What is a Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tool?

CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools are not new within the translation industry, but if you have never used translation services before, you may not be familiar with this technology. 

In this article, we’ll delve into what a CAT tool is and how it works, as well as exploring the main features and letting you know how your business can benefit from using them


Definition of Computer-Assisted Translation

So, what is a CAT tool? It’s a software used by translators, editors and project managers that supports the translation process in the following ways:

  • managing translations 
  • creating translations
  • editing translations
  • storing translations

It’s similar to a text editor, with additional features for translation. CAT tools can work as a stand-alone software on a single computer or within a cloud-based system that can be accessed via a web browser by multiple users simultaneously.  

Although you can automate a translation project end to end, A CAT tool cannot translate for you (it is not a machine translation), so you still need a translator.

Logos of some popular CAT tools

How does a CAT tool work?

CAT tools help translators work smarter, not harder, by creating simple workflows to make each project easy to manage. 

An example workflow can look something like this:

  1. The translator (or project manager) inputs the text into the CAT software
  2. The interface divides the text into segments: a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph (untranslatable content such as images will not appear in the user interface and are kept as they are)
  3. The CAT tool displays the source text segments and the (empty) translation segments side by side
  4. The translator creates the translation within the translation segments
  5. The CAT tool saves the source text and its translation into a translation memory – more about this below
  6. The project manager can send the file with the translation to a proofreader to check the translation in the user interface
  7. The file with the translation can be created with a simple click and then it’s ready for delivery 

What is the difference between Computer-Assisted Translation and Machine translation?

Machine Translation (MT) is the process of translating text automatically from one language to another by using a software or tool, without any human input. You only need to input the text into the translation machine and wait a couple of seconds for the translation.

Unlike the translation process with Computer-Assisted Translation tools, MT does not require a translator. However, the inability of machine translation to pick up language nuances means that the translations may be unnatural and incorrect. Learn more about the differences between Machine Translation and Computer-Assisted Translation

4 elements of CAT tools that boost the quality of translations

CAT tools have many useful features such as spellcheck, autosuggest (suggestions based on previous translations), and more. Here are the four main elements of any good CAT tool.  

Translation memory

The software saves each source segment and its corresponding translation in a database called translation memory. This is a fantastic feature as it means that if you have a document with a sentence, or similar sentence, already saved in the translation memory, the CAT tool will retrieve it and provide the translation for you. This speeds up the translation process significantly, while also ensuring consistency with past and future translations.

Screenshot with source and target segments in a translation memory

Term base or glossary

A term base or glossary is essentially a database (similar to a dictionary) where you can input your preferred terms or expressions for a particular company or organization. Using it alongside the translation memory helps ensure accuracy and consistency, because it reminds translators of the preferences for the text they are translating. 

Quality assurance

Just like Microsoft Word or Google docs can check the spelling of a text, CAT tools have a spellcheck function to prevent any spelling or grammatical errors. They can also highlight missing text and links or numeric mismatches, adding an extra level of quality assurance. 

Machine translation capability

Combining MT and CAT tools, human translators and post-editors can review and edit the auto-generated text produced by machine translation, spotting potential mistakes and delivering high quality results. 


3 Benefits of CAT tools for your business

So, now that you know what a CAT tool is, how it works and its main features, you’re probably itching to discover just how you and your business can benefit from using one!

CAT tools save you money

Remember how we explained that a CAT tool allows you to save your translation in a translation memory? 

This means that you can use this translation memory (with the text that you previously translated) in new translation projects. When the translation memory finds identical, or similar sentences or paragraphs, it will let you reuse your existing translations meaning that translators don’t have to retype the same translation in different texts.

This can be particularly helpful if, for example, you need to translate a car brochure with repeated information or product listings for your online store with multiple colour variations.

This saves you money because it saves your translator’s time! 

Contact the team at Ampere Translations to discover more about how CAT tools help you save money.

CAT tools enhance consistency

Whether you are translating your website or a brochure, industry-specific jargon, terminology and tone are all important. By using translation memories and termbases within CAT tools, your team of translators will deliver consistent results every time by referencing the text previously translated and accessing preferred terminology stored in these databases. 

Translators work smarter, and you get better results. 

CAT tools increase productivity

With a CAT tool, translators don’t only save time by not having to retype the same translations in different texts, they also skip the labour-intensive process of preparing, editing and formatting a text. The CAT tool extracts the content that can be translated and generates an identical copy of the original file in the target language.  

Let your translation partner guide you

In this article we’ve looked at the basics of CAT tools, how they can improve consistency and quality time after time, and how you can save money by taking advantage of translation memories.

But you don’t have to dive deep and become an expert in CAT tools yourself, or decide which of the many products available on the market you should choose. Your translation provider is there to help and will be able to explain the ins and outs of this technology and how you can benefit from it. Email us today to discuss your translation needs!