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.

Published by Natalie Hamilton

Natalie Hamilton received her Master of Japanese Translation in 2014 from Macquarie University and is NAATI Certified for professional translation from Japanese to English. As a JET Programme participant, she taught English to high school students in rural Japan for three years. She has also taught Japanese at the Japan Foundation and translation studies at Western Sydney University.

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