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.

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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