CAT tools

What is Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT)?

One of the most important infrastructures in the localization workflow is Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools. In short, these are a type of software that localization professionals (e.g. translators, editors, project managers, etc.) use to facilitate and support translation processes.

According to General Theory of the Translation Company by Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson, “CAT tools are able to take content from virtually any type of file and put them into a translation-friendly environment for translators to work on.” This usually saves file preparation time, as the project managers do not need to transfer the source text onto a Word or Excel file (for example) for the translator to access the text, and the translator can translate directly within the tool. When the translation is finalized, the CAT tool can export the translation in the same file format as the original source text.

Common features

Aside from file preparation, CAT tools usually have the following features:

  • Text alignment – Most CAT tools can align the source text and the target text automatically and compile the bilingual document into a translation memory file.
  • Translation Memory – This is a database containing the source segments and all target language segments (i.e. the translations). It is best to set up the translation memory before the translation project starts, and to keep building it up as more and more translation projects are completed. The more robust the translation memory becomes, the more it can be leveraged in future projects for the same clients. Confirmed translations cut down on time and translation cost, as translators can work more efficiently and LSPs charge lower rates for fuzzy matches than new words.
  • Term base – Term bases are essential for companies that have many set terminologies for their product, service, or industry. As translators translate in the CAT tool, the term base will generate terms that the translators can reference. This ensures that translators use the terms they should be using, and thus maintains consistency throughout all produced work.  
  • Project management function – The project management function allows the creation of workflows in advance of a project and allocate each project to translators. In addition, it helps to ensure the projects are on track to meet their respective deadlines. This function can sometimes even track the performance of specific vendors.
  • Automated Quality Assurance (QA) – This includes a spell checker, a grammar checker, and more. The built-in QA function streamlines QA checks, as it also catches errors in numbers (including decimal versus the thousands separator), mismatches with the translation memory and term base, inconsistencies between translations, and more. The tool can even be customized to check for certain aspects (e.g. using regex). However, automated QA is not a substitute for human reviewers. It cannot catch all error types, and it will sometimes generate false positives. 
  • Pseudolocalization – A testing method for the internationalization aspect of the project. It replaces the target language with textual elements when demonstrating how the finished product would look with the target language. This tests for aspects such as string length, language direction, character display, and UI.
  • Machine translation – There is usually a feature that allows the user to connect to an existing machine translation such as Google MT.

Special features

Some CAT tools have specialized features that might come in handy for certain types of project, such features including but not limited to:

  • In-context translation: In the case of video or website localization, for example, some CAT tools allow users to preview the translated subtitles/translations in videos or localized web pages during the translation process. This is very helpful for the translators and editors as they can determine the context and the proper length of the strings early on based on the preview.
  • Supporting specific file formats: Some CAT tools are able to support more file formats that others, and other CAT tools are built specifically to support only certain types of file formats (e.g., a CAT tool that is built to specifically translate software versus documents). Thus, these types of CAT tools may be more suitable for those types of translation projects.
  • Neural machine translation: In addition, or in replacement, of connecting to machine translations, some CAT tools have a neural machine engine built within it. As the translator translates and confirms segments, the machine learns from the confirmed data and generates more accurate/appropriate translation suggestions.

The benefits of using CAT tools

CAT tools are practically essential for developing a mature localization model, as they make localization processes more streamlined, manageable, and effective. However, it is best to conduct research, as there are a wide variety of CAT tools in the market. Some are free and open-source, while others need to be purchased or require a paid subscription. It is best to first analyze what type of localization projects your company will carry out, what requirements/functions are needed to smoothly carry out those projects, and how much budget will be needed to run them. Based on this analysis, a comparison of the CAT tools and their prices can then be carried out.

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