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Teaching Computer Aided Translation Tools at Auckland University

by Christof Schneider, 21st October, 2004

Article describing Christof Schneider’s CAT tool course in New Zealand


Christof Schneider teaches a course in Computer Aided Translation tools (CAT) at the Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies at the University of Auckland.

If we think of translators as business people, then we should think of their tools in terms of their efficiency. Historically, translation equipment has been rather rudimentary, and has developed over the centuries since the Rosetta stone. The boulder and chisel were replaced by paper and quill, the horse and cart gave way to snail and mail. The past twenty years has seen another revolution in the field of translation tools: the advent of affordable electronic tools for translators.

Major changes in work patterns came about as a result of the introduction of personal computers to the translator’s workstation. Even more dramatic were the adjustments made when the internet became the main medium for cultural, political and economical globalisation were . In addition to the phenomenal increase in published knowledge, the PC and the internet opened new markets and challenged translators and the ways we work and run our businesses. Today we have easy access to sophisticated CAT tools and the latest knowledge. As a result, willingness to engage in life-long learning has to be added to the skills required of a translator.

This development of tools together with the shift in work patterns need to be reflected in the tertiary education of translators. The secure and well equipped learning environment at the Centre for T&I Studies at the University of Auckland provides an ideal opportunity which is currently unique in New Zealand. Students will be guided through an examination of the important issues and the latest technology. The goal of the course is always to encourage and enable the adoption of a professional perspective in order to assess one’s own professional needs.

The course currently focuses on the following areas:

Firstly, students discuss the hardware and software components of a modern computer-based translation workstation.

The next two topics acknowledge the importance of on-line and off-line databases as sources for terminology, parallel texts, general and subject encyclopaedias, dictionaries and glossaries. Since the Internet is a self-edited source of information, students will learn methods of critically evaluating internet resources. The students are then introduced to a range of internet resources and to working with off-line databases. The main focus is on research strategies and techniques, with particular emphasis on terminology research.

As “knowledge professionals”, translators spend much of their time on research – and time in a business environment still equals money. Therefore, the results of research need to be utilised and documented wisely. In this context, the fourth part of the course introduces students to tools which help them organise their terminology. Terminological principles will be used to create layouts for “home-made” or commercial terminology management tools.

This first excursion into specialised CAT tools, leads to the fifth topic which explores the functionalities of Translation Memory (TM) software. The way TMs work will be explained and a number of different software packages will be presented. Students are given the opportunity to use and evaluate Déjà Vu X Translation Memory throughout the course of their study.

The course is completed by touching on some basic – yet highly relevant – aspects of word processing skills and tools used to create a professional portfolio.

If time permitted, the course may explore work-flow issues (from receiving a file for translation, through to sending the finished work and storing it) and/or introduce the use of text corpus analysis tools, which extract wordlists from a text corpus and generate concordances. This relatively inexpensive (or free) software could be used as the basis of pre-translation terminology research. A third option comprises sophisticated localisation tools which extract the translatable portions from software, games and other applications.

Although most of the topics and tools above will help to increase the translator’s efficiency, not all CAT tools are required by or suitable for a particular translator. The skills taught in this course will help each student assess his or her personal requirements. In the best case scenario, the knowledge gained might stimulate some of the students to deepen their skill base in a topic which could open up new professional opportunities – from localisation project manager to ‘knowledge broker’.

© Christof Schneider, August 2004

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