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Translation technology

CAT translation saves time and money – it’s the best way to maintain terminological consistency.

What is CAT translation, and why do we need it?


For the past twenty or so years, translators have been using special computer programs to aid the translation process. Known as Computer Aided/Assisted Translation, or ‘CAT’ for short, these tools can streamline the entire translation process, with the potential to shorten turnaround times and improve the consistency of the final product. However, regardless of the incredible pace of technological development, it will still be long before computers entirely replace humans in the translation process.

Nowadays, the use of CAT tools is an industry standard, both for individual translators and translation agencies. Like any good tools, they still need a human operator to make judgement calls on quality. The tools are designed to support qualified translators, proofreaders and project managers, making the process quicker and helping to eliminate sources of error. Using any CAT tool effectively is not for the inexperienced user, as it is very easy to do more harm than good.

When are CAT tools the most beneficial?

Most translation projects can benefit from the advantages that these tools bring, for everyone involved in the workflow: customers, project managers, translators and proofreaders. They are typically used to create and develop terminology and conceptual databases that are project, customer, or industry specific. These databases, known as translation memories, contain more than a set of translated sentences and phrases from earlier texts, they can also be used to translate similar fragments, leading to increased consistency among all types of documents within a company or other institution. The result is that CAT tools save time, effort and money, and improve quality.

There are some situations when we cannot use CAT tools. When a source text is handwritten, then it must first be transferred into an editable version, often by hand. Similarly, some texts may be saved in a format that cannot be edited, or the formatting may be overly complicated, making it difficult or impossible to transform into an editable version, even using Optical Character Recognition software. In general, though, modern CAT tools support the majority of formats available on the market.

What about quotes for CAT translations?

If a CAT tool is to be used, then pricing the work is determined from an analysis of the file to be translated, known as the ‘source text’. The result of such an analysis depends not just on the number of words in the source text, but also whether we can use an existing translation memory or we have to create a new one. Generally, only new clients or projects require a new translation memory, although even then there may be a standard translation memory available. The analysis determines how much of the text is unique and how much of it repeats (similar or identical phrasing used twice or more in the text). In principle, the process takes place at the level of sentences, or even part sentences when they are especially long. The tool breaks down the statistics for the file(s), showing the number of repetitions they contain, including the full (100%) and close (fuzzy) matches.

What are these repetitions in CAT translations?

A CAT tool first cuts up a text into short fragments, which generally consist of full or part sentences, and then compares each and every one. If two or more fragments match exactly or partly, it is called a repetition. The more repetitions there are, the less translation work is needed, as once a given fragment is translated, there is no need to translate all its matches. During the translation process, the CAT tool examines each sentence, and suggests an appropriate translation for the translator, automatically. The translator can then choose to accept, edit or reject it. Of course, the greatest benefit of using CAT tools can be gained from those files with the greatest number of repetitions, such as user manuals, procedures, contracts and financial reports.

It is important to understand that these repetitions are not just the identical sentences in the text, but the large number of sentences that are only slightly different from each another. In this case, the CAT tool gives appropriate suggestions that only require some modification, which is far quicker than translating each from scratch. As the translation proceeds, the translation memory continues to grow, improving its effectiveness for future tasks. The translated elements are not just approved by the translator, but also by the proofreader and by other people involved in the process. It also makes it easier for the customer to demand changes.

Whether the repetitions are 100% or fuzzy matches, they all help in reducing the work involved, giving greater terminological consistency and, of course, reducing costs.

What types of documents are best translated by CAT tools?

The best are those standard texts from the domains of law, economics, finance (such as annual reports or financial statements) and technical texts (all kinds of reports, manuals and specifications). However, there are no real restrictions on the type of text, and it is a cost-effective choice, especially when the customer needs translations of a large number of similar documents, now and in the future. Indeed, computer-assisted translation is a solution that works for every industry. In the hands of experienced users, CAT tools can also be used for translating and localising websites, as they successfully support such file formats as *.xml and *.html.

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