The translation business in all about language. And language is arguably an area most closely associated with human intelligence. At first glance it is not something that computers can take over from us, or even help us with. The translation industry, however, effectively uses a wide range of computer tools. Some of them, such as spell-checkers are very well known. But there are many more of them that are worth mentioning. Three main computer system types are most commonly used by translation agencies.
Computer-assisted Translation Software
They are named Computer-assisted translation, computer-aided translation or CAT tools. They are a staple of the translation industry today. These tools can be seen as beefed-up spell checkers. They verify the consistency of translations between projects and minimize the amount of text to be translated.
The two core elements of a CAT tool are its term base and translation memory. The former is a dictionary that keeps bilingual catalogues of the key terms used. This helps to maintain the consistency between translators working on a larger project. It also ensures consistency between multiple projects done for the same customer.
The other element – translation memories, keeps a record of already translated text segments. That way, when a new version of a document is processed only the changes need to be translated. The usage of translation memories can cut the costs and turnaround times for projects very sharply. Using them is thus crucial on the competitive language market. CAT tools do not only manage termbases and translation memories.
These tools can also be used to handle translation stages. They help to evaluate the costs of a translation by counting the real amount of effort required. Most of the CAT tools today have a cloud instead of a desktop version. Such a configuration promotes collaboration between translators and helps with their mobility.
Machine Translation Systems
This type of software is what most of us would call artificial intelligence. There are two main types of machine translation software. One is rule based – where predefined rules determine how expressions are to be translated from one language to another. The other is statistical – it learns by example. Such systems try to find similarities in the text of past translations.
Both approaches are tailor-made for specific language areas. They must be prepared beforehand by highly-skilled professionals. It means that machine translation works fine for well-defined subjects but is usually easily lost in more generic areas. Even though machine translation has made huge advances recently, there is still lot of room left for improvement. In the case of simple everyday expressions, computers can start helping us. But without the depth of knowledge and experience of a human subject-matter expert they are still lost.
There are many free and open machine translation software systems available. Using them, however, is not free if you include the cost and time of the specialist that will prepare them. So it is often neither practical nor economical to deploy machine translation for diverse single projects. The most common use case is to apply it to well defined types of translations. They work best in tandem with a human editor. An editor who is able to catch all the discrepancies created by the imperfect system. Such a team usually produces the fastest results. The use of human skills is optimized and the amount of effort is reduced.
Translation Management Systems
Let’s suppose that CAT and machine translation tools are instruments in an orchestra. Then the Translation Management System is its conductor.
Translation projects are becoming more and more complex nowadays. Projects can have dozens of target languages. There can be dozens or even hundreds of projects coming from a single customer monthly. These frequent projects can be extremely varied in size – from multiple pages down to just several sentences. The structure of the projects can also differ widely. Each target document needs to be proofread and edited. All the language versions must be ready for final editing and submission. Such projects may involve hundreds or even thousands of files. ource and target documents, CAT analyses and memories and many others. All this and more needs to be handled under tremendous budget and schedule pressures. Managing it all manually or even using just e-mails and spreadsheets is an impossible task.
Translation Management Systems are dedicated tools. They handle file distribution, vendor selection and project flow. Advanced Translation Management Systems also handle financial document generation and monitor project margins. They handle integration with CAT tools and external financial systems. They provide both CRM capabilities and integration with popular CRM systems. With reach APIs, they can become a vital part of the reach IT ecosystem of modern companies. Such a system is often at the core of all day-to-day operations of larger translation agencies.
In almost every human endeavor new sophisticated computer software brings new advances every day. It pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved. The Language Industry is no different. Computers bring new opportunities and it is up to us if we are willing to reach for them.