If you want to effectively attract more customers abroad, you need to create localised content that is understandable and relevant to their culture. In order to accomplish this feat, one of the methods that you can use is translating your copy. For this task, you can either use a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool or machine translation (MT) engine.

Both methods require the use of computers and software, but their processes are different. This article will discuss the pros and cons of CAT tools and machine translators, and which of the two methods suit your needs better.

What are computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools?Simply put, a CAT tool is a program or software that aids a translator with his work. Although the method uses a computer to organise foreign words and generate a virtual glossary of terms, the entire translation process is still done by a person. You only use the software for systematizing your human translations.

The website ProZ enumerated the three main functions of these tools in their article What is a CAT Tool?:

  • First, this software breaks the text into sentence fragments and presents it to the users in a convenient manner. Some programs even provide separate sections for viewing the original and translated text.
  • It saves the translated segments along with the source material and presents them as translation units (TU). With navigation tools found on the software, you can easily reread your previous works and locate the segments that you need to revise.
  • The translated bits of information are then saved in the software’s translation memory (TM) or database. If you need to reuse the units for your next projects, you can just view them in the database. Aside from saving time, it also helps the translator to be consistent with the terms that they’re using. However, you have the option to revise these terms to suit these terms to suit a particular task.

History of CAT toolsAccording to a blog post from the Arab Translators Group named CAT Tools History, Advantages & Disadvantages, these translation tools have been around since the Cold War. There was a great need to translate vast amounts of information in a quick manner, so intelligence services spent a considerable sum of money to build the technology that can help them out. America and Russia were the very first countries that experimented with automatic translation programs. Some of the earlier forms of CAT tool are Systran (System Translator), and the TSS (Translation Support System).

During the 90s, introducing these tools to the market was difficult because they were expensive and the translation industry was relatively immature. But with the advent of the internet, computer-aided translation software has become a necessary tool, especially in the field of technical translation.Pros/cons of using CAT tools for your translationsOne of the benefits of using CAT software is that it speeds up the translation process and helps you get large projects completed faster. Since the translated terms and original text are both stored in a database, you can maintain consistency and quality in your translations. You can also share the database with multiple translators working across different divisions and projects. The tools are also compatible with different file formats.

But just like any kind of software, CAT tools are still subject to error. Sometimes, what is a correct translation for a segment in one context is not appropriate in another, especially if you’re working on bigger projects. That’s why translators still need to double check even exact match segments and update the translation memories as necessary.What is machine translation (MT)?Machine translation deals with automated translation or the use of software alone to translate words from one language to another. MT engines rely on human-made translations for their training data. Once the engine has been trained with a corpus of existing translations, it’ll apply its “newfound knowledge” to new texts.

Most MT engines use one of two different approaches for translating. The first is the statistical approach wherein the program will translate a text based on the frequency of usages in the training data. The second one, meanwhile, is the rule-based method wherein the engine will translate words based on grammar rules. In both cases, the software will be the ones to do all the work by sewing bits and pieces of data together and turn them into a sensible sentence.History of MTThe use of machine translators started in the 1950s.The Georgetown experiment which was conducted in 1954, was one of the very first projects that required the usage of automated translation software. Over sixty Russian sentences were translated into English through this experiment. The project became successful and led to the funding of future machine translation studies.

Sadly, the actual development of this tool was slower, despite the high hopes of researchers. After a decade of fruitless research, funds for machine translators declined. Even with today’s advanced technology, scientists haven’t created a translating tool that’s fully automatic and can produce high quality output consistently. However, there are many free and budget-friendly programs that provide helpful translated output.Pros/cons of using machine translationLet’s start with the advantages of machine translation:

  • If you’re pressed for time, you can always rely on these tools. You don’t have to wait to schedule in the work with human translators, machine translation engines can translate hundreds of thousands of words in a few hours.
  • The cost per word is typically very low.
  • Machine translations can protect sensitive data by preventing disclosure to human translators.

However, it also has its disadvantages:

  • Even though you can save time on translating a document, an editor might consume more hours in revising the output to bring it up to an acceptable level of quality.
  • Machine translations are systematic and are bound to formal rules. They can be effective for documents which don’t require stylish translations, but they cannot solve ambiguity or translate a phrase based on context.

What’s the best method?Both tools can be excellent for the right project. MT engines are handy if you need quick translations, or you just want to give your audience an overall idea of what you mean without minding grammar or style. You can gradually improve performance over time by editing the output and using the revised versions to train the engine so it can provide you with better translations next time.

But if you really want quality translations that take into account the context and culture of your target country, then you should use a human translator supported by a CAT tool. In the hands of an adept translator, this software will produce publication standard translations that your audience can identify and connect with.