I realize that I haven’t written much about CAT tools so far. It’s a little late, but I will post a few basic things about them. Here, I’ll discuss what CAT tools are and why they’re useful.
What is a CAT tool?
CAT stands for computer-assisted translation or computer-aided translation. It’s a software that makes translation easier and less time-consuming for translators. They are commonly referred to as CAT tools these days, but they are also called machine-assisted translation or machine aided translation. The problem with calling them machine-assisted translation is that they are often confused with machine translation. (I digress, but the Internet provides unlimited information as well as chaos and confusion. There are people who strongly argue that machine-assisted translation is the same as machine translation. Each person has a right to their opinion, but people who say this have probably never used machine-assisted translation, nor are they planning to. No one will run a final translation through machine translation unless they are running a con operation, but machine translation is easily accessible during the translation process and translators should consider using it. I will put up a post on How to use machine translation effectively for those who are interested.) Bottom line—CAT tool is probably the better term.
Utility of CAT tools
The reason why translators use CAT tools is quite simple. When they are used, work becomes easier and less time-consuming, as is the case with all other tools. (I’m writing this about all CAT tools, not just the one I use, so work may not always become easier. Some CAT tools don’t have the functions that make work easier. But it’s true that all CAT tools allow translators to work faster.) How much faster and easier? That would depend on the person, how well they know how to use the tool, and the type of document they are translating. To give you a rough idea, many people say that they work at least 50% faster after they began using CAT tools. I also think I work at least 50% faster. Another advantage of using a CAT tool is improved quality of translation. Let’s see how this is possible.
Faster translations with the use of TM and concordance
This is as important as all the other advantages combined. This is the reason why first-time CAT tool users are thrilled to discover them. Keep in mind there are CAT tools that do not have the advantages listed below, or if they do, the advantage isn’t that great. But as far as I know, all CAT tools have TM and concordance. TM and concordance are the heart of CAT tools—if they do not have these features, they should probably be called something else. (Ownership of CAT tools is another issue. To learn the difference between online CAT tools and CAT tools that translators own, click here.)
Let’s look at an example. A translator (let’s call her Gina) comes across the following situation. Last year, Gina translated a brochure for a company. With the start of a new business year, the same client is asking to have last year’s revised brochure translated. Usually in these situations, the client actually doesn’t know how the brochure has been revised. And even if they did know, it’s difficult and too time-consuming to point out all the changes. But Gina knows right away that it’s basically the same brochure with just a few new products included. Let’s say Gina doesn’t have a CAT tool. Then, she will just have to translate the whole brochure again. How much faster can the revised brochure be translated? Maybe a little faster than before, but the actual translation process doesn’t become any easier because she’ll have to type out the whole translation again.
Frustrated, Gina will look through her computer to find the target and source document from last year. Then, she’ll print them out and compare the two documents meticulously. Using a red pen, she’ll mark the same paragraphs and sentences and use this to copy and paste unchanged text. But, she finds that a paragraph in the revised brochure is actually not identical to the brochure from last year. After looking a bit closer, she finds that some words and numbers have changed—a person’s name and sales amount, which are both important. Now she’ll have to change these instead of copying and pasting the whole paragraph. Gina starts getting worried. ‘What if the other text I’ve already copied has changed? Important data and words could have been changed…’ Her mind full of these thoughts, she decides to give up this ‘trick’ and instead use the traditional and ‘honest’ method. She may be somewhat bitter about it, but she translates the brochure again, bit by bit. During her break she suddenly recalls the email her client sent her and opens it up again. The client requested that “the brochure be consistent with last year’s brochure in terms of writing style and terminology.” At this point, she resents having to translate a similar document again. Now she’ll have to keep referring back to the old brochure to make sure that her writing style and terminology is consistent. This project has become a lot more time-consuming. I could go on and on about Gina’s troubles, but I think I’ve already painted a clear picture. I was Gina back then, and you could be Gina now. These experiences lead translators to say, “Ugh, I can’t stand it any longer!” Fed up, they’ll purchase an expensive CAT tool and begin struggling to learn it. All the other advantages I’ll list below are bonuses.
