CATs (Computer Aided Translation)
CATs should not be confused with MT. It really isn't the same thing. While MT is aimed at DOING a translation, CATs HELP THE TRANSLATOR do the translation. Typically, CATs let the translator view both the source text and his translation. They incorporate a translation memory that contains past translations, so that when the source text is in some way similar to an earlier translation, the CAT proposes the previous translation, helping the translator to remain consistent throughout the text. Some also incorporate a terminology database and can perform simultaneously with MS Word™.
There are many CATs on the market, such as Trados™, Worfast™, Star Transit™, Déjà Vu™, SDLX™,… And most of these products are very efficient - although some are trouble due to faulty programming and failure to understand the needs of translators. Well used, CATs can greatly increase both speed and quality of translations.
Translator's mother tongue
Professional translations require the translator to translate toward his own mother tongue. The reason for it is that translations require "the full picture" on the target country (or countries). In other words, one needs to be able to think like someone from the target country. "Grammatically correct" is a lot different from "ethnically correct".
There are a lot of nuances a person learns or perceives throughout his education. A translation might be great per the dictionary and yet a screw up on the target country. The most dreadful examples can be found in marketing translations, where a single word can destroy the company's image.
While a non-native translator will crack his brains figuring out if this or that word has a peculiar connotation, a native translator knows right from the start that you should NOT mention this or that " 'cause everybody knows it's bad manners". Even when a translator has travelled several times to the source country and has authored works in the source language, he is unlikely to provide professional top quality translations. So, once again, a translator should translate toward his native language.
Different types of translation:
Literal translations - by literal translation is meant word-by-word translation. This is the type of translation that can be done by MT. It is mostly incorrect and while it can give a clue on the overall meaning, it might well be misleading. Never accept a literal translation for a paid job. You can get it for free all over the net. (Type "free translations" in a search engine)
"For information" translations. This type of translation is a completely accurate translation, but relatively sloppy in several regards. It is a cheap solution, which fits perfectly the standard of internal communications. Remember that for many a translator, this is the default translation level if nothing else is specified. To be considered when speed is a prevalent concern. NEVER use "for information" translation in marketing.
"For publication" translations. High quality translation to be expected. Accurate and written in the requested language level. Excellent spelling and grammar. Text is proofread and typeset. This is an high quality solution but expensive and relatively slow. Do you really need this quality standard? If so, avoid low prices. Remember that while "expensive" is not always a synonym for "great job", "cheap" is all too often one for "poor job". A translator is a skilled technician and his pay is rightfully higher than that of a Mc Donald's waiter. If he doesn't charge a good price, chances are he will do a sloppy job, because he can not afford to spend the needed time.