CAT tool 101 for Buyers

Apr 20, 2020 | First Edition Translations, Language, Language Industry 101, Translation

CAT toolsCATs are the translator’s trusty companions: they can provide support to them in difficult times. When looked after properly, CATs will show their gratitude to their masters but they will also very clearly tell them if they are doing something they don’t like!

No, we are not talking about fuzzy feline friends (although “fuzzy” will come up later), we are talking about CAT tools, which is short for computer-assisted or computer-aided translation tools.

CAT tools are handy pieces of software and working with them is virtually a must for any successful translator nowadays. In this article we will be looking at different aspects of these tools and how they can aid translators and translation project managers in their work, which of course, in the great scheme of things, is also beneficial for you!

A trip down memory lane

Most CAT tools have built-in spell checkers and grammar checkers, some even have bilingual or monolingual dictionaries and they also help keeping the formatting of complicated layouts intact. However, one of their most important features is the so-called TM or translation memory.

When a translator starts working on a piece of text in a CAT tool, all their work is saved in a specially assigned TM file which can be then reused for other translations for the same client or other documents that are part of the same project. It is basically a bilingual database which connects a source-language segment with its target-language counterpart. TMs can also be created from old translations by aligning previously translated documents. As the translator progresses with their translation, with the help of the TM, the CAT tool notifies them if a similar segment has already been translated. The software also gives a percentage to the translator which shows how similar the new segment is to the legacy text. This is where the word “fuzzy” comes into play as a “fuzzy match” marks not quite exact, partial matches. Most software also show what is different between the TM match and the new text, so it helps the translator edit the already existing translation while keeping it as consistent as possible.

Getting terminology right

CAT tools are also great for terminology management. A project- or client-specific TB (term base) can be assigned to each document for translation and they contain the most important terms and their preferred translations. In this regard, TBs are similar to dictionaries or vocabulary lists, however, they are more personalised and much more specific. They are particularly useful if there are certain terms you prefer to use within your organisation. TBs can also tell the translator when they shouldn’t use a particular term. With an active TB linked to the project, the translator will be notified when a word in the text is a term, shows what the preferred translation of that term is in their language and later it also helps check that the correct terms were indeed used in the translation. Just like TMs, TBs also help with consistency, and translators can make sure that the same term is translated the same way on every occasion.

Quality assessment made easy

CAT tools are not only useful for the translator, they aid the work of translation project managers by simplifying final quality checks before the translation is returned to the client. PMs can do easy checks to ensure that the spelling and grammar is correct and check that the translator used the right terminology. If there is something that is not quite right, the software will warn them, so they can go back and double-check that specific point with the translator.

Quality assessment functions in CATs are great as they consistently and automatically spot some super small issues that our human eyes might glaze over: they help make sure the translator hasn’t missed a double space, miskeyed a number, forgotten a full stop or to close a bracket.

The project manager’s favourite

CAT tools make the life of the translation project manager much easier. As Svetlana, one of our Commercial Project Managers explains, apart from all those functions mentioned above, one other thing that she finds CATs very useful for is when the source file is in an unusual file format. For example, we can work with InDesign files directly, even if our translators don’t have the software, which means the time spent on typesetting becomes much shorter. We can feed code (i.e. strings), the CAT tool hides all the non-translatable code and shows a user-friendly translatable text only, and in the end, it restores the original files ready for the client to upload it into their system, thus saving them time copy-pasting or converting the translated files.

Are CAT tools the same as machine translation?

The very short answer is NO.

Machine translation or automated translation is basically a computer trying to produce a translation with minimal human intervention. Using CAT tools means essentially the opposite: here you have a very human translator working with minimal intervention from a machine.



We hope this short article helped you understand the basics of CAT tools, however, if you have any questions or would like to know how the use of computer-assisted translation tools can help you, just get in touch with us by sending us an email at