Translation technology usage in university translation courses: beyond word processors

May 23, 2017 10:00 am

Technology and translation have evolved together in the last years, challenging translators to be constantly updating their software together with their IT skills to keep up to the market’s expectations. But is this evolution integrated in Translation university courses? Heriot-Watt University lecturer Ramón Inglada shares with us his views on the matter.

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When I was a Translation student in the late 90s/early 2000s, Translation classes at university were decidedly low-tech. Most students would complete their assignments at home using word processing software and in class we would implement changes on hardcopies using a pen.

hacker-1569744_1280Ten years later, as a Translation lecturer I saw that Translation classes were still markedly low-tech. Although many students now come to class equipped with their laptops or tablets and enter any corrections directly into their files, that is the only major difference.

Being fully aware as a translator of how technified our profession has become over the last 20 years, I found this quite remarkable. If we take the example of CAT tools, we will see that a majority of professionals use these tools to complete their translation projects (actual uptake varies between 60% and 90% in most studies).

If this is the professional reality for a large number of professional translators today, why are translation courses at most universities still so distinctly low-tech? Could students benefit from a more high-tech approach? Should CAT tools (and other technologies) be used in actual translation courses, instead of only being included in specific, language-independent translation technology courses?

Some of the advantages of this approach could be:

  • Students would have a much more realistic experience.
  • They would learn translation and technology skills at the same time.
  • Translation courses would provide a rich set of transferable skills for the workplace.

There might also be some disadvantages:

  • Some students might struggle with the technology and this could have a negative impact on their acquisition of translation skills.
  • Some universities might not have enough staff with the required technical skills.
  • The potential costs associated with a technology-based approach (computer labs, software licences).

What do you think? Do you believe students would benefit from using CAT tools in translation courses? Do you know any university that has already implemented this approach?

Ramon Inglada_Profile PicWritten by Ramón Inglada, Translator and Lecturer at Heriot-Watt University (Scotland). Ramón Inglada has been a professional translator since 2002. He has also been working as a university lecturer since 2012, teaching a wide range of courses, including English into Spanish Translation, Translation Technologies and Software Localisation.

Post prepared by Doris Fernandes del Pozo – Journalist, Translator-Interpreter and Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. She is pursuing a PhD as part of the Communication and Contemporary Information Programme of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

Disclaimer_External contributions to blog


  • Eckl, Michael and Haselbeck, Sebastian (2014) Global Translators Survey 2014: A study publication by LingoIO. Available at: (Accessed 17 May 2017)
  • Metatexis (n.d.) “Why translate with a CAT tool?”. Available at: (Accessed 17 May 2017)
  • Scuk Bego, Alena (2016) Top Three Free CAT Tools. Available at: (Accessed 16 May 2017)
  • Tabor, Jared (2013) CAT tool use by translators: who is using? Available at: (Accessed 17 May 2017)
  • The Economist (2015) “Technology may not replace human translators, but it will help them work better”. Available at: (Accessed 16 May 2017)


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  • Kevin Lossner

    It seems to me that the research for this article is seriously deficient. With regard to “potential costs”, there are a number of high quality free and Open Source tools available for assisting translators, like OmegaT. And for educational purposes, licenses of some top commercial tools, such as Kilgray’s memoQ, are available to instructors and students at no charge.

    It is unlikely that most students would “struggle” with the technology if properly confronting the technology in a concept-based approach rather than the superficial, tool-specific approach too often inflicted on them.

    The shortage of staff with the requisite skills is also easily addressed. Continuing education is a normal part of professional life, and universities should require staff instructors to update their skills to reflect current realities. A reasonable start could be made by most with a few hours of application, and if they pretend to have any research skills of value at the university level, it should not be an insurmountable obstacle to find the information and resources to go deeper if required. Simple inertia and laziness is, alas, rather widespread, but if academic translation programs are to survive and thrive, this must change.

    It is also critically important that teaching staff in translation, language and linguistics departments be in control of the introduction and application of technology in their fields, not parcel out such responsibility to other departments such as computer science, which may too easily result in the overemphasis of technology in a translation program and the ultimate destruction of translation programs with a sound linguistic basis. The unfortunate developments in recent years at the Universitaet des Saarlandes are an example of this.

    There is not half as much needed to master this technology usefully as the “gurus” too often imply with their idiotic, feature-based “training”. University staff who spend some time on these matters will soon realize that the “new” approach is not a much greater leap than from pen and paper or a typewriter to a word processor on some sort of computer. And ultimately what matters is linguistic mastery, writing skills, subject matter knowledge and research skills. Without these all the technology is good for no more than the dustbin.

