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Computer-Assisted Translation

In an increasingly globalised world, translators are confronted with more and more demands and requirements, especially in regard to editorial techniques. In addition, companies have a rising number of terminology and localisation needs to translate their products, services and documents. The fierce competition in the translation industry drives translators to drastically lower their prices in order to sign the most significant possible contract. This requires translating a substantial number of words within a very short period of time, while providing a flawless and specialised translation. Being able to adapt to several areas of expertise is therefore essential.

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) plays a key role in translators’ works. It saves them time and helps them ensure profitable operations within their activities. CAT tools consist of a database using translation memories, which automatically grows as translations are provided. Let us see how it works.


The first step is to insert a source text and its translation into a CAT software so that it sets about dividing both source and target texts into segments – called translation units. The program then attempts to determine which segments belong together in order to create translation memories for subsequent works. Alignment relies on many marks to segment and identify the translation units in both languages. Punctuation marks usually set these limits – full stop, semi-colon, exclamation and question marks, colon.


Once the first step is achieved, translation process is what comes next. Each new sentence is the subject of a comparison with the data archived within the translation memories. When the software finds a segment which is the same or nearly similar, it automatically proposes the corresponding target unit. It is up to the translator if they want to keep the suggestion, modify it or propose another one. Any additions or alterations are saved in the translation memories without human intervention.

Automated work

By reusing already existing translations, CAT tools allow not to translate an identical sentence twice. In this way, repetitive tasks are automated. It therefore allows translators to accept a more significant workload and increase their earnings while not going over quite short delivery deadlines.

Desktop Publishing (DTP)

CAT programs make post-translation process easier and faster. Target texts can be automatically inserted into DTP files – there is no need for copying and pasting – in the proper location, with the right formats and fonts. Translation tools are efficient for they support any language and type of files.


CAT tools are a way to provide a coherent translation while using the terminology peculiar to a certain field. Moreover, they make terminology homogeneous since all resources are combined together – within glossaries and translation memories. This is very useful for teamwork and if translators are required to comply with a company’s writing style. In this case, companies may provide translators with their own translation memories or terminology glossaries to see their ‘homemade’ terms appear within the target text. In addition, translators can take a text back without having to do some tedious research about its field once again – vocabulary, jargon and terminology.


CAT tools are very useful but flawed in certain circumstances. In practice, glossaries or memories are only efficient if they are constantly supplied with new terms. This results in a loss of time doing so. As for alignment, the situation can be difficult for everything is automatically performed. As soon as the page landing or the structure of a sentence is a little more complicated, alignment errors may occur. Translators therefore have to fix or rearrange some things through their check process. Fortunately, second-generation software products develop and can analyse sentences as syntactic elements, not as signs. Finally, CAT tools segment sentences, which is strange when it is well known that translators work on texts, with a specific context, instead of isolated sentences.

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