Machine Translation

Machine Translation vs. Computer-assisted Translation: What’s the Difference?

Machine Translation

The terms “computer-assisted translation” and “machine translation” sound similar, and it’s easy to get them confused. But there is a significant difference between the two, with very different results.

Machine Translation: Fast and Cheap, but Inaccurate

Machine translation is accomplished by feeding a text to a computer algorithm that translates it automatically into another language. That is, no human is involved in the translation process.

The advantages of machine translation include cost and speed. Computers can process a machine translation almost instantly. There are free programs such as Google Translate that can translate relatively short texts instantly, but if you need to translate a very long document, you can purchase software that can process an unlimited amount of text at the cost of the software alone. There is also software available that can be integrated with other computer and online tools, providing instant translations in various contexts.

The major disadvantage is lack of accuracy. If you’ve ever used Google Translate to attempt to understand a text in a foreign language, you will know that this method does not produce a particularly natural-sounding or accurate translation. Language is highly complex and dynamic, and while this type of translation technology has improved greatly over the years, it will never be able to completely accurately identify the nuances of each language and transfer them into another language.

It is possible to hire a “post-translation editor” to look over the translation and correct errors, but it can be harder to correctly deduct the meaning of a sentence from its machine translation than from its original language. Translators hired to “smooth out” such translations sometimes end up asking clients to send them the original text because the translation was unintelligible. This is a big waste of everybody’s time!

The best use for machine translation, then, is when you need to understand the general gist of a text. If you need an accurate translation that anyone can understand, you’ll want to opt for a computer-assisted translation.

Computer-Assisted Translation: Human Translation Enhanced with Computerized Tools

Computer-Assisted Translation is a human translation carried out with the aid of computerized tools. That is, a human translator is the one reading and deducing the meaning of the source text and transferring it into the target language. They are simply utilizing computerized translation tools to help them work more quickly and accurately.

You probably already use some of these tools yourself. For example, nearly every word processor, and many web browsers, have a built-in spell checker and/or automatic spelling correction function. This saves writers and translators a lot of time looking up words in the dictionary!

Speaking of dictionaries, when a translator does need to look up a word, they can save time by using a computerized dictionary. As a translator, my most often-used tools are the multi-language dictionary (to help recall words that may be escaping me at that moment) and the thesaurus (to help me choose exactly the right word for my translation).

More complex computerized translation tools include translation memory tools (databases of texts in multiple languages), terminology managers (that help translators maintain consistent terminology throughout the translation), terminology databases (to help translators locate the correct terminology for that field), bitext aligners (which align the source text and the translation for side-by-side comparison), and more.

1 Comment

  1. Hadie

    Thanks, Ulatus, you’ve helped me more understand about CAT and machine translation.

Share your thoughts