Language Matters in November 2013: CAT Tools

Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) and CAT tools

In our November newsletter, we will discuss Computer Assisted Translation tools. Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) refers to specialized computer software that helps human translators during the process of translating texts and any form of written content. Computer Assisted Translation is sometimes confused with Machine Translation (MT). Although the two have similarities, CAT and MT are different. There are numerous CAT tools and their aim is to help translators complete their work more efficiently. Their functions range from spell-checking to keeping translation memories. CATs are quite useful tools but will they one day replace human translators altogether? The question is up for discussion. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure: the future is bright for Computer Assisted Technology!

Contributed by Sophie Roulland

What is Computer Assisted Translation?

As mentioned in the introduction, Computer Assisted Translation is the process of using computer programs and software to assist the translator in his/her work. How exactly do they help translators? First, they save the translators time and thereby increase their production outputs. Thanks to translation memory software, it is much faster to translate a text, especially if they have already worked with that company or industry before. Secondly, it can produce a more consistent quality of work. Some CAT tools, such as SDL Trados, help you find the appropriate terminology for technical texts with less effort. Some tools come with alignment of segments, which makes it easier and faster for reviewers to proofread texts. So if used correctly, CAT tools can be very efficient and a good support system for translators.

Because technology is involved, people sometimes confuse Computer Assisted Translation with MT (Machine Translation). Unlike CAT, MT does not require the assistance of human translators to finish a job. Machine Translation involves translation by software only and is rarely of high-quality. However, it is not uncommon for translators to use controlled MT carefully supervised by a human translator. Or to have the MT translation proofread by a human translator to ensure a smooth flow of text. Let’s examine how these tools work exactly.

What are the main functions of CAT software?

Computer Assisted Translation tools have various functions. The most known CAT tools will do word counts, count segments and units, make comparisons between pre-translated text and new text, and analyze content for repetitions, etc. The list is long, but if you are a translator, it might be worth knowing!
To begin with, we have the most commonly used software: spell-checks and grammar-checks. They are built into word processing software or add-on programs. They correct typos and spelling mistakes, but they don’t always detect ‘mistakes’ if the word exists but makes sense in another context. For instance, if you write ‘we will not stop’ by accident instead of ‘we will now stop’, the software won’t recognize the error because ‘not’ is a real word and the sentence is technically grammatically correct.
Then we have software terminology managers, which allow translators to create their own terminology bank and manage it as they please. Among the most used CAT tools, there is a software tool called the Translation Memory (TM). Its main function is to keep a database of all translation units (words/phrases) so that they can be re-used while translating a new text. The stored data and their equivalent in the target language can be used to match units from a new text, which can save the translator some time as part of the text appears already translated.
The most popular provider of this software is SDL Trados. They provide software for language departments, language service providers such as LingoStar, freelance translators and academic institutions. SDL Trados also provides software localization.
Another common software provider is Wordfast, which specializes in localization. It can be installed as a Microsoft Word add-on. It has additional tools for project managers who have to deal with a lot of documents and files. We also have Déjà Vu X. It’s possibly the most flexible provider of CAT software and is very customizable. Finally, there is Systran, which was one of the earliest developers of MT software. Although most of the users are very happy with it, some say it is an expensive investment and the training takes a lot of time.
The question remains: will CAT software be good enough one day to replace human translators? It is very unlikely, at least not in the near future. Technology improves more and more every day, but if CAT tools were to replace human translators, everything would be done by Machine Translation. And as discussed in a blog article from September (, the art of translating will always require human assistance and intelligence.
All in all, Computer Assisted Translation software is very useful for translators. It helps with terminology, consistency, quality control, formatting and reference material all while saving time and effort. Regardless of everyone’s opinion on CAT tools and software, they are without a doubt a huge part of the translation industry today.


LingoStar Language Services

Here at LingoStar we are trained to work with people from all around the globe who speak many different languages. We have solid expertise when it comes to dealing with clients and translators from all over the world. We offer a range of services from translating and revising to updating and localizing your content into more than 100 languages. And if you ever want to improve your language skills in order to have better job opportunities, we also provide language tutoring services! Feel free to give us a call at 604-629-8420 or email us at to discuss your next language-related project. Don’t hesitate: we’re here to help!