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University of Copenhagen
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No more UCPH admin nonsense: Algorithm translates it (almost) perfectly

New software cuts through the dense fog that is university admin terminology. KU Translate works from Danish to English and vice versa

Gone are the days when employees at the university fret about translating convoluted admin terms into their equally convoluted English equivalents. The University of Copenhagen has developed KU Translate, a machine translation tool customised to University of Copenhagen employees working with administrative communication. It is designed to be better than Google Translate for university administrative terminology.

Many employees already need to translate material on a daily basis, so using the software (via the employee guide) will save them a lot of time compared to googling individual terms. The software was created to strengthen the use of English as an administrative language and promote internationalisation.

“Many might be turned away from translating text because of the effort it requires, but KU Translate will ideally motivate the university to communicate in parallel in two languages,” says Ida Giersing of the English Language Unit at UCPH, who with her colleague Hanne von Wowern started work on the tool in September 2015.

Ahem… still requires a human touch

Besides translating small bits of text, KU Translate can translate entire files in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, while maintaining the layout of the original file. This takes about 3-5 minutes, after which the translated file can be downloaded including any layout from the original file.

With its focus on administrative language, it doesn’t deliver perfectly fluid translations on its own. This, for example, is KU Translate on home turf, as this example illustrates that is borrowed from the Danish-language site

Perfectly translated admin jargon! This, on the other hand, is KU Translate used for a ‘regular’ sentence:

As you might have guessed, she didn’t poop on her thesis. But KU Translate is a machine and whether you poop on or fail your thesis means nothing to it. So how does it fare on the ultimate UCPH test – translating rector Ralf Hemmingsen’s unique breed of management speak, as exemplified by this golden quote from 2008?

More or less perfectly – that sentence is equally strange in Danish and English.

For this reason, Ida and Hanne recommend that users look their translations over before using them:

“People often think that machines will deliver perfect outcomes, but a human eye is still a prerequisite for a complete and coherent translation. In that sense it’s a great help and for many it’s enough, but it’s not the whole thing. Perfect grammar and syntax still require a human touch,” says Hanne von Wowern.

Built manually

The university didn’t already use a Computer Assisted Translation tool, so Ida and Hanne first provided employees working regularly with translation tasks with the software Memsource. This has helped build a translation memory – a database of specific UCPH terms. Next, KU Translate itself was developed in partnership with the translation agency TextMinded. KU Translate uses the translation memory, created in Memsource, specifically drawn from translations made at UCPH and other educational institutions in Denmark.

In order to make the translation tool applicable to UCPH staff, Ida and Hanne spent a few weeks figuring out the most essential UCPH terms that should be added to the system. As such, the tool will pick up on specific UCPH terms and use the correct UCPH translation. “We’ve picked almost a 1000 terms that we are asking the algorithm to adhere to,” says Ida Giersing.

Ida Giersing (left) and Hanne von Wowern

The list is expanding as more and more relevant terms are suggested by users:

“We added the terms manually, and that took some time. However, we get a lot of help from TextMinded when adding new terms, as they facilitate the process. We simply tell them which terms to add. Hopefully we might actually start to remove terms that aren’t so relevant in the future as well!”

Note: While the work at the communications department continues, input is greatly appreciated by Hanne and Ida. Email them at to provide feedback about KU Translate, and let them know what works and what doesn’t.

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