Skip links

Why CAT Tools Are a Translator’s Best Friend

If you know a translator personally or have worked with one, chances are you’ve heard them mention CAT tools – but what are these translation tools exactly?

A common misconception is they are synonymous with machine translation systems, such as Google Translate, but that’s not accurate. Keep reading to find out everything you’ve always wanted to know about CAT tools.

Not a Pet, but Similarly Supportive

Most translators we know own a cat (#KarenIsATranslator). We don’t know the reasons for it but our research is underway – we shall report back soon.

On a more serious note, though, CAT tools are specialised software that 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.

They work by segmenting the source text (aka, the content you need translated) and presenting each segment (usually a sentence) in a visually digestible fashion. This way, your translator can enter the corresponding translation either below or next to each segment. Something like the picture below:

CAT tools sample segmentation
Source: termcoord.eu

Is Google Translate Among CAT Tools?

However intelligent Google Translate (and other similar programs) are getting, the answer is a big no. 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). Conversely, computer-aided translation (CAT) is performed by humans with the help of software.

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.

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.

Benefits of Using CAT Tools

Among the features and benefits of CAT tools, we can name:

  • An integrated environment where you can import dictionaries, term-bases, reference documents, etc.
  • Built-in quality assurance to spot spelling errors, formatting mistakes, missing tags, inconsistent numbers, missing translations, etc.
  • Text segmentation (division into small segments).
  • Creation and use of translation memories to record past translations in a database and draw on this data to re-use words, phrases, and sentences for future translations (which improves consistency).
  • The possibility of exporting the translation in exactly the same format as the original document.
  • Collaboration features that make it easier for several linguists to work as a team on the same project.

How Do Clients Benefit From Their Translators Using CAT Tools?

Clients who regularly send their projects to the same translator or team of translators will usually benefit from them relying on a CAT tool and building a translation memory (TM) specifically for their business. Here are the main advantages from a client’s perspective:

Improved Consistency

Consistent terminology is within the most critical elements in translation projects. CAT tools help ensure consistency through their translation memory and term base features.

Term Bases and Glossaries

CAT tools usually have inbuilt terminology modules (called term bases) or glossaries, or can integrate with external databases.

Translators use term bases and glossaries to store the terms that are important for their translation work. They enter them in two or more languages and include information such a term description, explanation of the term usage, and the such. This is what a term base looks like within a CAT tool:

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

Translation Memories Within CAT Tools

By storing past translations in a database, 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. You can read more about translation memories here, but this what they look like:

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

Quicker Turn-Around

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. Therefore, the stronger the TM, the quicker the translation delivery time (usually).

Reduced Costs

After importing your files into their CAT-tool project, your translator can easily run a statistics analysis to see how many words need to be translated from scratch, and how many can be re-used from past translations. When a translator is able to recycle most of the content from their own past work stored in a translation memory, they work a lot faster and become significantly more productive.

As a result of these increased speed and productivity, most translators will offer a discount. Not every translator does it, 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

When your translation finishes their work, a CAT tool allows them to run a translation quality control process to check for machine-detectable errors that their human eye might have overlooked. Some of these include:

  • 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.

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 explore how best to support you!

Leave a comment