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What is CAT Tools

Every translator now needs productivity tools to aid them. One of the earliest examples of such tools is the so-called “computer-assisted-translations” acronymed “CAT tools”. In this article, we’ll dwell more on their definitions, types, and usage. 


What are CAT Tools?

A computer-aided translation or computer-assisted translation tool is a software that has been present in various forms in the market ever since the middle of the 20th century. It is made to assist linguists and translators in managing, storing, and editing their translation tasks.


Fun facts about CAT Tools

  • Versions of CAT were seen as early as the 1950s.
  • It is made for businesses, organizations, as well as to individual translators to speed up the translation process and be more efficient with their time.
  • CAT tools developed from stand-alone software, to operating as client servers on a single network, to being online and cloud-based, as in the present day. 


Also a CAT tool is not a substitute for human translation. Unlike machine translation, CAT is there to help, and not to replace.



How does a CAT tool work?

A CAT tool works in many marvelous ways to aid the translator, the usual process on each document goes as follows:

Firstly, a CAT tool analyzes the input source text to extract only the textual elements that need to be translated.

After doing so, the tool creates a two-column table, one for the source text, and an empty one for the translation. The source text is broken into strings or segments to make the translation easier. There are many calculations as to how it manages to create those segments, one of them is punctuation, like the presence of a comma or a dot. 

Secondly, the tool saves the translation pairs in its Translation Memory (TM). Those can be editable at any time and re-saved. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, is how the tool manages to retrieve the stored translations. It detects similar matches and auto-fills them automatically. 

In so doing, CAT tools analyze, store, compare, and retrieve data, doing what computers essentially do best!  In the long run, as the translation memory stores more data, the help of CAT tools will become more efficient.



Why Do You Need a CAT Tool?

In other words, What Are the Benefits of CAT Tools?


If you’re a Translator: 

  • It handles all the necessary tasks in the source document, leaving only clean text to translate. By using CAT tools you don’t need to worry about formatting.
  • Improves the quality and consistency of translation. As a translator you do not need to go over translations you already attempted before, one time is enough, the tool will take of the translation if it is repeated in the future. Which brings us to the next advantage:
  • Makes translation a less time-consuming task.
  • Allows for team collaboration on a single or multiple projects.
  • As a translator, you don’t have to constantly check a dictionary because it keeps a database of terms and words that aid you along the process.


If you’re a company or a business

  • Cost-effectiveness, because the more repetitions are found in a source text, the less time the translator will spend on a task, therefore, affecting their rate on the project. 
  • Creates a database of translations that will come in handy for future use.
  • When it comes to highly technical texts, CAT tools help with maintaining consistency which is crucial for that type of content.
  • It includes options to customize access for documents, some team members can edit, and others are only allowed to view.
  • Most CAT tools are multi-channel, they can be accessed via the app, the web, or via desktop allowing for a flexible working environment.


What are the core components of a CAT tool?

Each computer-assisted translation tool has five main components.

Translation Memory, Term Base, Machine Translation, Text adjustment, and dictionaries.


Translation Memory

It is the oldest and most developed feature of CAT tools that has two main functions: storing translation pairs and retrieving them when needed in the future. 


Term Base

It is quite different from translation memory, although both of them are essentially databases, yet, this one works similarly to dictionaries. They store single words or expressions, especially field-specific ones.


Machine Translation

Generally, machine translation or (MT) works exactly opposite to a CAT tool. It translates the text on its own without the help of a human translator, while a CAT tool primarily depends on humans, but aids them in the process, without inventing any translations on their own.


Text Adjustment

As mentioned earlier, CAT tools only provide the translator with the textual elements that need to be handled, leaving out other distracting elements in a text. It allows for smooth and easy-to-follow formatting.



They are installed to aid in spellchecking, auto-suggesting, retrieving segment fragments…etc.


Types of Cat tools:

In a much broader sense, computer-aided tools refer to software that helps a translation in the process, it could refer to a variety of features like the below:


Translation Management Systems (TMS)

These are tools that don’t necessarily focus on translation, but on facilitating the projects by assigning tasks and managing resources.


Machine Translation Engines

Opposite to CAT tools, they provide machine-attempted translations that are later post-edited by the linguist/translator.


Quality Assurance Tools (QA)

These are already embedded in CAT tools. QA looks for errors and scans formatting issues in a document.


Terminology Management Software

This is different from the aforementioned (TMS). It refers to software that creates and manages databases of vast language terminologies.



Why are language translation tools important for global business?

Language is detrimental to any ambitious or growing business. When companies want to grow internationally, they need to recraft the entirety of their content to suit another marketplace, appealing to different audiences who have their own tastes, cultures, and preferences. Translation is undoubtedly a leading figure in this process.

Therefore, translation tools, like terminology bases, dictionaries, proofreading, quality assurance, translation memories, machine translations, and all the like provide businesses with quick affordable solutions. They are created by businesses, for businesses. 

Accurate localization of your business to another region can do nothing but increase its respect and recognition.



How to choose the best CAT tool for your needs

Based on reviews from companies, and freelance translators online, the major criteria that distinguish between computer-assisted translation tools out there are cost, user experience and user interface, quality of features with different language pairs, flexibility, and lastly, device compatibility. 

Depending on your use, whether you are an organization, a project manager, or a single translator working for clients, the choice will differ, you might sacrifice one benefit for the sake of obtaining another.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular CAT tools in the market now that you might be considering.



Pros of MemoQ

  • User-friendly interface with customizable features.
  • Advanced quality assurance.
  • Good customer support and regular updates.


Cons of MemoQ:

  • Relatively high cost compared to other CAT tools.
  • Hard to navigate especially for beginners.



Pros of Smartcat:

  • Cloud-based, no need to install software.
  • Free for freelancers and small teams.
  • Supports a wide range of file formats.
  • User-friendly interface.

Cons of Smartcat:

  • Some users find the interface cluttered or confusing.
  • Limited functionality compared to more established CAT tools.
  • Dependency on internet connection for use.


Trados Studio:

Pros of Trados

  • Powerful translation memory and terminology management features.
  • Extensive file format support.
  • Advanced project management and collaboration tools.
  • Regular updates.

Cons of Trados

  • Higher cost, especially for the full version with all features.
  • Requires a significant investment of time to set up and customize.
  • Compatibility issues with certain operating systems or software.



Pros of Wordfast

  • Affordable pricing.
  • Easy to learn and use, especially for translators familiar with Microsoft Word.
  • Good integration options with other software and platforms.

Cons of Wordfast

  • Some users report occasional bugs or compatibility issues.
  • May not be suitable for large-scale or complex translation projects.
  • Limited support for certain languages and language pairs.



Pros of OmegaT

  • Free and open source, accessible to all users.
  • Lightweight and fast, with low system requirements.
  • Good support for translation memory and glossary management.
  • Customizable with plugins and scripts.

Cons of OmegaT

  • Limited advanced features compared to commercial CAT tools.
  • Dependency on Java, which can lead to compatibility issues.


Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbxBV_7QEyk 

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