5 Advantages and 5 Disadvantages of Computer-Assisted Translation

October 18, 2021
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Are you looking to add translation to your content workflow? What are the advantages and disadvantages of adding computer-assisted translation to your process?
Computer-assisted translation is often misunderstood by companies getting started with translation.
Like many people, you might be uncertain if you should purchase your own tools. Or does it make more sense to use a translation provider that uses such tools?
There are many clear advantages to using computer-assisted translation… but there are also some significant potential disadvantages.

What is Computer-Assisted Translation?

Computer-assisted translation (CAT) is an umbrella term for a category of software tools used to aid human translators in their work. The tools make translation more efficient, consistent, and faster. When used well they improve the accuracy and consistency of translations.
Various tools fall under the category of computer-assisted translation, including:
  • Quality Assurance (QA) tools that automatically check a whole range of dimensions like spelling, consistency, and missing terminology.
  • Translation memories (TMs) that store past translations and reuse them when the same phrases are present in a new text.
  • Terminology management tools that store a company-specific glossary of important words or phrases and approved translations for them.
  • … and a whole host of other tools.
Often these come packaged into a suite of CAT tools from a single software provider.

What you probably don’t realize about CAT tools

If a translation provider tells you that they “use CAT tools,” your immediate response should be: “Obviously you use CAT tools… but how do you use them?”
Any moderately capable translation provider must be using CAT tools. But, just using the tools is not enough. You need to use them in the right way otherwise they can end up causing more problems than they solve.
This is also true if you are thinking of adding CAT tools to your company’s internal workflow.
We often see companies making a mistake when they are new to translation. They think that buying a suite of CAT tools is all they need to do to manage all their company’s translation. But, just having the tools is not enough.
CAT tools are only advantageous when you use them efficiently and with the right supporting processes behind them.

5 lesser-known advantages of computer-assisted translation

There are many powerful advantages to using computer-assisted translation. In fact, you’d be crazy to try to manage your translations without at least some CAT tools in the process — either those used by your translation provider or those hosted or rented by your business.
Here are 5 lesser-reported advantages:

1. More consistent global company image

Terminology management tools and translation memories help to keep your translations consistent even when multiple translators are working on your content. This consistency of translations contributes to a more consistent image of your company in your international markets.

2. You can do more with your budget

When managed efficiently, CAT tools help to reduce the cost of your translations. The effective use of translation memories, for example, has a classic benefit that you never pay for the same translation twice. This gives you extra budget to work with.

3. All your teams are on the same page

Centralized CAT tools provide a way to keep all your teams working consistently around translations, even when those people are spread across the globe. This requires that you embed that centralization into your processes and actively promote it in your international markets.
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4. Faster turnarounds and fewer delays

Late translations are an endemic problem in the translation industry – something that we at Rubric believe is completely unacceptable. Well-managed CAT tools can help to reduce the time for translation. They can even remove delays caused by late translations completely.

5. Avoids a competitive disadvantage

We could say that CAT tools give you a competitive advantage, but this wouldn’t be accurate. Because CAT tools are used so extensively in the translation industry, you would probably be at a disadvantage if they weren’t used at some point in your process.
However, this doesn’t mean you need your own CAT tools. Usually, it makes more sense to use a translation provider that employs CAT tools themselves.

5 worrying disadvantages of computer-assisted translation

If computer-assisted translation is so important for managing translations, how can there be any disadvantages?
The trouble with CAT tools is that they are not easy to use properly. Even the most intuitive tools require a significant amount of knowledge and experience before you can achieve the advantages listed above.
Here are some concerning disadvantages that can arise:

1. Takes a lot of work to set up properly

We have often been called in to help companies who have tried to set up their own CAT tools internally and got stuck. Sure, the tools themselves might be simple enough to use. But, people underestimate the amount of work required to change their internal processes to align with how the tools function.

2. Requires training your content creators

Many of the cost savings we help companies to make don’t come from changing the translations themselves — they come from improving how the source content is created. If you want to get the most from a CAT tool, you usually need to train your people to create content in a way that makes best use of the tools.

3. Must be kept up to date by someone

Maintenance work is often overlooked when companies start to use CAT tools. Someone needs to keep the content updated or the tools will gradually become less useful over time. If you are using a translation provider who uses their own CAT tools, you should clarify with them upfront how your content will be maintained within their tools.
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4. Can become a liability if not maintained

If you don’t maintain the content stored in your CAT tools, a further disadvantage is that the content can become an active liability. For example, if a terminology management tool is out of date, your translators could be using the wrong terms for products or brand terms. This could impact sales and even cause legal issues.

5. Uncovers holes in your processes

Deploying your own CAT tools usually requires you to change your content creation and management processes. This is where companies often find that there are more “holes” in their process that they weren’t aware of. Sometimes, they blame the tool in this case, but the holes will still exist until you fix them, no matter what tools you use.

Should you use CAT in your business?

If you need to consistently create translated content for your international markets, you will likely need computer-assisted translation at some point in the process.
Do you need to buy your own CAT tools? Or is it enough just to use a translation provider with CAT tools?
The answer to this is: it depends.
Most of the time it is more efficient to use a good translation provider that uses CAT tools in the right way. For example, at Rubric, we have heavily optimized our CAT tools over the years. As a result, our versions of the tools operate better than the same tools out-of-the-box.
To learn more factors that can improve your content creation workflow, download a free copy of our eBook 10 Profitable Tips to Streamline Your Translation Workflow.

10 Profitable Tips to Streamline Your Translation Workflow

Like any manufacturer, you know that a streamlined workflow is the key to a successful business. However, the idea of having a “streamlined translation workflow” might seem unusual.