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Technologies Used in Translation

There are several technologies that are linked to or associated with translation. These technologies help practitioners achieve their goals more quickly and at a lower cost. While these technologies are useful aids, they do not completely replace the indispensable human eye and human adaptation.

Human language is enormously complex, and translation between languages is certainly not just a matter of replacing the words. Texts where the style and nuance of the language is especially important are a challenge even for professional translators. So we should not be surprised that the inherent limitations of the current generation of translation programs mean that they are less able to translate some kinds of texts. They do much better on straightforward text like technical manuals or informative web pages, and much worse on literary text. They also only work on well-written texts with correct spelling and conventional grammar.

Machine Translation

Machine translation (MT) is the application of computers to the task of translating texts from one natural language to another. One of the very earliest pursuits in computer science, MT has proven to be an elusive goal, but today a reasonable number of systems are available which produce output that, if not perfect, is of sufficient quality to be useful in a number of specific domains. The archaic-sounding term "machine translation" is -- for historical reasons -- nowadays primarily associated with standalone translation programs, whereas the translation software now available runs the gamut from simple dictionary lookup programs used as word-processor add-ons to sophisticated batch-translation systems and fast translation on the Web.

Computer-Aided Translation

In recent years, translation software packages that are designed primarily as an aid for the human translator in the production of translations, rather than a standalone "black box," have become popular within professional translation organizations. These programs, referred to as computer-aided translation (CAT), use a variety of linguistic tools to improve the productivity of translators, particularly when translating highly repetitive texts, such as technical documentation.

Content Scanning

Another viable application for MT is content scanning, that is, using a translation system simply to obtain a rough draft so as to be able to get the general gist of a text. MT is widely used in the European Commission for this purpose, for example, and it is widely used on the Internet.

Other Resources

SYSTRAN, the leading supplier of language translation software

Kilgray Translation Technologies - Machine Translation & translation memories

White Paper: Using Translation Technology at Sun Microsystems


Janette Lynch created this page.