CAT – computer-aided translation

These days, probably not a single translator doesn’t use a computer and using this tool efficiently is obviously very important. This includes analysing electronic text, estimating work to be done, sending out quotes and invoices, doing the accounting, organising files, managing a user-friendly translation environment, searching through previously-translated text, doing back-ups, archiving, keeping your PC healthy etc. All this, you could say, is computer-aided translation. It is for the most part not, as I used to think, MT – machine translation – when a text is automatically translated by a computer program. This is still a small but growing part of most translation activities. Once I realised this after reading up a lot on the subject – like most people, I wasn’t impressed by what MT has been capable of so far – I started to have a closer look at the tools available.

There are all sorts of tools out there, specialised tools doing just one part of the process and comprehensive tools that try to do nearly everything, and they range from free to expensive. That last term is relative of course, relative to your budget, your turnover, your expectations.

As I don’t yet have a huge amount of work as a translator (read “not making a lot of money”), I decided I couldn’t yet afford one of the big players in the field, so I went for one of the free packages, also to get an idea of how everything works and fits together. Similis is a free translation software package that includes the basic functions – manages translation memory, glossaries, alignment and works with both word and open-office files – but it wasn’t always free, so I’m assuming that development has probably stopped and support is probably limited. There is however a very detailed user manual.

I’ve used it for a few weeks on small projects, word files from 2 to 20 pages with and without graphics. In order to use all the functions, you need to get a free licence. It has an internal dictionary for several languages which however I didn’t find very useful. Not all terms were available and those that were I found not particularly appropriate, at least in my field (electronics, computing). In files that include images, the translation environment doesn’t show these images, so you need to have the original document open at the same time. However they are correctly included in the final translated document. After doing the translation, it’s possible to have the program perform an automatic alignment, which can (and should) then be manually edited. In this process, phrases and their translated versions are matched up so that they can be used in future translation projects.

I don’t know if it actually helped me translate better or faster – there is always a learning curve associated with these tools – but it did allow me to become familiar with the workflow and the main mechanisms involved. And I’m hoping that the translation memory and terminology files that I was able to export in csv format will be able to be used in the future with other tools. In any case it’s an exciting field and I intend to remain abreast of developments in this area.


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