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What Is Computer-Assisted Translation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Computer-assisted translation (CAT) is language translation performed with the help of a software program. The program does not do all the work, but it can create some shortcuts and also grows with the user and can develop more facility over time. This can be useful for translators preparing a variety of texts, transcripts, and other materials. Software companies offer a range of computer-assisted translation programs.

Some programs can start the translation for the user. The program is loaded with spelling and grammar information for two or more languages and may be able to render sentences in reasonable translation. The translator can skim for errors and may correct sentences that are obviously wrong, fail to capture the intent of the original text, or read stiffly. These corrections are part of the teaching system for the program, which can learn from them to prevent future mistakes.

Other computer-assisted translation may not perform rough pass translation, but it can still be helpful. Spelling and grammar checkers are available to help translators as they move between languages. The program can flag errors and may offer suggestions to fix them. Some intelligent programs may also identify homophones and alert the user when a word appears to be inappropriate for the purpose. Users can also add idioms and terms, important for technical translation where words unfamiliar to a base dictionary may be used.

Another valuable tool in computer-assisted translation is translation memory. The system can retain phrases and chunks of information that the translator has already translated. It may substitute the translations for convenience to allow the translator to focus on new material. This can save time on a translation, and the computer will flag its suggestions so the user can check them to ensure they are accurate. Some terms may not always translate in the same way because they can reflect different intents on the part of the speaker or writer.

While human translation is still necessary, computer-assisted translation can help speed the process. Human translators need to check the computer's work and may need to perform some translation tasks, depending on the text and the program. Translation skills are critical, as someone without a thorough knowledge of both languages could make mistakes or might not recognize problems with the machine translation. Software companies work with translators and consultants to improve the technology, and some create consumer products that offer rough translation to people like Internet users who want a quick overview of the content on a page in a foreign language.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon206101 — On Aug 15, 2011

I do not think that CAT makes translators's life easier, however, it does lengthen the whole translation process as we need to skim through everything first to make sure it is right and if it is not, correct it. I think that human translation is the quickest and most accurate way to translate documents.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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