    • Ramon Inglada

      Many thanks, Kevin, for your comments and interesting

      This article was just meant to be a short, basic and general
      introduction to this topic, which I find particularly interesting.

      In terms of potential costs, I completely agree with you. In
      fact, one of the links included in the article points to a list with some examples
      of free CAT tools, including OmegaT, although there are many more.

      However, I’m afraid I disagree with the idea that most
      students would not struggle if the right concept-based approach was used to
      teach technology. I have been teaching translation technology for a number of
      years and this is definitely not the case. This can also be extrapolated to the
      experience of many other colleagues, who use a variety of different approaches.
      Maybe you are right and we just need to find the right approach, but with the current
      methods some students excel, while others simply struggle.

      Finally, while I also generally agree with your views
      regarding the technical skills of university staff and the need to continuously
      update them, I am not sure that this can be easily addressed. As you mentioned
      yourself, simple inertia and laziness are rather widespread indeed.

      Thanks again for your interesting comments.


      • Kevin Lossner

        Ramon, I have yet to see what I would consider a concept-based teaching approach for translation technology at most universities. Translation memories and other modules which too often comprise the main focus of instruction are features, not concepts. Give the students the proper workflow context for things and learning is much easier. I probably could have stated this better as a “workflow-based approach with a discussion of the relevant underlying concepts”.

        As for staff who are unwilling to update their skills, I would say that McDonald’s is hiring if I were sure that is still the case. In these uncertain times I would instead encourage deans of faculties to invest in thumbscrews or use gentler means of persuasion.

  • david hardisty

    Let’s take two of the main CAT Tools used and see which universities they work with – MemoQ and SDL Trados

    • Ramon Inglada

      Thank you for your comment as well, David.

      Yes, thankfully there is quite a lot of university courses teaching CAT tools, but the main point of the article was indeed to discuss (or at least try to) whether it would be interesting to teach and use translation technologies in translation seminars, rather than “ostracising” them to specific language-independent technology courses, which, as far as I know, is the case at most universities nowadays.

      • Jonathan Beagley

        That was more or less my experience, Ramon. I learned how to use CAT tools over the course of 3-4 language independent seminars. But in general, nobody used them in class for the translations! Despite “knowing” how CAT tools worked, it took me a decent amount of time after graduating before I was really and truly comfortable using them.

  • Susan Starling

    Of course CAT tools should be used in actual translation courses. As a professional translator in the corporate sector for nearly 20 years, with no relation to academia, I’m actually rather shocked to hear that this isn’t standard practice. So you’re saying that students write translations on their computers and then enter in the corrections by hand in the file – really? I’m sure I must have done that too during the late nineties and perhaps (very) early 2000s, but it’s so long ago I can barely remember. I’m puzzled as to why students would not be taught translation as it occurs in the real world. And I hardly think that those students would be challenged by the technology. I’m sure most of us, even those who are quite handy with CAT tools, have to ask their children or other nearby young person for help with their phone on occasion. It’s more the older generation of translators who have had trouble with – or simply been resistant to – the transition to CAT tools (which is where I assume most of the figure of 10% to 40% of translators not using CAT tools comes from). It would seem to me that relegating CAT tools to special IT-focused courses would exacerbate the effect of CAT tools being considered “high tech,” when in fact they are simply an organizational tool for managing resources such as glossaries and corpora of previous translations or other references, as every well-organized translator should be doing. So certainly, it seems quite clear from a professional standpoint that students learning translation in a classroom environment should be working in CAT tools at all times while learning actual translation skills – which are of course the most important consideration! Learning to translate is what they should be focusing on, but in a real-world environment. That way they learn the technology without any special effort as they go along, which would seem the most sensible approach to me.

    • Ramon Inglada

      Susan, many thanks for your comment. I find it particularly
      interesting to see the opinion of a professional translator. Yes, nowadays students
      generally follow the process you have described (using their computers, or
      tablets, or even phones). It is not uncommon to see students using pen and
      paper and correcting their handwritten translations using a red pen (yes, really).

      I find this surprising as well and, as you very well put it,
      I also believe that students should focus on learning to translate in a
      real-world environment (as much as possible, in any case). I agree with you
      that, from a professional standpoint, students would definitely benefit from
      this approach. But if this is so clear, why are not universities doing it?