CAT to the rescue: modern tools helping translators get more done in less time

These days, translation is a digital profession – almost all texts are created and transmitted via computer. The amount of translated content doubles every year, and globalization means that the number of languages texts need to be translated into is constantly growing.

How can professional translators meet this challenge? CAT tools automate and assist with large parts of the translation process (CAT stands for “computer-aided translation”). They make life easier for translators by selectively reusing previously translated texts. These tools are becoming more and more feature-rich, and can handle projects from beginning to end.

Translator resources


The interface of a CAT tool usually resembles an ordinary text editor. Translators then connect the necessary translation memories and glossaries. For example, a client glossary about car manufacturing is useful when translating texts in this field. These linguistic resources offer a number of benefits:

  1. Work gets done more quickly. Which is easier: translating a 50-page legal document from scratch, or inserting previously translated segments from 10 documents you have handled during previous jobs? If you’re lucky, you may have only a paragraph or two of “new” text to translate, instead of 50 pages. This can save an enormous amount of time.
  2. Translations are consistent, as the CAT tool suggests terms throughout the text as the translator is typing. These terms were approved during the glossary creation process, so the terms will be used in the translation exactly how they were used in previous texts for the same client. It is no longer necessary to look through documents for conflicting translations of the same term.
  3. The final product can be easily edited. If the client says that a segment was translated incorrectly or that a term should be tweaked, edit the relevant segment and save changes in the translation memory or glossary. This eliminates the risk of such errors recurring in future projects.

I think giving the users the chance to add their own translation memories and term glossary is the best part of a CAT tool, as it allows translator to obtain a more accurate translation based on what they’re looking for,” says freelance translator Jose Roman.

Not by Word alone
New technologies are broadening the array of benefits offered by CAT tools. Almost all translation software can handle basic file types: text (.doc, .txt), markup (.html, .htm and .xml), and spreadsheets (.xls). This list is even longer nowadays, thanks to support for PDFs, files generated in Adobe InDesign, Adobe FrameMaker, and Adobe PageMaker, and more. Even scans and pictures are supported: we integrated optical character recognition into our SmartCAT platform, which streamlines the translation process for these files – no external converters are required!

The Cloud


Traditionally, CAT tools have had restrictive installation requirements, tying the translator to a particular computer. Modern cloud technologies have made CAT tools mobile and accessible. Work from anywhere you like, on any device you like, whether laptop or tablet. Project management is also cloud-based: project managers and translators located in different countries can work on the same project at the same time. Translation and communication are improved, without compromising on quality.

I think it’s great to have web CAT tool. Especially when it’s an app with a lot of tools that could actually make translation easier in the sense of having all this help in the same window. Having 2 docs open for the translation and your personal glossary in another is really annoying,” shares freelance translator Héctor Ruiz.

Machine translation and dictionaries
Machine translation may not replace human translators but it should not be underestimated. If an MT engine is “trained” with sufficient translation memories and parallel translations in a particular subject area, the results can be quite impressive. The editor then revises the results to the necessary level of quality. Everyone is happy – good quality is delivered in a fraction of the time. Learn more about professional use of machine translation here (in Russian).

Machine translation and electronic dictionaries are clearly helpful, which is why CAT tools are gaining functions to make the most of these “helpers”. In addition, developers are working on and improving ways to:

  • Include terminology verification in automatic quality checks
  • Highlight terms in the translation editor
  • Train machine translation engines (the training process takes place instantly as the human translator post-edits the text)
  • Calculate performance and switch MT engines on the fly for best quality.

To be continued
Martin Kay, pioneer of computer linguistics, wrote in 1980 that a computer is “a device that can be used to magnify human productivity. Properly used… it frees human beings for what is essentially human.” Automation has already disrupted and improved the translation process for the better, making translators more productive. In an upcoming post we will describe other aspects of CAT tools and how they benefit freelancers and other language professionals.


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