With its status as an international city and a leading regional centre for business and finance, Hong Kong has long recognised the benefits of being fluent in more than one language. The rapid expansion of the China market has re-emphasised the importance of this and is now creating additional demand for financial and legal translators with knowledge of corporate finance, since all relevant documents must be produced in bilingual versions. The growth of the local telecommunications and tourism sectors has also led to an increase in the volume of work being handled by translators, who must be well versed not only in language skills but also in the latest technology used for translation.
"Computer-aided translation (CAT) is becoming a standard tool for translators," notes Chan Sin-wai, professor in the Department of Translation at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). According to Dr Chan, it can be applied to most non-literary texts, such as business documents with a relatively fixed format and vocabulary. Overall efficiency is greatly improved, since the accuracy of data, numbers and technical terms is ensured by the computer system. "CAT also enhances the quality of translation by giving uniformity to the language in a text. Translators from different educational or cultural backgrounds might otherwise use different terms for the same word," he notes.
Although CAT has been widely adopted in countries such as the US and is beginning to gain popularity in China, it is still in the initial stages of development in Hong Kong. The CUHK's translation department has pioneered the promotion of CAT in the local market and has introduced the first MA programme in the subject. Combining courses in translation and computer science, it is proving to be a popular choice with both engineers and former arts students, who are looking to strengthen their language and computer skills at the same time.
"The best thing about this programme is that it is keeping up with future demand in the field of translation," says Peter Fan, who is currently taking the course. As the general manager of a language services company, Mr Fan notes that the benefits of CAT for local businesses are potentially unlimited. "CAT is a highly cost-effective approach, as it increases the number of texts a small team of translators can complete in a short period of time," he explains.
The emphasis on reduced cost is top of the agenda for many local companies providing translation services, especially as there is increasing competition from mainland translators prepared to undercut on price. Although CAT is yet to become a concept which is fully accepted in Hong Kong, Dr Chan believes it will be adopted by more and more businesses and that translators should be completely familiar with the system. "The quality of most translators in Hong Kong is very high", he says, "but as the market evolves, they must equip themselves with the necessary portfolio of skills to stay ahead in their profession."