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Computer Aided Translation: What is it and why do translators use it?

Most translators use some form of CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tool, but what are they and why do we use them?


Professional translators often work with CAT tools, the most common are SDL Trados Studio and MemoQ. This software has a variety of features which can assist a translator with their work.


Below is an example of a translation project in SDL Trados Studio.



CAT tools allow the translator to work on the target text directly beside the source text. This makes it easier and quicker to translate because there is no need to keep checking back to another document.


The software will segment the translation, usually by sentences, so that the translator can work through the translation and tick off each segment as they complete it. This means that we won’t lose track of where we are and can also help us to see how much progress we have made in a project.


A translator can create a term base using CAT software. This is like a glossary of terms that are often specific to the topic of the text. Having a term base allows the translator to ensure they consistently use the correct or desired term throughout the translation.


Most translation software allows the translator to create a translation memory. Imagine you have a large project containing several different articles on the same topic. The translator can create a translation memory which stores all the previous and ongoing translations so that, when a section of the source text is repeated, the CAT tool will automatically see this and allow the translator to use the translation they have already written, rather than translating it again. The software also allows the translator to see matches which are not 100% identical, for example if one word is different in the sentence then it may be a 90% match, so the translator can click a single button to input that and then manually change the one word that is different.



Another aspect of CAT is machine translation. Many CAT tools come with their own machine translation tool similar to Google Translate. Although machine translation is known for being somewhat unreliable, with a professional translator it can be successfully utilised to speed up the translation process. If you take a closer look at the screenshot above, you may notice that the machine translator translates ‘Bübchen’ as ‘buffalo’, where it actually means ‘little boy’ in this context – something that the translator will notice and change immediately. Some translators offer machine translation post-editing services, where the translation is done using a machine translator, and the translator edits the result to correct the translation. Using machine translation within non-cloud based CAT software is much more secure than using an online machine translation tool, as you can be sure that none of the information has been shared online anywhere.


CAT tools can also make life easier when it comes to layout and formatting. If the document to be translated is full of images, tables and quotes with a mix of headings, subheadings and paragraphs, you might think it would be complicated for the translator to recreate the layout and format in the target language. But tools like SDL Trados Studio make this very easy. Translators can simply open the document in the software, and it will put it into segments, just like with any other text. When the translation is finished, the translator can simply export the file and it will appear with the same formatting and layout as the source text. No reshuffling or resizing is required.


All of these elements working together allows the translator to work more efficiently and provide more consistent translations.

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