What is language translation software?

I don’t think anyone needs reminding how much we use technology these days. The professional translation and localization industry has benefitted greatly from these advancements. The translation process is famously very time-consuming, as it often requires extensive research, careful consideration and meticulous attention to detail. This is where language translation software comes in. By automating many processes and much of the workflow, this technology saves the translator a lot of time, which consequently improves efficiency, consistency and the quality of the translation produced. Language translation software helps language professionals in a variety of ways, so that they in turn can help you!

What is language translation software?

Firstly, let’s establish the types of software to be covered in this article. The term “language translation software” covers a wide range of technology, all performing many different jobs throughout the translation process. For now, we’ll focus on those associated with the translation of written language. You might also hear of speech-to-text or text-to-speech software, or transcription, subtitling or voiceover software. We could really be here all day, so we’ll stick to written translation software for now. Here are a few of the main types of text translation software that you might have already heard of:

  • Machine translation. There’s a seriously wide range of machine translation software available online, and MT technology is constantly improving thanks to the work of digital giants like Google and Microsoft. Google Translate is probably the most well-known example of machine translation (software that does the actual translation for you) but there are many others, including free and paid-for versions, and different machine translation engine types: statistical, rule-based, hybrid and neural. Although machine translation is not at the level of human translation yet, some engines can be trained to improve its output – these differ by the ways they learn and improve their translated output. What’s more, machine translation post-editing is a popular practice in the translation industry – the term describes the process of having a text translated by a machine, and checked by a post-editing expert, to check for errors and improve readability. It can save you time and money but isn’t appropriate for all text types.
  • CAT tools. Otherwise known as computer-assisted translation tools, they help the translator by preparing the text for translation rather than doing the translation work itself, like the software described above. CAT tools help the translator in a multitude of ways, by slicing the text into manageable chunks, solving any formatting issues, and providing quality assurance checks for both the quality of the writing and the quality of the translation. This software is often also equipped with a translation memory, which saves past translations and stores them in a client-specific bilingual repository, so that if a similar or identical phrase crops up in a later project, the original translation is ready to use. This means that your business’ language always stays consistent, and that you never have to translate the same phrase twice! CAT tools help the translator by providing all these resources in one place, so the translator can spend less time searching and formatting, and more time finding exactly the right word for your text.
  • Term bases, glossaries and style guides. These can be included in other forms of translation software, or perhaps might be used on their own. Term bases, glossaries and style guides are resources that might be written and maintained collaboratively by the project managers and the customer. They inform the translation of any pre-approved translation (often used for things like product names) and include instructions to help the translator perfectly match the voice of the company.
  • Project management software. As you might have guessed, this kind of software tends to be used by project managers to make their job more efficient by automating much of the workflow. PMs can use it to keep a close eye on translation projects, create and assign tasks to translators, and safely store and share documents. Some also allow project managers to view analytics to help them monitor overall progress. This type of application might also include a customer portal, which allows customers to keep an eye on their own projects too!

What are the qualities of good translation software?

We’ve now established that there are lots of different jobs with which language translation software can help. Good software will include many of these functionalities in one place, which speeds up the process for everyone involved. Even if the software doesn’t specifically involve a certain function, it should be compatible with Microsoft and Adobe applications, along with other widely used productivity tools. Here are a few more features that any language professional will be looking out for when shopping for language translation software:

  • Appropriate language pairs. This might be an obvious one, but it’s important that your software supports translation both into and out of your required languages.
  • Automatic file formatting. This will save the translator a lot of valuable time, so that they can spend longer on the important bits – translating!
  • Translation quality assurance and spellcheck. Any translator worth their salt will know how to meticulously check and proofread their own translations. However, the human eye is not infallible, and we do sometimes make mistakes, so quality assurance software can catch any errors that might otherwise slip the net and provide peace of mind.
  • Translation collaboration. The translator is one of many people who will work on your text – there might be a second translator collaborating, a reviser, a proofreader, and a project manager who will need access to the translation for one reason or another. This might mean that a cloud-based server would be preferable.
  • Information security. This might just be the most important one. You’re handing over important company documents, and you need to make sure that it’s in good hands. Your translation provider will be airtight in their own procedures, which should include making sure any platform to which they upload your text has multi-factor authentication and encrypted file storage at the very least, to make sure that your text is always protected.

What is the best language translation software?

There isn’t really a “best” language translation software, it’s subjective. An opinion might depend on the languages used and the types of text involved in the translation process. For example, the best software for translating subtitles won’t be the best software for translating a magazine. With this being said, there are certainly industry leaders used by most translation professionals. SDL Trados and memoQ are popular CAT tools, and many agencies require their freelance translators to have a working knowledge of these programs to ensure a smooth workflow.

There are also a few applications that might come in handy for you as a non-language professional. If you find yourself abroad (lucky you!) and want to know how to quickly translate the pictures and signs you see, have a look at our article on how to translate text from an image. Google Translate is also handy to use for your on-the-go translations. If you’re looking to research how a word or phrase has been translated in different contexts, language professionals swear by Linguee. The website combines a dictionary with a search engine, so when you type in a particular word, you’re met with the definition, along with examples of its use within context. Further reliable sources for translating words yourself are The Free Dictionary (a dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopaedia all in one), Microsoft Language Portal (for words in the domain of IT and software), and IATE (Interactive Terminology for Europe), which is the EU’s terminology database.

How does language software work to your best advantage?

Language translation software such as the CAT tools and the project management software mentioned earlier often require a start-up cost and an annual subscription, so if you aren’t doing regular translation work yourself it’s probably not worth it. There’s sometimes a fee involved to access some websites or machine translation software. Translators and agencies invest in this software so that you don’t have to, so that they can do their job better in providing you with consistently high-quality translations at competitive prices. At Planet Languages we use language translation software to support all our translators and project managers, to get you the best results for the best prices.