Did you know that computer-assisted translation and machine translation are not the same thing?

Published on 28/11/2017

Understanding the difference between machine translation and computer-assisted translation is essential

Automatic translation refers to translation carried out entirely by a computer programme, among which we can highlight Google Translator as the best known. Computer-assisted translation, on the other hand, is any translation carried out by a translator. This translator uses computer programmes to create databases and to facilitate the management of document formats.

These two types of translation should not be confused. Both translations involve a computer programme. However, the difference lies in the fact that no human activity is involved in machine translation at any point of the process, rather 100% of the translation is done by a computer programme.

So what is computer-assisted translation?

Computer-assisted translation also makes use of computer programmes. However, in this case, it is a human translator who translates the text manually by entering it into the programme. We refer to it as computer-assisted translation because translators use a computer programme, which facilitates their work in many aspects:

The programme creates a database of translations done by the translator over time. It also recognises texts that have been translated by the translator previously and tells them if there are any similar sentences. In the same way, it gives the translator the option to select a word and check whether it already appears in the database, while displaying the context in which it appears. Therefore, in the professional field, these databases are known as translation memories.

Another feature of computer-assisted translation programmes, or CAT tools, is the possibility of extracting the text to be translated from a large number of formats. Therefore, almost all programmes are able to process formats such as .csv or .xml from a content management system (CMS), .idml (InDesign) or even pptx presentations (Power Point).  

So what is post-editing?

The number of translation companies offering post-editing services is increasing. This service combines machine translation and computer-assisted translation. In this case, the text is first translated automatically. This practice is usually carried out with highly specialised machine translation tools, which use a system that can deliver a professional quality end result. After this process, a revision stage is carried out manually by a translator. To do this, he or she usually uses a computer-assisted translation programme to make the necessary corrections to the text translated by the computer programme. Nowadays, this practice, which is mainly applied in the technical field, is particularly aimed at reducing the costs and time involved in carrying out the entire translation by one person. However, if we analyse the value for money of the final result, this practice is useless for very abstract texts. 

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Josh Gambin

Josh Gambin holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.

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