Translation Technology

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT): A Complete Guide

Learn about Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT), how it increases translation efficiency, and the best use-cases for this technology.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

April 25, 2022


Businesses are creating and updating content for target audiences who speak different languages. How can this be done more quickly and accurately with a faster turnaround time? Computer-Assisted Translation is one way.

What is Computer-Assisted Translation?

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) is software application that works as part of a translation workflow where the software automates and assists in the translation process steps. These Computer-Assisted Translation tools (CAT tools) allow translators and reviewers to handle translation and revision tasks faster, efficiently, and consistently.

CAT tools are commonly used by Language Service Providers (LSPs), and translation and localisation company companies like MotionPoint. However, they're also frequently used by individual translators and bilingual employees who work for organizations that have global audiences or extensive localization needs.

What does a CAT tool do?

CAT tools automate tasks that a linguist would otherwise have to carry out manually. These tasks include managing translated content for submitting and editing. It first breaks down source content into translation units, often referred to as segments, usually phrases or paragraphs. Essentially, CAT tools help translators work faster, more precisely, and in line with previous translations. This is especially helpful for niche translators who focus their translation skills on specialized areas or industries.

It is important to note that computer-assisted translation is not the same as automated translation engines, such as Google Translate. This technology do not replicate or replace a human's unique ability to interpret meaning. Instead, computer-assisted translation augments human capabilities by doing what computers do best: comparing, storing, and retrieving data. Understanding how these tools work provides insight into the process for important translation and localization projects.


How Does Computer-Assisted Translation Work? 

At the start of a translation project, a linguist or translator loads documents into the CAT tool, which presents the texts as a two-column table of sentences or segments of text. The source appears in one column, and the target translation space appears in the other. These tools filter out formatting and other tags (such as HTML, XML, or tags used by design programs like Adobe InDesign), which simplifies the project for the translator by presenting only the translatable text. It also protects the tags and code for documents, designs, software strings, or webpages. This function allows the linguist to export the translated content with the original formatting intact. Additional CAT tools include:

Translation memory tools, including terminology databases, feature the core functionality of computer-assisted translation. These are stored databases of texts, glossaries, or style guides in multiple languages. These tools provide translators with a seemingly endless number of multilingual databases that are manually created or improved from machine-translated origins. Storing these databases allows a user to draw on them later, so they don't need to produce the same translation more than once manually. Translation memory is especially effective for repetitive text like owners guides, NDA’s, and patent applications.

Terminology managers help translators maintain consistent terminology throughout translations. One common function of this CAT tool is that it enables a human translator to maintain consistent use of company-approved language by storing an uploaded glossary. This is vital to the proper translation of technical, scientific, and legal texts, which require a high degree of consistency and accuracy.

In-context translation is a "live preview" of translated text and a game-changing way for translators to see their translation before it's published. An HTML preview pane shows how a current translation would look once exported to the existing website or other material and makes for an easy review and edit of the text within the CAT tool's user interface. This reduces the chances that a human translator will miss an error during the post-editing process.

Desktop publishing (DTP) is one of the final phases of a translation or localization project. DTP is the redesign of a translated document using page layout software. After a translation is complete, the project goes to the DTP specialist, who will import the translated text and work on the design to mirror the original document's formatting. They also look at numerical formats and ensure they reflect the local currency, time, and date.

Computer-Assisted Translation vs. Machine Translation

Computer-Assisted Translation and Machine Translation (MT) are often used interchangeably, but they have several differences in translation. With machine translation software, source texts are completely translated by computer algorithms, with no humans involved throughout the process. With computer-assisted translation software, a professional translator uses different translation tools and apps to speed up the translation process. The advantages of MT include reduced cost since computers can process a large amount of text almost instantly. However, because humans are not part of the translation process, the accuracy of the translated text often requires human post-editing to check for errors.

CAT Tools vs. Translation Management Systems (TMS)

Another advantage of CAT tools is that they can be integrated into translation management systems (TMS). Both computer-assisted translation and TMS tools are specialized translation solutions. TMS helps manage translation workflow but doesn't perform translations itself. CAT tools can work within TMS to support translation workflow. If you try to use CAT tools and TMS separately, you may be doing the same tasks twice over.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Computer-Assisted Translation Tools

CAT tools are robust applications that feature both pros and cons. Some advantages and disadvantages of using computer-assisted translation and related tools include:

Speed/efficiency: ​​Project turn-around time is a universal priority. This is where computer-assisted translation makes the most significant impact. Translation memory eliminates the need to translate the same words or phrases multiple times. This can save time and money in translation costs.

Consistency: Consistency is vital throughout all content, regardless of whether it's a brochure, website, or manual that's being translated. CAT tools retain and reuse information, allowing translators to keep on top of phrases and terms they have previously translated. This is also important during the review process to continue maintaining consistency.

There are also some disadvantages to utilizing CAT, as well:

Content is not localized: Since CAT programs are computer-led and offer word-for-word translation, programs don't understand nuanced translations. This is important for localizing websites or other content that needs contextually relevant information for a target audience.

Confidentiality/Security: CAT tools are web-based programs limiting information security. Entrusting sensitive corporate or personal information can be risky.

CAT Alone Won’t Cut It!

CAT tools include indispensable language search engines, translation memory, terminology management software, and spelling and grammar checkers. Of course, the quality of translated materials, even with CAT tools, depends significantly on the human translator. If you're looking to use CAT in-house, you'll need an internal team of translators, proofreaders and editors, quality assurance managers, and project managers.

One of the best qualities of CAT is adaptability. CAT tools are flexible and offer an opportunity to work quickly, efficiently, and accurately on a single, multiple, or mixed project simultaneously. Using computer assisted translation software with a website translation service such as MotionPoint offers you the chance to move your business toward your multilingual translation and locationalization goals.

Last updated on April 25, 2022
Dominic Dithurbide's avatar

About Dominic Dithurbide

Dominic Dithurbide is a creative, goal-driven marketing leader that's dedicated his career to the translation industry. Dominic brings proficiency in global marketing, demand generation, and go-to-market strategies to MotionPoint's marketing team.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

Marketing Manager


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