the Internet from displaying only static pages to a core semantic web, allowing for the exchange of data. The efforts of W3C resulted in XML 1.0. This addressed many of the architectural limitations of SGML, allowing for easier manipulation and parsing of the semantics. In addition to many very good features, the architects of XML introduced a powerful new feature called “namespace”. XML Namespace allows for the mapping of more than one representation of meaning onto a given document. This feature is now used extensively in supporting standards such as XSL, XSLT, XML Schema and FOP.

The Future

The success of XML has been phenomenal, although much of its success has yet to become visible to end users. It is now driving the future of the World Wide Web through providing the foundation for important web standards such as XML Web Services, electronic data exchange, etc. It has spawned much feverish activity in the developer community and has created some excellent Open Source tools and libraries such as those provided by the Apache foundation ( and Source Forge ( Even strongly proprietary companies have had to accept the importance of XML. Much excellent work is also being conducted by standards organizations such as OASIS ( and W3C ( XML based standards, including XLIFF for the translation of documents.

Our premise is that the case for XML is so compelling that all leading vendors of word processing and composition systems will have to support it in the near future. In terms of translation the arguments are even more convincing. It can be up to five times more expensive to translate and correct the layout of documents written in proprietary systems than in XML. Sun Microsystems ( along with the OpenOffice organization (, already supplies an excellent XML based alternative to proprietary systems, which can also read proprietary systems such as Word and convert them to XML. Microsoft has also announced support for XML in the next version of Office.

With this view of the future in mind, we have concentrated our efforts on how best to exploit the very rich syntax and capabilities of XML.


xml:tm radically changes the approach to the translation of XML-based documents. It is an Open Standard created and maintained by xml-Intl, for the benefit of those involved in the translation of XML documents.

At the core of xml:tm is the concept of “text memory,” made up of two components:

  1. Author Memory
  2. Translation Memory (TM)

Author Memory

XML namespace is used to map a text memory view onto a document. This process is called segmentation. The text memory view works at the sentence level of granularity – the text unit. Each individual xml:tm text unit is allocated a unique identifier. This unique identifier is immutable for the life of the document. As a document goes through its life cycle, the unique identifiers are maintained, while new ones are allocated as required. This aspect of text memory is called “author memory.” It can be used to build author memory systems to simplify and improve authoring consistency.

The following diagram shows how the tm namespace maps onto an existing xml document:

xml:tm mapping diagram

In the above diagram, "te" stands for "text element" (an XML element that contains text) and "tu" stands for "text unit" (a single sentence or stand alone piece of text).

The following is an example of part of an xml:tm document. The xml:tm elements are highlighted in red to show how xml:tm maps onto an existing XML document.:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
xmlns:tm="urn:xmlintl-tm-tags" xmlns:xlink="">
<text:p text:style-name="Text body">
<tm:te id="e1" tuval="2">
<tm:tu id="u1.1">Xml:tm is a revolutionary technology for dealing with the problems of translation memory for XML documents by using XML techniques to embed memory directly into the XML documents themselves.</tm:tu>
<tm:tu id="u1.2">It makes extensive use of XML namespace.</tm:tu>
<text:p text:style-name="Text body">
<tm:te id="e2">
<tm:tu id="u2.1">The “tm” stands for “text memory”.</tm:tu>
 <tm:tu id="u2.2">There are two aspects to text memory:</tm:tu>

And the composed document:

Composed document

Translation Memory

When an xml:tm namespace document is ready for translation, the namespace itself specifies the text that is to be translated. The tm namespace can be used to create an XLIFF document for translation.

(XML Localization Interchange File Format [XLIFF] is an OASIS standard that is optimized for translation. Please refer to the section below entitled XLIFF and Online Translation for more information.)

When the translation of XLIFF files has been completed, the target language text can be merged with the original document to create a new target language version of that document. The net result is a perfectly aligned source and target language document.

The following is an example of a translated xml:tm document:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
xmlns:tm="urn:xmlintl-tm-tags" xmlns:xlink="">
<text:p text:style-name="Text body">
<tm:te id="e1" tuval="2">
<tm:tu id="u1.1">Xml:tm es un técnica revolucionaria que trata los problemas de memoria de traducción en documentos XML usando técnicas XML  e incluyendo la memoria en el documento mismo.</tm:tu>
<tm:tu id="u1.2">Esta técnica hace extensor uso de XML namespace.</tm:tu>
<text:p text:style-name="Text body">
<tm:te id="e2">
<tm:tu id="u2.1">“tm” significa “memoria de texto”.</tm:tu>
 <tm:tu id="u2.2">Hay dos aspectos de memoria de texto:</tm:tu>

This is an example of the composed translated text:

Composed translated document

The source and target text is linked at the sentence level by the unique xml:tm identifiers. When the document is revised, new identifiers are allocated to modified or new text units. When extracting text for translation of the updated source document the text units that have not changed can be automatically replaced with the target language text.

Different Types of Matching

The matching described in the previous section is called “perfect” matching. xml:tm offers unique TM matching possibilities to reduce the quantity of text for translation and to provide the human translator with alternative translations.

