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What is Computer Assisted Translation?

What is Computer Assisted Translation (CAT)

First and foremost: it is NOT, repeat NOT, Machine Translation. Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools have very little to do with Google Translate or similar translation AI’s.

A Computer Assisted Translation has been carried out by a human translator in conjunction with a variety of software designed to streamline and facilitate the process. It is thus totally distinct from ‘machine translation‘ (MT), which refers to software or AI’s, generally internet-based, which ‘translate’ text automatically. 

Most language service providers (LSP) use CAT techniques and tools. This term covers grammar and spell-checkers, terminology databases, translation memories (TM), as well as project-management software. All of these together constitute the range of digital resources available to translators today. CAT tools enable us to integrate the entire translation cycle into one smooth, continuous workflow, optimising every step of the process.

Most CAT tools are able to bring a variety of source file formats into a single editing environment — this means the translator does not need to use the file format’s associated software for the translation process. Furthermore, the text can be filtered and sorted which allows the translator to work in a more productive way.

But arguably, out of this suite of tools — and the processes they enable or optimise — the most important and most useful is Translation Memory (TM).

Find out more: Optimising with Translation Memory

TM and Terminology

A TM, as the name suggests, ‘remembers’ how a word or phrase was translated last time. CAT tools split a source text into manageable units known as segments. The TM software then builds databases of equivalent segments in different languages. The databases of these matching segments form a Translation Memory. Therefore, if the same segment appears again in future projects, the Translation Memory (database) will offer the ‘remembered’ translation as a suggestion.

A TM (together with a well-maintained Glossary) will ensure that all terminology is translated consistently within the text, as well as with all of that client’s documentation, and the industry as a whole. This is hugely important with regard to technical content — such as Installation Manuals or User Guides — as a mistranslation of the name of a certain piece of equipment, say, could have disastrous consequences. However it is also useful for maintaining a strong Brand identity: a TM will ensure taglines, product names, a company mission statement, etc are also translated consistently every time.

It’s worth noting that terminology issues underline the importance of choosing a translator or LSP specialised in a certain industry or sector. (This is also important with the internal reviewer). In order to stay on top of contemporary terminology, it is fundamental that the translator be following that industry closely. In fact, most specialised translators work in their specialist industry.

Find out more: Translation Memory FAQs

TM and Workflow

Using a Translation Memory makes it possible to work on a translation before the text has been finalised. Because it happens all the time: the content is ready to go, the marketing department has signed off on it, the Translation Agency is waiting, and the manager who needs to give the go-ahead is away all week at a conference!

Thanks to TM, this is no longer a problem. Now, the project manager can simply send the draft (which is unlikely to change too much) to the translator, who begins work on it. When the manager finally gets back from Zurich and makes a few changes, the translator simply has to put the latest version into the TM — the work already done will be ‘remembered’ by the TM, the new segments (words or phrases) will be flagged as new, and the translator can quickly complete the project.

This means that the time-to-market of the document is reduced. In the case of a company which wants to release the same product in different language zones simultaneously, even a minimal hold-up can be overwhelmingly expensive; using a TM reduces the chance of a delay as much as is feasibly possible.

CAT and Updates

CAT tools can also enable some useful hacks! For example, if we know that you update your product catalogue every quarter, we will create a project-specific process which will automatically flag the new segments that need to be translated every time. There is no need to re-translate the entire document. There is even no need to highlight which sections have been edited — the TM will find them! This process not only saves time and money but builds in consistency across the board and eliminates the possibility of errors.

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