After conducting research and providing training on Computer-Assisted Interpreting (CAI) for the past 6 years, I feel quite confident in affirming that there are three indisputable truths about CAI tools: they can potentially provide a lot of advantages, do more harm than good if not used strategically, and most interpreters know very little about them.
The surveys conducted so far on interpreters’ terminological strategies have shown that only a small percentage has integrated CAI tools in their workflow. Most interpreters still prefer “traditional” solutions such as Word or Excel tables to organize their terminology. There can be many reasons for this. Some may have already developed reliable systems and processes, and don’t see a point in reinventing the wheel. Others believe the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to these tools and are yet to find a truly convincing alternative to their current solutions. Others may simply never have heard about Flashterm, InterpretBank or Interpreter’s Help before.
Even though a lot still remains to be investigated and demonstrated empirically, the studies conducted so far have highlighted both advantages and disadvantages in the use of CAI tools. On the positive side, CAI tools can provide effective preparation through automatic term extraction and in-built concordancers (Xu 2015). They seem to contribute to higher terminological accuracy than paper glossaries or even Excel tables when used to look up terms in the booth. They help interpreters organize, reuse and share their resources, rationalize and speed up their preparation process, make the most of preparation documents, work efficiently on the go and go paperless if desired. On the negative side, they are often perceived as potentially distracting and less flexible than traditional solutions. When working with CAI tools, we might run the risk of relying too much on the tool, both during the preparation phase and interpretation proper.
I would argue that, if used strategically, the pros easily outweigh the cons. Just as with any tool and new technology, it all comes down to how you use them. Whether you are still sceptical, already CAI-curious, or a technology enthusiast, here are three tips on how to make CAI tools work for you.
- Take time to test your tools
Most tools offer a free demo to test out their functionalities. I know we are all busy, but you can use downtimes to work on improving your processes, just as you would (should!) do to work on your CPD and marketing strategy. I suggest you do the following:
- Choose one of your recent assignments, something you had to do research on because the topic was unfamiliar to you.
- Set aside 1-2 hours a day, or even just 30 minutes, to simulate preparing for the assignment again.
- Set yourself a clear goal for each phase of your workflow (glossary creation, terminology extraction, memorization, debriefing).
- Build your baseline: dedicate 1 session to assessing your current approach. Then, dedicate each of the following sessions to testing out a different tool.
- For a systematic comparison, keep track of the time needed for each activity, the pros and cons for each tool, your preferences and things that you found irritating.
You can conduct this analysis and selection process over a week or even a month if you are very busy. Once you have identified what might work for you, keep using those tools! Maybe test them out on a real assignment for a client you already know, where the risk of mishaps is lower.
- There is no perfect tool
Unless you can write code and develop your own tool, chances are there will always be something you don’t like about a tool, or that some functions you deem essential might be missing. But given the advantages that come from working with these solutions, it is definitely worth it to try and see whether you can find a tool that satisfies even just 50% of your interpreting needs. It may not seem much, but it’s already 50% of your workflow that you can optimize.
Once you get a feeling for what each tool can do for you, you might find out that there are some options you love that aren’t available in your tool of choice. My suggestion: mix and match. Most CAI tools are built modularly and allow users to only work with a specific function. For instance, I love Intragloss’ terminology extraction module, so I use that tool to work with documents, but I use InterpretBank for everything else. In a word: experiment and be creative!
- Tools can’t do the work for you
If you’re passionate about technology, you will agree that CAI tools are quite cool. However, we should never forget that they are a tool and, as such, they fulfil their function as long as we use them purposefully. Think before you use them, always make sure you follow a strategic course of action.
If you have the feeling you had never been as ill-prepared as when you worked with a CAI tool, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Am I sure this is the right tool for me? Have I taken enough time to test it out?
- Did I have a clear goal when I started preparing for my assignment? Or was I simply trying to cram together as many terms as possible?
- Am I aware of my learning preferences? If I’m an auditory learner, does it make sense to use a flashcard method to study the terminology?
- Did I include in my glossary just any term that came up in my documents? Or did I start from the relevant terminology I found to further explore the topic?
As for many things in life, reflection and a structured, strategic approach can really go a long way. For busy interpreters needing some guidance, Interpremy is preparing a course series that will help you effectively use CAI tools to optimize all phases of your workflow and avoid potential pitfalls. Get in touch at email@example.com!
 See for instance: Zielinski, Daniel and Yamile Ramírez-Safar (2006). Onlineumfrage zu Terminologieextraktions- und Terminologieverwaltungstools. Wunsch und Wirklichkeit noch weit auseinander.” MDÜ. and Corpas Pastor, Gloria and Lily May Fern (2016). A Survey of Interpreters’ Needs and Practices Related to Language Technology.
 See Xu, Ran (2015). Terminology Preparation for Simultaneous Interpreters. University of Leeds.
 Biagini, Giulio (2015). Glossario cartaceo e glossario elettronico durante l’interpretazione simultanea: uno studio comparativo. Università degli studi di Trieste.
 Prandi, Bianca (2018). An exploratory study on CAI tools in simultaneous interpreting: Theoretical framework and stimulus validation. In Claudio Fantinuoli (ed.), Interpreting and technology, 29–59. Berlin: Language Science Press.
 Prandi, Bianca (2015). The Use of CAI Tools in Interpreters’ Training: A Pilot Study. 37th Conference Translating and the Computer, 48–57.
About the author:
- Conference Interpreter IT-EN-DE, MA Interpreting (University of Bologna/Forlì), based in Mannheim (Germany), www.biancaprandi.com;
- PhD candidate – University of Mainz/Germersheim. Research topic: impact of computer-assisted interpreting tools on terminological quality and cognitive processes in simultaneous interpreting;
- CAI trainer and co-founder of InterpreMY – my interpreting academy: online academy for interpreters with goal-centered, research-based courses, www.interpremy.com (coming soon: July 2020).
- Prandi, B. (2015). L’uso di InterpretBank nella didattica dell’interpretazione: uno studio esplorativo. Università di Bologna/Forlì.
- Prandi, B. (2015). The Use of CAI Tools in Interpreters’ Training: A Pilot Study. 37th Conference Translating and the Computer, 48–57. London.
- Prandi, B. (2017). Designing a Multimethod Study on the Use of CAI Tools during Simultaneous Interpreting. 39th Conference Translating and the Computer, 76–88. London: AsLing.
- Prandi, B. (2018). An exploratory study on CAI tools in Simultaneous Interpreting: theoretical framework and stimulus validation. In C. Fantinuoli (Ed.), Interpreting and technology, 28–59.
- Fantinuoli, C., & Prandi, B. (2018). Teaching information and communication technologies: a proposal for the interpreting classroom. Trans-Kom, 11(2), 162–182.
- Prandi, B. (forthcoming). CAI tools in interpreter training: where are we now and where do we go from here? InTRAlinea.