In a blog about translation technology, it makes sense for the first post to defend the existence of CAT tools (Computer-Assisted Translation tools).
Shockingly, I have met young people who say that they prefer to translate by hand, without even using a computer. But perhaps the more common case is people who translate directly in MS Word, something that I confess that I did while translating as a volunteer before being introduced to the time-saving, quality-improving world of translation technology.
Although the post CAT tool use by translators: who is using is from 2013, it is still a good indicator of the current use of CAT tools and translators’ attitudes towards them.
1. “They’re too expensive.”
I won’t get into a full review and price comparison of CAT tools just yet, but I can confidently say that price is no longer an excuse to not use a CAT tool. Although free CAT tools usually have some limitations, there are options such as smartCAT which are free, online, intuitive, and compatible with many file types.
2. “They’re unnecessary.”
Recently, an indignant translator asked me after translating a short paragraph in MS Word, “Why did I have to work with a CAT tool on this? I look forward to being enlightened.” So I came up with a number of reasons why translators should use CAT tools for every project:
If you work with a direct client
- No translation memory or concordance – For a single translation project, the necessity of a translation memory may not be apparent, but if you translate a number of projects from a single client, it is very likely that entire chunks of text will be repeated. If you have it saved in your memory, you will translate it in a way that is consistent with your previous translation, and you will save heaps of time. Without a CAT tool, you only have your fallible human memory to go off of. At best, a repeated text will look familiar, and you will have to go back through previous documents looking for how you translated the text before. This happened to me often when I used MS Word alone, and I wasted so much time. With a translation memory, this step is entirely automated. You can also use the TM as a concordance for when you can’t remember how you translated a word or phrase in the past.
- No glossary – Glossaries work similar to TMs but are specific to terms. As you translate you can add terms to a glossary to build up a database of terms. When these terms appear later you will be prompted to translate them in the same way as you’ve recorded in your glossary. This is wonderful in cases when the client has specialized terms that they want you to translate in a particular way.
- No AutoSuggest – Some CAT tools have AutoSuggest which allows you to cut down on typing time using a variety of linguistic resources.
- No formatting – If you translate in MS Word, you will probably copy the text to a new document and translate over it. In the process, it can be tricky to maintain the original format, and it can be tricky to see the source and target text side-by-side. A CAT tool sucks the source text out of a document, lets you translate it in a way that’s easy to view, and spits it back into a new document with the same format so that you don’t have to worry about it.
- QA – CAT tools have checks that go above and beyond a spelling and grammar check. They can check for consistency, terminology use, punctuation, double spaces, tags (format), and many more, greatly improving a translation’s quality.
If you work with a translation agency
- Competitive edge – Translation agencies prefer CAT tools because they are integrated into their work flows. They depend on them even just for getting a word count. Translators who use an agency’s preferred CAT tool(s) will have priority over those who do.
- Compatibility -If your translation is not in a format that’s compatible with the agency’s, they will lose time converting it to the proper format.
- Memories – Similarly, translation agencies save translations in a bilingual format to ensure more consistent translations. If they cannot automatically load your translation to their CAT tool and save it to a translation memory, it will take extra processing time on their part which they will have to pay for.
On literary translation
I’ve heard many people mention that CAT tools aren’t useful for literary translation. But I beg to differ. Especially in long translation, the ease of adding terms to glossaries and performing QA checks is unmatched by using a word processor alone.
3. “It takes too long to learn to use them.”
Again, this is a poor excuse. Although there are several paid courses and webinars that you can do, there are also free guides and video tutorials on YouTube for most CAT tools.
4. “Using CAT tools just feels so un-human. If I use them, it’s just a matter of time before human translators are no longer needed.”
This excuse was not part of the Proz study, but I think it’s a relevant one. There are still a lot of technophobes who don’t want to be a part of the machine takeover of the industry. If this is your excuse, my advice is to get informed. Knowledge is power, and if machines are going to take us over, it’s better to know what we’re up against. For one, the use of CAT tools is not the same as Machine Translation, although there is some overlap. Both CAT tools and MT have been found to improve the quality and efficiency of human translation, and although they are both constantly improving, they are nowhere near replacing human translation entirely.