What is a CAT Tool (Computer-Assisted Translation)?

Cat tools book

Every translator should be familiar with CAT tools and their usage. Additionally, you may need to use it as a project manager or a quality assurance team member.
In this article, we will introduce the definition of a CAT tool for you, its components, and its benefits.

What is a CAT tool?

CAT stands for "Computer-Assisted Translation" and sometimes referred to as "Computer-Aided Translation".

A CAT tool is a software used by translators and linguists. It supports the translation process and helps translators edit, manage, and store the translation projects. Hence, CAT tools are NOT machine translation tools, but machine translation could be an additional feature or a component of a CAT tool.

CAT tools divide large multilingual documents into segments (lines or phrases) and store them in a database. This is known as translation memory which we discuss in details later.
Translators use CAT tools to accelerate the process of translation and increase their productivity.

What are the components of a CAT tool?

There are three core components of a CAT tool are:

1- Translation Memory (TM)

A translation memory is a database that stores translated segments (sentences, paragraphs, headings, titles, or list elements), in order to aid or assist human translators while using it in the future. It also stores the source text.
"Translation Units" are language pairs of the source and target text stored in the translation memory. Individual words are handled by terminology bases that we will discuss later.
When the translation memory finds a new segment that is similar to an old one, it retrieves the old segment for the translator to reuse it. Some translation memory tools need preloaded reference documents or glossaries.

2- Translation Editor

The translation editor is where the translator performs the translation. It works as a table that contains units or segments. When a translator is editing a segment, three translation matches are displayed with their relative quality match and source.
The editor also displays the time to edit for each segment, progress, total word count, word count to be translated, expected time before completion.

3- Termbase

A Terminology base or "termbase" is a database that stores single words, expressions, or terminology. A termbase is similar to a dictionary, but it's not. You can use a termbase for dedicating specific words for a specific customer or project, in other words, organizing the stored terminology you have according to different projects.
It's usually a multilingual tool that contains data in different languages.

On the other hand, dictionaries contain a general translation for individual words and can have multiple translations for the same word. Dictionaries are used to retrieve words, spell-check, and show fragment matches.

Why use a CAT tool?

1. Enhance translation quality

With the termbase feature, your translation consistency is improved. As mentioned, a termbase helps you dedicate specific words for a specific customer or project.

2. Accelerate performance

To meet your customers' deadlines, it's recommended that you use a CAT tool as part of your translation process. Translation memory helps you retrieve the repetitive segments or units, which saves you time and effort.

3. Scalability

It's usually hard to handle huge translation projects without using CAT tools.

4. Connectivity

Recently, some CAT tools added the feature of being connected and working on servers. This allows the translation team members to work together at the same time.
In brief, a CAT tool is a software used by translators and linguists to help them edit, manage, and store the translation projects. A CAT tool consists of three core components: Translation Memory, Translation Editor and Termbase. You can use CAT tools to accelerate your performance and enhance translation quality.