The following diagram shows how Perfect Matching is achieved:

Perfect matching mechanism diagram

The following types of matching are available:

  1. Perfect matching
    Author memory provides exact details of any changes to a document. Where text units have not been changed from a previously translated document, there is a “perfect match”. The concept of perfect matching is an important one. With traditional TM systems a translator still has to proof each match, as there is no way to ascertain the appropriateness of the match. Proofing has to be paid for – typically at 60% of the standard translation cost. With perfect matching, there is no need to proof read, thereby saving on the cost of translation.
  2. Leveraged matching
    When an xml:tm document is translated the translation process provides perfectly aligned source and target language text units. These can be used to create traditional translation memories, but in a consistent and automatic fashion.
  3. In-document leveraged matching
    xml:tm can be used to find in-document leveraged matches. These are more appropriate to a given document than matches leveraged through TM.
  4. In document fuzzy matching
    During the maintenance of author memorytext units that have only changed slightly can be tracked. If a corresponding translation exists for the previous version of the source text unit, then the previous source and target versions can be offered to the translator as a type of close fuzzy match.
  5. Non-translatable text
    In technical documents, there is often a large number of text units that are made up solely of numeric, alphanumeric, punctuation or measurement items. With xml:tm, these can be identified during authoring and flagged as non-translatable, thus reducing the word count. For numeric and measurement text units it is also possible to automatically convert the decimal and thousands designators as required by the target language.

The following is an example of non-translatable text in xml:tm:

<text:p text:style-name="P9">
 <tm:te id="e41">
 <tm:tu id="u41.1">Some new text with examples of text that does not  require translation:</tm:tu>
<text:p text:style-name="Hanging indent">
 <tm:te id="e42">
 <tm:tu id="u42.1" type="measure">10 mm</tm:tu>
<text:p text:style-name="Hanging indent">
 <tm:te id="e43">
 <tm:tu id="u43.1" type="measure">10.50 m</tm:tu>

And an example of the composed text:

Composed non-translatable text

Word Counts

The output from the text extraction process can be used to generate automatic word and match counts by the customer. This puts the customer in control of the word counts.

XLIFF OnLine translation.

XLIFF is an OASIS standard for the interchange of translatable text in XML format. xml:tm translatable files can be created in XLIFF format. The XLIFF format can then be used to create dynamic web pages for translation. A translator can access these pages via a browser and omplete the entire translation process over the Internet.

This has many potential benefits. The challenges posed by (1) filters, (2) delays inherent in sending data out for translation, (3) inadvertent corruption of character encoding or document syntax, and (4) simple human work-flow problems can be totally avoided. By applying XML technology, it is now possible to both decrease and control the cost of translation, as well as reduce the time it takes while improving reliability.

An example of a web-based translator environment can be seen at the following web address:

Benefits of Using xml:tm

The following is a list of the main benefits of using the xml:tm approach to authoring and translation:

  1. The ability to build consistent authoring systems.
  2. Automatic production of authoring statistics.
  3. Automatic alignment of source and target text.
  4. Aligned texts can be used to populate leveraged matching tm database tables.
  5. Perfect translation matching for unchanged text units.
  6. In-document leveraged and modified text unit matching.
  7. Automatic production of word count statistics.
  8. Automatic generation of perfect, leveraged, previously modified or fuzzy matching.
  9. Automatic generation of XLIFF files.
  10. Protection of the original document structure.
  11. The ability to provide on line access for translators.
  12. Can be used transparently for relay translation.


xml:tm is an Open Standard created and maintained by xml-Intl based on XML and XLIFF. Full details of the xml:tm definitions (XML Data Type Definition and XML Schema) are available from the xml-Intl web site ( Xml-Intl also supplies an implementation of xml:tm using Java and Oracle, which includes linguistically aware database leveraged and fuzzy matching.

xml:tm is best suited to enterprise-level implementation for corporations with large annual translation requirements and content management systems. During the implementation process, xml:tm is integrated with the customer’s content management system.

xml:tm reduces translation costs in the following ways:

  1. TM is held by the customer within the documents.
  2. Perfect matching reduces translation costs by eliminating the need for translators to proof these matches.
  3. TM matching is much more focused than is the case with traditional TM systems providing better results.
  4. It allows for relay TM processing via an intermediate language.
  5. All TM, extractions and merge processing are automatic with no manual intervention required.
  6. Translation can take place directly via the customers’ web site.
  7. All word counts are controlled by the customer.
  8. The original XML documents are protected from accidental damage.
  9. The system is totally integrated into the XML framework, making maximum use of the capabilities of XML to address authoring and translation.

Andrzej Zydron was born in England. Educated in France he started working in IT in 1976. His experience has covered all aspects of computing, with in depth knowledge of Software Engineering, SGML, XML, encoding methodologies and translation memory. Highlights of his career include:

  • The design and architecture of the European Patent Office patent data capture system for Xerox Business Services.
  • The design and architecture of the Xerox Language Services XTM translation memory system in 1996.
  • Author of XML and SGML filters for SDL International's SDLX Translation Suite.
  • Assisting the Oxford University Press, the British Council and Oxford University in work on the New Dictionary of the National Biography.

Currently he is developing the next generation of XML based “text memory” systems, which offer substantial benefits by reducing the costs for authoring and translation of XML based documents.

Andrzej Zydron is a member of the British Computer Society. He is also technical and research director of xml-Intl Ltd. and sits on the OASIS technical committee for Translation Web Services.


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
26 August 2003, Volume XII, Issue 3.5.

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider:, LISA:
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2004

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