CAT that Doesn't Meow

11/10/2011 18:17

A few words about Mr. Jakub Absolon's lecture on Computer-Aided Translation held on October 11, 2011


We are safe—translators are not out of work yet. We will not be replaced by computers any time soon. Just on the contrary. CAT Tools are not evil work-stealers, but great helpers to any translator. Mr. Jakub Absolon, a professional translator and the CEO of, knows more about the subject.


The idea of computer-assisted translation originated in the world of IT. Mathematicians and computer engineers developed an algorithm for matching one word with another in different languages. This one-to-one correspondence is the basis of the first generation of translation programs or the word-based machine translation (MT). You might remember the popular WinTran which enabled you to get the general idea of a text or deal with simple phrases like the one below:

WIN Tran Screen

It is similar to the program that now translates your web pages or tells you whether the email received in your inbox is a spam or a legitimate communication from an international client. It works for standardized texts, such as greetings, formulas or simple contracts. Of course, it is absolutely useless if you translate fiction or complex literary texts.


The best dictionary will offer you fifty equivalents in the target language for one foreign word. The best translation software should offer you one. That is why the second generation, phrase-based MT, was gradually replaced by the third generation, rule-based software, which takes into account the linguistic principles of grammar and creates its own translation memory (TM), a continuously updating database of segments used in previous translations. This principle of self-improvement is currently used with all translation programs. Among the most popular are the SDL Trados (or its version called SDL Trados Studio), Wordfast Classic (or Wordfast Pro), STAR Transit, Metatexis, Anaphraseus, MemQ, or Across. The freeware programs that operate on the Internet are, for example, Wordfast Anywhere or Google Translator Toolkit.

SDL Trados Screen

Using any of these programs is as easy as using a text editor. The advantage is that the translator is offered translation suggestions while working. You no longer have to type everything in manually. Sentences with a high match to the existing segments in the TM (usually pre-set at 75 %) will appear automatically. The perfect matches (100%) will appear highlighted as translated. You don’t have to search through your documents to find the equivalent of a word you used a hundred pages earlier; the program does the searching for you. It even allows you to create a vocabulary blacklist, your own set of words you decided not to use. Programs like this change the role of a translator from a meta-author to an editor who is to verify and refine the crude machine translation.


To be honest, since the programs make the translator’s work easier, page rates for computer-assisted translation are a little lower. However, as they make it possible for you to translate three or four times as many pages within the same time, your wage actually goes up. Plus, many translation agencies require their translators to be able to work with CAT Tools. You are thus not likely to be hired if you don’t possess this skill. You might even be requested to send in “clean” or “unclean” files or “export TM”. That is, you might have to send in the final draft of your translation, a document which still contains the source segments, and a file with the segments or phrases you used.


Sounds overwhelming? It surely is a little. But there are people out there to help you. Since teaching CAT Tools skills is not part of any university translation program yet, you can take up private training, either personally or via the Internet in the so-called webinars. (Look at the end of the article for the web page and password to get your DISCOUNT!) You will need a connection to the Internet and preferably the GoToTraining software, which will turn your computer into a virtual classroom and allow your teacher to answer your questions in real time, or even move the cursor on your screen to show you “what exactly to click on” just as if he was standing next to you. The free trial version will time out 30 days after installation.


The latest trend in machine translation is “translation as a service”. You can buy software for five hundred thousand words, much like your cell tariff. You can get engaged in crowd sourcing translation where a team of translators (either professional or not) work on the same goal. Such translations can be very quick and are used to translate web sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Another option is to use the services of cloud computing. Cloud computing providers deliver applications the Internet, and they can be accessed from a web browser, while the business software and data are stored on servers at a remote location. Simply put, it does not create a translation memory on your computer but on a cloud server, in a safe hardware storage unit. It maximizes security because it backs up your data and prevents leakage of sensitive information.


In my opinion, translation no longer involves only a vast knowledge of language and the ability to stylistically please the reader. It requires constant learning—and the CAT Tools are not excluded. However, as a student, I can’t see how I could use these advantages in my translations yet. Students mostly get hard copies of texts and using the translation software would require an OCR scan (optical recognition) and compatibility of the applications. Otherwise, you would get a translation of two pages of question marks.

So for now, I will have to make do with the old-fashioned handwritten translation and look forward to the day I won’t have to.

Eva Majerčiaková


Useful links:

Contact Mr. Absolon:

Webinars: (don’t forget to enter the code – asap11102011 - to get your 10% discount!)


CAT Tools:

SDL Trados:


Wordfast Anywhere:

Google Translator Toolkit: