Machine translation VS CAT tools: What’s the difference?

April 14, 2015 by Karis Dunford

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Technology is making our lives easier and more productive each day, and the translation industry is no exception! Two  concepts that are often bundled together and confused by laymen are machine translation and CAT tools. They are, however quite distinct and serve quite different functions. That’s why we are asking the question: machine translation vs CAT tools: what is actually the difference?



Translators are getting faster and more efficient as we see the introduction of more powerful word processing software, more comprehensive online resources and large databases full of searchable information relating to colloquialisms and quirky terminology. But amongst this, the most important advancement has been the birth of the CAT tool. CAT tools, or Computer Aided Translation tools, are programmes that seamlessly bring together all the great technology available to translators into one place. Translators can search their own compiled terminology databases for terms and their definitions to help them find the words that fit the tone and style of a document perfectly. They can also access databases through the CAT tool which will then offer them suggestions on how to translate a text based on memories it has stored from previous translations the translator has produced.

Additionally, they can even compare statistical data about the text they are translating, meaning that they can guarantee that the text is of a subject they are confident in translating much more quickly and with more confidence than ever before. Overall, this makes translators faster, more streamlined and considerably more efficient. They spend more time translating rather than researching and clicking about looking for that perfect word!

So what does this mean? Overall, the main advantages are improved consistency, faster turnarounds and happier translators!

machine translation vs CAT tools

As technology advances, our curiosity into machine translations have grown with it. With the dawn of Google Translate and Bing Translator, understanding another language is not just something that is reserved to a select few who possess linguistic capabilities, but now anyone can get the gist of a foreign language using these online tools. But, that’s where it ends; unfortunately, machine translation has not yet reached the level of sophistication needed to accurately convey the context, style and tone of a text that a translator can. Our world is moving forward – technology is advancing day by day, but language is not binary, a simple yes or no, right or wrong – it is fluid, changing, transient, and therefore needs human intellect and analysis to be correctly conveyed and expressed.

The issue is particularly acute for translation types where great accuracy and attention to detail matter, such as legal translation services. Related to that, it remains currently inconceivable that we would entrust a piece of software with issuing certified translations, without recourse to a human being. It thus looks to be several decades before a machine translation can be trusted to be accurate the same way a human translation can, and to be honest, that suits us just fine!

At Rosetta Translation, we have a very clear answer in this machine translation vs CAT tools debate: we are all in on CAT tools, because they assist us humans in improving the quality and consistency of translations. In contrast, we stay clear of machine translation, for quality reasons.

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