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Why CAT Tools Are Essential for Clients and Translators Alike

If you know or have worked with a translator, you’ve likely heard them mention CAT tools. Some are taken aback and assume they meant CAD tools, a type of software that aids in graphic design.

Even if someone nails the pronunciation, you may still wonder what CAT tools are. Worse yet, some assume the software is directly related to machine translation systems, an assumption that’s far from accurate.

The truth is, not too many people know about what CAT tools are, and less know how CAT tools work. If you match this description, don’t fret. Everything you need to know about translation with CAT tools is just a quick read away.

Not a pet, but similarly supportive

Speaking of cats, what if your pets could help with your freelance work, be it translation or otherwise? After all, research says most translators own cats (#KarenIsATranslator). While their love is more than enough, it would still be amazing if they could help with our careers.

Well, CAT tools have almost everything you’d love in a pet. They’re helpful, reliable, and can turn a seemingly impossible project into something more approachable. They can be just as supportive as our little furry friends!

CAT stands for Computer-Assisted Translation (or Computer-Aided Translation), and these tools are all about saving translators time and effort.

How do CAT tools work?

CAT tools work by segmenting the source text (aka, the content you need translated) and presenting each segment (usually a sentence) in a visually digestible fashion. The most common format places the original text on a left-hand column and empty corresponding spaces on the right-hand column.

Translators can then work with each corresponding section separately without getting lost in the original content they’re translating. Here’s a look at the common style of interface you’ll find:

CAT tools sample segmentation
Source: termcoord.eu

Is Google Translate a CAT tool?

However intelligent Google Translate (and other similar programs) are getting, the answer is a big no. Google Translate, and similar machine-translation services, don’t have what it takes to work as a replacement or alternative for Computer-Assisted Translation tools.

Machine translation works with artificial intelligence in an attempt to replace the work of human translators, which is why there’s no human involvement in Google Translate output text (unless it is post-edited by a human).

Computer-aided translation, on the other hand, is performed by human translators who use software as a tool for more efficiency. Think of CAT tools as a sous chef in the kitchen; they’re meant to accomplish quite a bit, like mixing ingredients and preparing plates but aren’t in charge of cooking all the food and adding the final touches.

In simpler words:

  • Google Translate is an example of machine translation (whose output should always be reviewed by a professional, human linguist). The machine does most of the work.
  • CAT tools are machine-aided human translation. The human does most of the work.

There’s a lot to say about machine translation, especially around its evolution from statistical engines to neural networks, so you might want to check out this blog post for more information about the world of machine translation tools.

Benefits of using CAT tools

There are quite a few reasons as to why translators flock to CAT tools. Put simply, these programs reduce the time and effort required from each translator and make it easier to get projects done. But, for clarification, take a closer look at exactly how CAT tools can help and their features:

  • Integrated systems for importing things like dictionaries, term-bases, and reference documents
  • Quality assurance for common human errors in writing
  • Text segmentation
  • Full implementation of translation memories, facilitating consistency in the creation and reimplementation of words, phrases, and sentences for future translations
  • Export translations in the original document’s format
  • Collaboration features where several linguists can work simultaneously on the same project

Proper implementation of CAT tools

Computer-assisted translation tools are a cost-effective way to accelerate the translation process. However, for this to be the case, it’s essential for workers in the field to implement them properly. Where, then, do CAT tools fit into the equation?

As you likely already know, any translation project involves:

  • A customer enquiry
  • The analysis of the project at hand
  • A quote with a turn-around-time estimation
  • The identification of resources
  • Translation
  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Final review or QA
  • Delivery

These are all based on interactions between a language provider’s internal teams (i.e., the translation company) and the client.

While there are programs that can facilitate working out information during the customer enquiry,  CAT tool implementation starts during the project analysis phase. It provides an approachable breakdown for a project of new words, repetition of content from previous projects, and what is referred to as “fuzzy matches,” also known as partial matches with what’s in the existing translation memory (if any are in place).

In a large majority of cases, CAT tools see the most action during translation, editing, and proofreading (known as the TEP process). This is where almost all modern translators consider CAT tools necessary for working with source and target text.

Where some might differ, though, is whether they’re vital for the final review process. They can still provide value during this step, but a section of the translation community believes it can negatively impact the results. That is, they consider the final review a chance to analyse the target text on its own before delivery; any information from the source text, at this point, might alter the results in somewhat unexpected ways.

