At a recent non-translation related trade show I was occasionally asked the shocking question, “So, how often do you use Google Translate?” The answer is of course, never, but it gets to a matter we’ve discussed a lot on the blog, the lack of understanding of how professional translation is actually done.
At AZ World we use Computer Aided Translation (CAT) software, now when I say “translation software” people immediately think Google Translate or machine translation. That is simply wrong. CAT software can have tools like glossaries, spell checkers, or translation memories. They in no way translate for the translator, but just provide additional tools, like any modern word processor does. The translation memory is the most powerful of the CAT tools, and the one that causes the most confusion. It’s best explained with an example.
Say your company, Initech, releases weekly Human Resources bulletins that must be translated into Spanish so that employees in both New York and Madrid can read them. Assuming Initech, uses a standard format for each of the bulletins, there are probably words repeated each week. These can be things like company slogans or mottos. For example, “Is This Good for the COMPANY?” Instead of paying full rate for translating “Is This Good for the COMPANY?” every week, Initech would only have to pay full rate once, then that phrase would enter into Initech’s TM and every subsequent translation would charge that phrase at a significantly lower rate.
This system rewards customer loyalty by providing our clients with a lower rate the more they use AZ World, but it has another benefit for clients as well. The TM is the property of the client and will be provided to them if they request it. The client then still has a database of translated words they can take to a new translator should they choose to leave AZ World.
The way the TM actually works depends on the specifics of the translation software used, but it can be useful to think of it as a sort of find and replace function. And this is where people become confused about translation memories and CAT and machine translation (Google Translate).
This is where it is important to point out the difference between using translation memories, TM’s, and using machine translation, MT. MT uses a general database of words and simply replaces all entered words with their translated equivalent. While MT software is getting better and better at detecting context and finding equivalent verb tenses, it is still nowhere near as good as professional translation. While MT uses a general database, TM’s are client specific databases that contain the words that best fit that client’s needs and environment. The TM also isn’t used for every single word in a project. Large bodies of text cannot be properly translated with a TM, but technical and specialized words within a body of text can be.
Nowadays everyone from teachers to cabinet makers utilize specialized computer software to improve their work, translators are no difference. These tools improve the quality and quantity of work, and in no way will replace the irreplaceable human element