translation technology

Use CAT Tools and Keep Your Skills Too

In the first blog entry of this 3 part series, I discussed why translators needn’t fear losing their jobs to CAT Technology. This time, I’m looking at another common misconception.

Fear #2 Using CAT will downgrade my skills

The idea of using CAT conjures up images of copying and pasting phrases into Google Translate and using the sentences it spits out verbatim. The translator ends up totally dependent on the tool, their memory and knowledge of the language gradually reducing to nothing and their brain turning into mush. Heaven forbid the internet goes down, you can’t use your tools and you are closed for business!

It’s not a pretty picture, but as many translators will tell you, simply copying and pasting phrases into a translation engine will often result in laughable results. Sure, these engines can be handy for one or two word phrases and can give you an idea of the most commonly used translations. But that’s not how you will be using CAT.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to become a recreational user without becoming completely dependent.

Use CAT as a memory aid or assistant

A CAT tool can’t think for you. But what it can do is to record your translations and save them in a database for recall at a later date. Take the following example: on Monday you translate the following sentence:

– Funky Company was founded in 1976.

Then, two weeks later this sentence appears in a new translation job:

– Ridiculous Company was founded in 2014.

The sentences are virtually the same, the only difference being the company name and year. With CAT you can quickly locate the translation you did on Monday, insert it into the document, and update the company name and year. This saves you having to re-translate such a basic sentence. The CAT tool even marks the differences for you:

Ridiculous Company was founded in 2014.

Sure, if that sentence was the sum total of your knowledge of a language, then you might be down skilling by using CAT here. Then again, if that WAS all you knew about a language, chances are you are not a professional translator. Because that would be the equivalent of a mathematician doing this calculation:


So you see, you won’t be using CAT as a crutch, but rather as an assistant to help speed up the translation process. You could liken it to the services a legal assistant provides to a lawyer. The assistant prepares the letter using an appropriate template, then the lawyer finalises it using their knowledge of the law and the particular circumstances of that case.

Of course, in each new document presents new challenges and the wording, tense or style change depending on the context. For example, a month later you might be asked to translate:

– The owner of Funky Company is rumoured to be planning to found a new company called Ridiculous Company in the next fiscal year.

In this case, you won’t be able to simply re-use your past translation. But you can still search your database and find the previous sentence, which will give you some ideas on how to tackle it.

Remember, CAT doesn’t take away control or restrict you to reusing certain translations. You can always change or update the translation suggested by the tool. It is however a great resource for jogging your memory and saving you from reinventing the wheel each time. And this in turn lets you focus on solving more interesting translation problems.

If you haven’t been using a CAT technology tool for fear you might downgrade your skills, perhaps it’s time for a re-think.

translation technology

Feel the Fear and Use CAT Technology Anyway

I’m no digital native, but I have always been open to new forms of technology. So I’m always surprised when I hear translators voice suspicion and doubt about CAT Technology (Computer Assisted Technology).

And yet, when Angelika Zerfass presented her talk, Translation Tools – Friend or Foe (or something else?) at the AUSIT conference in Brisbane last November, one of the most common reactions from the audience was just that. Fears voiced included translators losing their jobs to machines, down-skilling due to over-reliance on technology, and exploitation by agencies who undercut traditional per-word translation rates by paying per match percentage. 

While fear can be a natural reaction to the unknown, I have a different view. Read on for the first part in a 3 part series on why you should stop fearing CAT Technology and start taking advantage of it to work more quickly and with less fuss.

Fear #1 – CAT Technology will take my job

It’s natural to think that technology might be able to take over from humans. But CAT Technology doesn’t have to be scary.

The first thing to understand is that there is a big difference between “MT” Machine Translation, and CAT “Computer Assisted Translation.” Machine Translation is a bit like copying and pasting a phrase word into Google and hitting the Translate button. The machine runs the word through its database, and spits out a translation that is usually word for word and is often gobbledegook, especially when the grammar of the source and target languages is quite different, such as with Japanese and English. Sure, machine translation can be useful for translating data, such as lists of car parts, but when it comes to written texts that require finesse, such as legal contracts or marketing materials, you may as well ask a real cat to do the translation for you.

CAT Technology, in contrast, is simply a tool to – as the name suggests – ‘assist’ translators. These tools can help out with mundane tasks such as sorting the documents to be translated to help you avoid translating the same sentence twice. But applications such as MemoQ, WordFast and SDL Trados will never replace the need for human translators, who have the unique ability to read a text, interpret its nuances and rewrite it in the target language.

Rather than looking at CAT as a threat to humans and an evil restriction imposed by greedy translation corporations, it is more useful to view this technology as a useful tool that if harnessed correctly can save translators time. By reducing the number of tedious and repetitive tasks such as cross-checking between documents and glossaries, CAT can help you focus on the part you actually enjoy, translating!

The Word software application revolutionised writing and turned typing into “word processing.” But as any professional writer or journalist will be quick to inform you, Word can’t make you a better writer. Sure, it can perform automatic spell checks and grammar checks, but half of the changes suggested by the spell checker are wrong – that’s why they added the “Ignore” button. Similarly, CAT Tools can’t make you a better translator. If you are going to enter junk into your translation “memory” database, you will output exactly that, junk in another language.

But just as Word can help you quickly format your document by adding styles, tables and indexes, CAT Tools can help you search, replace and automatically populate sentences that you’ve translated in the past. They can quickly aggregate information and remove the need to spend time aligning bullet points, pasting styles and formatting tables. I suppose for some people that kind of painstaking work can be gratifying, but remove it and I’m in translation heaven.

Given the choice, would you choose to stop using Word and go back to a basic text application like NotePad, where the only features are Word Wrap and Find and Replace? I think not. And once you have witnessed first-hand the benefits of CAT Technologies, I suspect you will wonder why you spent so long in the ‘TextPad’ of translation land – Word, PPT and Excel.

Technology continues to change the way we communicate and work, and there will always be companies and people who will try to exploit the new technologies to cut costs and edge out the little people. But wouldn’t you rather be educated on how they work so you can make them work for you? Wouldn’t you like to understand what your agency is doing with your precious translations?  Don’t miss out on the potential benefits of CAT.