Many recent studies – and indeed an outright Human vs. AI translation battle – have shown that Machine Translation on its own still has long way to go to beat a human translator. But there are definitely advantages and disadvantages of Computer Assisted Translation. That’s where a human translator has access to computer software which can aid them in translating a document…
But do the benefits that a computer offers support or hinder the greater understanding and quality of a human translator? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of computer-assisted translation. But first:What is Computer Assisted Translation (CAT)?In theory, Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) should give you the best of both worlds. Unlike Machine Translation (MT) – where the computer does all of the work with a human translator sometimes checking the results – CAT puts the human translator firmly in control.
CAT software – some of the most well known examples of which are SDL Trados, Wordfast, memoQ, and Deja Vu are most commonly referred to as CAT tools. They’re designed to support a translator in their work, allowing a professional to make use of a machine’s speed and memory to increase the overall efficiency of the translation process. One of the many ways in which they do this is by creating a Translation Memory.What is a Translation Memory (TM)?A Translation Memory (TM) is essentially a database of already-translated text strings or phrases which a translator can call upon to speed up the completion a project. If a given text includes a repeated phrase, the work has already been done – so why do it twice?
Building and managing a TM is one of the most important jobs that any CAT tool has to handle. If your Language Service Provider uses Translation Memories (they should) then they’ll be able to use them to assess a new document that you need translated. If some of the following are present, it may well mean that using a TM is likely to be beneficial for your project:

  • Complete matches – this string has already been translated before and is stored in the TM. It might need to be checked by a human translator to make sure the context is correct, but otherwise it should be ready to use.
  • Partial matches – these are rated in accuracy from being so similar they only have something like a single punctuation mark in difference, to being fairly close approximations with several words different.
  • Repetitions in the document – these are repeat strings which aren’t stored in the TM already, but which are ideal ground for the TM to work on. Having more of these should speed up any translation workflow.

The more repetitions found, and the more complete and partial matches discovered, the more likely it is that your translation agency will offer you reduced rates on your project. Smart clients therefore, write documents especially those which are only intended for internal company purposes or for use as records – to take advantage of this.What’s the difference between Machine Translation (MT) and Translation Memory?These two terms might be starting to sound very similar at this point, but there’s a very clear difference. It comes down to who’s finally responsible for a translation:
Machine Translation (MT) attempts to completely supplant the need for a human translator. Computer Assisted Translation tools which rely on Translation Memories are designed to assist and support a human translator in their work.The pros and cons of Computer Assisted TranslationThough it might seem as if there’d be no reason not to use CAT tools in a translation project, there are several advantages and disadvantages which Computer Assisted Translation software brings to the table:The advantages of CAT Tools

  • Speed – CAT software can lead to huge increases in terms of speed of translation. The more repeat phrases in a document, the greater the increase.
  • Consistency – because certain phrases have already been translated once and checked for accuracy, they’ll be drawn from the TM and be identical wherever they’re used. Even across multiple projects and multiple translators.
  • Ability to share – will your project require several translators working at the same time? With a Cloud-based tool you’ll still maintain the above CAT advantages of speed and consistency.
  • Format is no problem – it doesn’t matter what format a certain project requires. By using the right software your project will still gain the above benefits.
  • Better for technical documents – because of the likelihood of there being a large amount of repetition in technical, financial or legal documents for example, TMs can be filled very quickly and have much greater utility when used on this type of project.

The disadvantages of CAT Tools

  • Contextual errors – this is the major fault with most CAT tools. A machine cannot yet be programmed to fully understand the context of how a certain word or phrase is being used. Even strings of text which have been matched in a Translation Memory need to be checked by a human translator to ensure contextual accuracy.
  • Struggles with literary texts – the problem of context is compounded in instances where CAT tools are used to attempt to translate works of literature. The number of different and deeper meanings behind each phrase or word – sometimes several at the same time – mean a translator needs to be allowed some creativity in order to match it. A computer isn’t yet capable of doing this.
  • Localisation is not included – proper and effective localisation is a critical part of any translation project. Will the target audience understand direct translations of the content’s metaphors, colloquialisms, or idioms? These are the sort of obvious translation errors which a human would avoid.
  • Security can be an issue – if a document contains confidential information, so does the TM generated during the translation of that document. So web-based Computer Assisted Translation tools need special scrutiny to ensure information security is not compromised.

When is it a good idea to use CAT tools?CAT tools clearly have a time and place where their use is an advantage. The more technical a document, the more often there are repeated phrases which can only have one clear meaning – the more utility CAT tools are going to have for a translator.
But there are both advantages and disadvantages of Computer-Assisted Translation tools which should be borne in mind when they’re being used. For the same reason that full Machine Translation can’t compete with a professional human translator – namely, because a computer can’t understand context or the deeper meaning of any phrase – CAT tools need to be carefully monitored when in use. And only used on projects where they’re a definite bonus.Asian Absolute – the best of both worldsBy placing Translation Memories and other advanced translation tools in the hands of experienced native speaker linguists, Asian Absolute always makes sure your project gets a fast turnaround time – as well as 100% accuracy and smart localisation.
Used by multinational corporations and small businesses across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas for over sixteen years, we make getting the translation services you need simple.
Talk to your local Asian Absolute team now, and get a free quote on your latest project at your request.
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