What are CAT tools?

Managing Professional Translation Projects and Types of Computer-Assisted Translation

As mentioned in our post on the Fundamentals of Translation, computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools are the industry-standard tools used by translation companies and translators across the globe.

At the heart of any CAT tool – and there are a lot to choose from – is Translation Memory. If you only take one thing away from this guide, then let it be Translation Memory.

When a translation project has been completed using CAT tools then the final, approved content will be added to the Memory, which is a bilingual database containing both the original source content and the corresponding translation. A Memory is created in each of the target languages required, to be used for future projects.

CAT tools work by splitting the content into segments. It’s important to point out here that although referred to as “words”, segments are actually whole phrases or sentences which are broken up by the tool whenever there is a break, such as a comma or full stop.

The tool then analyses the content and evaluates how much content there is to translate. This is then used to calculate costs. An analysis will typically be broken down into the following categories:

New “words” Segments which have never been translated before and are not present in the Translation Memory
Fuzzy matches Segments which are similar to something previously translated, and found in the Translation Memory, but needs re-working by the translator
Internal Fuzzies Similar segments which are found within the file(s) being analysed, but not in the Translation Memory
100% matches Identical segments which are found in the Translation Memory
Context matches An identical segment found in exactly the same context (i.e. between two 100% matches) as in the Translation Memory
Cross-file repetitions A segment which is repeatedly used throughout the content being analysed. The translator only has to translate this once and the tool replicates this across the whole document
Repetitions As above, but the segment is repeatedly used across all the files being analysed in a particular project

Each type of segment will require some level of effort from the translator, or at the very least a reviewer, unless otherwise agreed with your translation partner.

The first time you ever translate anything you are likely to see that most of the segments coming back as New “words”, however, depending on the nature and frequency of your requests you may notice that this starts to drop as content is re-used from the Translation Memory. We call that leverage.

For example, if you translate an instruction manual but then have to add a completely new sentence to one paragraph, the CAT tool will be able to identify exactly where that change has been made. Your project manager can then manipulate the translation project so that the translator only works on that one paragraph rather than reviewing the whole manual. Ultimately this approach saves you time and money.

It’s worth mentioning here that although CAT tools are very useful pieces of software. They are not really that intelligent and this can be a bit irritating. In the example above, if when adding the new sentence, you also noticed there needed to be a comma break in another sentence the CAT tool would analyse this as two new segments which do not match what was previously translated and in the Memory. This means that the translator would need to review this change in the CAT tool and update the Memory, which is a chargeable service. Please bear this in mind when updating content as many small changes like this can start to add up.

If you have previously worked with a translation company that makes use of CAT tools and Translation Memory, then it is important to clarify with them who owns the Memory. Unfortunately, there are no rules or legislation which state who Translation Memories belong to, but here at Ultimate Languages we are always very clear that the ownership belongs to our clients. At the end of the day it is your content, so you should be able to request an export of the Memory at any time.

In addition to Translation Memory, CAT tools also have many other features and add-ons, such as:

  • Quality assurance checks
  • Terminology management
  • Search and replace functionality
  • Concordance searches
  • Text alignment functionality
  • Dictionaries
  • Project management tools

There are two main types of CAT tools nowadays; server-based and cloud-based. Alongside this, most CAT tool providers also offer desktop or browser-based versions of their software. Although the main features and functionality remain the same there are slight differences between the various tools, each preferred by different translation companies and translators alike.

Many CAT tool developers have branched into Translation Management Systems (TMS), which are platforms that host the full cycle of a translation project; from quote request through to invoicing and billing. These not only provide a full business intelligence system, but also incorporate the CAT tool for an all-round solution that can be accessed and used by every stakeholder involved in a translation project.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most popular CAT tools and TMS on the market:

CAT Tools Translation Management Systems
SDL Trados Studio SDL WorldServer
MemoQ Memsource
Wordfast GlobalLink
OmegaT Across

We hope this gives you a nice introduction to CAT tools and Translation Memory, although we acknowledge that sometimes it’s easier to see something in action, which is why we offer our clients a short demo on how we use our chosen CAT tools on their projects.

You can find out more about CAT tools on wikipedia, or by contacting a member of the Ultimate Languages team here.

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