How would the situation change if Gina had a CAT tool? First, she could translate sentences that are identical in the two brochures by just pressing the enter key. If there are names or numbers that have been changed, she could easily and clearly see what’s been changed and only edit that. She no longer has to worry about changes not being made in the translation of the new brochure. Gina can also check the concordance to see how she translated the old brochure when she translates new sentences or phrases that have been added to the new brochure, eliminating the need to look it up in the dictionary and the struggle to remember what words she used. She’ll speed through the translation of the new brochure so fast that she’ll even feel guilty. CAT tools help translators remember and produce accurate work as well as decrease typing work. It’s a perfect collaboration between human and computer, or computer aided translation. (I want to add that in the above process, machine translation has not been used at all. I’ve explained this already, but I’m concerned that some readers may still not understand…) Thanks to these functions, a translator never has to translate the same sentence twice. I’m not just talking about a sentence that was recently translated in a document. Even if it was 10 years ago, if it’s the same (or almost the same) sentence, you’ll complete the translation with the push of one or a few buttons.
CAT tools are a perfect collaboration between human and computer, or computer aided translation. Click To Tweet
Faster translations thanks to less formatting time
I heard that some translators still charge per page, but I’ve never come across this before, so I will exclude this case. Translation before CAT tools probably involved typing out translations using Microsoft Word or other similar word processing programs. That’s what I did, too. Everyone starts out this way. But with this method, you’ll have to spend a lot more time on typing and formatting. For example, if there’s a large blank space in the source document, you’ll have to press the enter key a bunch of times to create the same blank space on the target document. If the title uses a larger font, you’ll have to increase the size of only the title. But, with CAT tools, segmentation occurs automatically (though not perfectly), so there’s no need to format as much. I would say CAT tools reduce about 90% of the formatting work.
Improved efficiency thanks to increased concentration
The source document is broken down into segments based on periods and enter keys by the CAT tool. Translation work involves translating the document segment by segment. The current segment you are translating will be highlighted, so you’ll be able to focus on the current sentence and look at the context as well.
Improved efficiency thanks to machine translation
It differs from CAT tool to CAT tool, but in most cases the machine translation function is provided. The translator can choose to apply machine translation to a single segment or the whole document. Of course, machine translation can be completely useless depending on the type and subject of the document. But if the translator knows his or her tool and the document well, machine translation can be very useful. Documents made up of short phrases or technical documents are good examples. If used properly, machine translation can increase the translator’s efficiency.
Faster translations thanks to the search function
The search function is widely known as it is a commonly used function in Microsoft Word. This function can be used when you want to change specific content in the document. CAT tools also provide this function.
Effective management of reference files
Have you ever been asked to translate a short document and found that its reference files are even longer or consist of numerous files? This can happen if you are translating something that’s part of a series (magazine or video) and the client sends you previous source and target files. It may be alright if it’s for a large project, but for small ones, it’s a lot of work to read through all those reference files just to translate a short document. In this situation, the alignment function in CAT tools is helpful because it lets you refer to terminology you need during the translation process, and sometimes you can take sentences or even paragraphs from reference files directly as if you were using your own TM. (You will come across reference files you don’t like and don’t want to save to your CAT tool. You can just discard these files after you’re done with the project.) Please refer to my post on alignment to find out more.
Improved consistency with TM and concordance
The story of Gina the translator reminds us that it’s very difficult to remember how you translated a specific word or phrase (that you have translated 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago). If a word is repeated over and over again in a document, it’s probably quite important and must be consistent. I have a pretty bad memory. Even if you have a great memory, you won’t be able to remember as well as the computer. (That’s an understatement. Most human translators will never be able to remember or search as fast as the computer!) But if you use the TM and concordance that are provided in any CAT tool, you’ll never have to rack your brain trying to remember. TM is used when you need to look up sentences, and a concordance is used when you need to look up words or short phrases. In both cases, though, you don’t need to type anything and you can easily bring specific words/phrases/sentences into your current target segment. Using this method, you can achieve consistency with something you translated 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago.
Using Internet resources for faster and higher quality translations
This doesn’t apply to all CAT tools, but it does to the CAT tool I use, Fluency. What takes up the most amount of time when you translate? For me it’s looking up terms in the dictionary and referring to a lot of documents to obtain a good and accurate understanding of the concept and background information. Wouldn’t it be so much more efficient if you could do this in the same window as the one you are translating in? The increase in productivity from being able to look up Internet resources within your CAT tool is significant. And because it’s easier to look things up, you’ll do it more, allowing you to truly understand something before you dive in. For this to work, you’ll have to always be connected to the Internet, but in this day and age, that’s not a problem. I think all tools will eventually develop in this direction as well.