What is a CAT tool?
The acronym CAT stands for Computer-Assisted Translation. CAT tools incorporate many different functions, including spell checking, terminology management, electronic dictionaries, translation memories, and others.
Segmenting and Translation Memories
A CAT tool usually divides a text into smaller segments. For example, this blog post would be broken into individual sentences. This improves readability and makes the translation process easier.
After the translator finishes translating each segment, the source segment and its translation are stored in a file called the translation memory (TM), which can be easily accessed in the future for reference. This leads to improved consistency within and between translated documents.
The translator can also create or import glossaries or terminology databases in a CAT tool. If a term in the source document is present in the terminology database, the CAT tool automatically highlights it and suggests the correct translation, ensuring the term will be consistently translated throughout the document. The translator can easily edit the terminology database to correct an existing term or add new terms on the fly.
What does this mean for clients? If they have previously approved terminology, it can be conveniently managed and followed when the translator knows how to use a CAT tool. Even when the client doesn’t already have a terminology database, the translator can create one while translating and follow it, instead of relying solely on their memory to translate terms uniformly throughout the document (which will lead to mistakes sooner or later).
Most CAT tools assist with formatting by preserving the exact same format as the source document. For example, it is much easier to translate a PowerPoint file in a CAT tool than by editing each text box in PowerPoint. After completing their translation in the CAT tool, the translator will just need to open the PowerPoint file exported by the CAT tool to resize some of the text boxes. Overall, the process is much faster and more reliable. It enables quicker delivery, and there is a much lower chance that the translator will forget to translate something in the document, especially in the case of ‘hidden’ content in the original file.
Quality Assurance and Statistics
Most CAT tools also have Quality Assurance functions, which allow translators to check punctuation, spelling, numbers, tags, and expressions for errors. With a simple click, the translator can address the error without having to scroll through the whole document.
Another interesting feature, particularly for large projects, is the statistics function. Translators can view details like what percent of each document is translated, the number of repetitions, and other useful information. This enables better oversight of the translation workflow, and the translator can anticipate whether the current pace will be enough to meet the deadline and take action if not.
Good CAT tools have many built-in functions that allow translators to work more quickly and effectively.
Unfortunately, many people that don’t know much about CAT tools are prejudiced against them. The main reason? They confuse CAT tools with machine translation, which is a huge misconception. CAT tools may include support for machine translation engines, which can be easily activated or deactivated by the translator according to their preference. Therefore, a translator will only use machine translation in a CAT tool if they want to, and using CAT tools definitely does not imply using machine translation. Translators who confuse the two concepts know very little about CAT tools and machine translation.
Like most professional translators, I use a state-of-the-art CAT tool, SDL Trados Studio 2019, to ensure consistent, high-quality translations and better management of my project schedules.
Matheus R. Chaud
I am a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker with extensive experience in translation, proofreading, editing, subtitling, and quality assurance.