Translators using CAT tools: The benefits for clients

The benefits gained from CAT tools aren’t exclusive to translators. Clients, when consistent with a particular translator or team of translators, will also see major benefits and more effective results. This is thanks to the build-up of a translation memory dedicated and tailored specifically to their business. Take a quick look at the primary advantages that clients enjoy when their hired translators work with CAT tools:

Improved consistency

Consistent terminology is among the most critical elements in translation projects. CAT tools help ensure consistency through their translation memory capabilities and the creation of a tailored and separate termbase.

Termbases and glossaries

Termbases, also known as translation glossaries, are part of CAT tools’ in-built terminology modules. It’s important to note that these are flexible and can integrate with external databases.

Termbases store terms that are specific for a job, but are sometimes applied to other projects. Translators (and managers at translation-buying companies) work with these by entering certain words in two or more languages. Then they can add term descriptions, comments regarding term usage, and other specifics to keep in mind for future translations.

Here’s what a termbase in a CAT tool looks like:

Example of a Term Base in CAT Tools
Termbase in a CAT Tool

Translation memories within CAT tools

Translation memory (TM) sounds somewhat similar to a termbase, but they’re quite different. A translation memory is a separate database that holds on to previously used translations. By storing past translations, a translation memory draws on this data to re-use words, phrases, and sentences for future translations. These segments can vary in length and the software chooses them based on their contextual relevance for the project at hand.

As a translator works, the database expands, and the linguist can ensure that their work stays consistent over time without having to flip through pages of data to remember exactly how a company or client preferred a given translation in a specific context.

With CAT tools, you can categorise translation memories for easier and more organised access. Some of the classifications include industry, project, topic, client, and language pair. Best of all, translators can tweak these parameters and limit them to specific projects, allowing better protection of proprietary content.

This is what a translation memory window typically looks like inside a CAT tool:

Example of a Translation Memory in CAT tools
Translation memory in a CAT tool

Quicker turn-around

Turn-around speed is a universal priority, and this is where CAT tools make the largest impact. As a translator works and fills the termbase and translation memory, output speeds increase exponentially.

Stronger translation memory means more consistency and almost always implies faster translation delivery times. As the TM gets populated project after project, translators work faster and faster each time because they can retrieve parts of the content from the memory. This, of course, is as long as the content is somewhat repetitive among projects.

Reduced costs

Possibly only second in line to turn-around speeds, reduced costs are also a priority. Translators can import your files into their CAT-tool project and run statistic analyses for essential information before getting started. They can check how many words require translation from scratch, and whether or not there are any that are re-usable from previous translations.

Prices can change drastically if most of the content is recyclable, as the translator can work faster and more efficiently with less effort. In these cases, you can expect some kind of discount. It’s worth mentioning that not every translator offers price reductions because checking the quality and adequacy of the TM matches also demands a lot of time, so it’s important you check with them beforehand.

Higher quality

Translators that use CAT tools also implement them in the editing process. The programs can run a translation quality control process and detect errors that a human will often miss. You might recognise some of these common mistakes that CAT tools catch on a regular basis:

  • Double spaces
  • Typos in words and in numbers
  • Spelling errors
  • Misplaced or missing placeholders and tags
  • Empty segments or missing translations
  • In-document inconsistencies (same translation for the same source segment)
  • Capitalisation
  • Repeated words
  • … and many more.

CAT tools help improve translation quality by identifying mistakes in various contexts. They’re not limited to a particular field, although it’s possible to configure them for better adaptation to certain industries, or to enter customised parametres.

I want CAT tools used in my project!

Do you need your content translated into Spanish and you think you could benefit from your translation partner using a CAT Tool? Get in touch so we can ex

CAT tools really are a translator’s best friend. Speed is the most obvious benefit, turning intimidating projects into more approachable segments. They bring a lot more to the table, though. Translation memories, termbases and glossaries, and quality control ensure optimal results and happier clients.

One of the best qualities, perhaps, of CAT tools is their adaptability. Some strategies or techniques are limited depending on the industry they’re used for or a client’s time and resource constraints. However, CAT tools are flexible and offer an opportunity to work quickly, efficiently, and accurately on a single, multiple, or mixed project at the same time.

Interested in experiencing the power of CAT tools for Spanish translation in your projects? Let’s talk and find the best way to implement these tools for your content.

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