What Is Computer-Assisted Translation and Why Is It Important?


Some of the greatest and most important advances in the language services industry over the past two decades have come from the development of new language technologies. Whether you are a long-time user of professional translation services or a “newbie” to the industry, you may have come across the terms CAT or TM. The former refers to “Computer-Assisted Translation,” while the latter refers to “Translation Memory.”

If you are still not sure what these concepts mean, we are here to help! In this week’s blog, we will be asking (and answering) the question, what is Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) and why is it important?

An Introduction to Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT)

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) refers to a software program that assists a human translator with a translation project. There are a number of different “CAT tools” on the market, including SDL Trados Studio®, which was first released in the late 1990s and held a whopping 75% of the market share as recently as 2013. However, other tools such as WordFast, Déjà vu, memoQ, Memsource, and others have increasingly gained market share in recent years.

CAT tools work with a Translation Memory (TM), which stores previously translated segments of text – in both the Source Language (SL) and Target Language (TL) – to be used later in the same translation or in future, related translations. This ensures that consistency in terminology, spelling, and style are maintained.

These CAT/TM tools work by dividing the content to be translated into segments which consist of sentences or sentence-like units and provides an analysis of new content, similar content, and identical content throughout the document. As the translator translates the source content, the CAT/TM software saves the translated content into a TM database (or “term base”).

When an identical or similar segment appears later in the text, the software prompts the translator to either accept a previously used translation, modify a previously used translation for a similar (but not identical) segment of previously translated text, or to ignore the software’s suggestion and create a new translation. This TM database can also be re-used on future related translations, increasing the leverage of previously translated content as the translation memory database gains more content and more “matches.”

Typically, the types of content “matches” generated by CAT/TM tools are broken down into the following categories:

  • No Match – “New” words that have not been previously translated;
  • Fuzzy Match – Partial matches (based on a 0-99% match rate) that are similar to a previously translated segment but not identical. Some words, modifications to phrasing, or punctuation may need to be changed or revised by the translator;
  • 100% Matches – Segments that have been previously translated, and the previous translation can be used in its entirety and automatically applied by the CAT/TM software (although the translator should still check that the translation is correct within the new context);
  • Repetitions – Segments that are repeated within a new source document but are not available in the TM database.

The user interface for most CAT/TM software tools provides the translator with a bilingual, side-by-side view of the source text and translated text (e.g., English source text and Spanish translation). CAT/TM tools also come with a variety of apps and other add-ons that provide advanced terminology management support – such as specialized term banks – and automatic quality control features. Moreover, many tools now are also integrated with machine translation, which improves the speed and efficiency of the translation process even more.

Should You Use CAT Tools for Your Translation?

In short, the answer is yes! CAT/TM tools are not only beneficial when it comes to the quality and consistency of your translations, but they can also save you significantly on costs. First of all, the cost for partial and 100% matches/repetitions is only a fraction of the “per word” cost for “new” words (“no match,” described above). So, assuming that your content contains some repetitious segments, you can begin enjoying the cost savings on your very first project. However, where the savings really add up are in future projects. In other words, the more you translate, the more you will save, as the TM database continues to grow.

It is important to remember that while some CAT/TM tools do have machine translation add-ons, CAT/TM software, in and of itself, is not “machine translation” (MT) All translations completed using this technology are handled by professional, human translators and editors. Even when a machine translation engine can be applied to a translation, MT output is always reviewed and edited by a human translator. Not to mention, when the translator revises and corrects the MT output, their revisions help to make the MT output even better on future translations. These types of hybrid MT and CAT/TM solutions can end up saving clients even more than with CAT/TM software alone.

Hopefully, we have now answered the question of what is computer-assisted translation and why is it important. Of course, before adopting any new language technologies to your translation project workflow, it is always best to speak with the professionals to decide if a certain technology is right for your needs.

At Latitude Prime, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of the language technology revolution in the language industry. Whether utilizing the latest CAT and TM tools, artificial intelligence-enable machine translation, translation content management systems, or localization platforms, we adopt state-of-the-art technology solutions to help our clients take their translation and localization projects to the next level. Through the use of these types of technologies, we can help you improve the quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of all of your language projects.

To find out more about how to apply Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) and Translation Memory (TM) to your next translation project, please feel free to contact one of our experts at (888) 341-9080 or info@latitudeprime.com.


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