Although 85% of translators use CAT tools on a regular basis, some language-industry players are still reluctant to incorporate them into their workflows. Reasons include a fear of a steep learning curve before reaping the benefits, automation making humans redundant, and a limited understanding of how CAT tools work. But the impact of these tools when it comes to content productivity cannot be underestimated. Consequently, understanding how these tools play a significant role in today’s content economy could seriously boost the growth of your business, whether you’re an LSP or any company wanting localized content.

This white paper will delve into the characteristics, background, and environments of CAT tools, with a special focus on its valuable role in today’s digital era as we face new and exciting challenges.

What’s a CAT tool?

CAT stands for computer-aided translation (or computer-assisted translation) and is, to put it simply, a type of software that supports the translator throughout the translation process. Although there’s some automation involved, it should not be confused with machine translation, which uses artificial intelligence to do the translation itself, instead of a human translator.

So, how do CAT tools support the translation process? They provide easy access to previous translations and term databases for the translator to check and use when working on a translation, saving time and increasing productivity. Think of it this way: a CAT tool is the modern, technological equivalent of having your desk piled up with dictionaries, notepads full of key terms and phrases used in previous translations, and a stack of documents with all your previous translations. The difference is you don’t have to rummage through all your notes and documents when you need to figure out how you translated a certain term, perhaps a year or two ago, and where it could possibly be among all your documents. A CAT tool searches for these translations instantly and retrieves your translation, showing you when and where you translated it.

“A CAT tool is the modern equivalent of having your desk piled up with dictionaries, notepads full of key terms and phrases, and a huge stack of documents with all your previous translations”

Just think of how much time and money you can save by having these key resources instantly fed to translators with the use of CAT tools. Some translators report up to a 40% or even a 60% productivity increase by using such tools.

But CAT tools are not just time savers, they also serve as an extra layer of quality assurance. The best CAT tools instantly flag formatting errors, term inconsistencies, missing numbers, and spelling mistakes which can all easily slip through if not thoroughly checked.

CAT tools: history, types, examples

CAT tools were born out of initial interest to create machine translation tools in the 1950s, but researchers soon realized that machine translations were slower, far less accurate and more expensive than human translations. Since they could not create tools that would substitute human translators, they decided to invest in tools to help translators, by facilitating term bases and dictionaries. The 1990s saw the introduction of basic CAT tools for commercial use and many translation software tools have since entered the market.

Although all CAT tools serve the same purpose — to support and speed up the translation process — there are different types to suit different needs. In particular:

  • Some are downloadable desktop programs you install on your computer and others are cloud-based solutions you log into on your web browser so that it’s easy to collaborate with others within the CAT tool.
  • Some are paid solutions with licenses based either on usage or user account, while others are freecompletely or partially.
  • Some include additional features like comprehensive translation management systems (TMS) or connected freelance marketplaces. These additional features are particularly useful if you’re producing content in various languages and need to coordinate many different translators, editors, and proofreaders. Read below for details.

Here are some examples of popular CAT tools today:

How do CAT tools work?

CAT tools are essentially editors divided into two sections: one for the original or source language, and another for the translation or target language.

To make the text easier to translate, the CAT tool separates the text into segments — usually sentences — displaying the source on the left and the target on the right as shown below.

After the translator enters and confirms the translation in the target segment, the CAT tool stores it in a translation memory (TM) so that it can be recovered and reused when similar content needs to be translated. When that happens the CAT tool will show similar or identical content for the translator to check and reuse or make changes accordingly. This helps avoid having to retranslate the same parts again and again from scratch.

Similarly, CAT tools allow you to create term bases, or glossaries, where specific words or phrases that regularly come up can be saved for future reference. These term bases can be easily accessed when a term or phrase is repeated in the source text. This ensures consistency and correct use of terminology, and term bases can even be predetermined in the CAT tool to save time on research or to ensure that the translator uses client or brand-specific terminology.

As well as translation memories, most CAT tools provide machine translation as an additional feature. As already mentioned, this is not the primary function of CAT tools, and good translators use machine translation with caution, as another resource, like a dictionary, and not to translate directly. Alternatively, you can use it with a post-editing service, with human editors fixing a machine-translated text — which should not be confused with human translation from beginning to end.

More than a CAT tool: connectedness, collaboration, and translation management systems

Project management has always been a challenge in the language industry. As a result, LSPs and translators are always keen to find and use comprehensive, one-stop translation solutions that allow them to manage whole translation workflows more efficiently. Luckily, technological advancements in recent years have allowed translation tools to become increasingly sophisticated with many providers now offering much more than a basic CAT tool.

Some CAT tools now come with a built-in translation management system (TMS) and make collaboration within in-house and remote teams much easier — everything is integrated and connected to the CAT tool. Not only that, but some CAT tools can be integrated into your own business processes and IT infrastructure to reduce the steps you need to take to make your workflow even smoother.

One of the biggest selling points of a few translation software platforms is having a connected freelancer marketplace to go with their CAT tool. This allows project managers to easily search for professionals and seamlessly incorporate them into the CAT tool environment. As the alternative is manually searching via job boards, sending emails or messages to chosen freelancers, and then exchanging even more emails in the process of translation — it is obvious why these software solutions become huge timesavers and productivity boosters for project managers and translators alike.

The alternative is manually searching via job boards, sending emails or messages to chosen freelancers, and then exchanging even more emails in the process of translation.

CAT tools and the content economy

Although CAT tools have been around for a while, it still seems a largely untapped opportunity for many LSPs and businesses in today’s content economy. The digital age has brought about instant, global communication while simultaneously allowing anyone with an internet connection the ability to create content. Businesses and corporations everywhere now need to produce more content than ever to survive and grow both locally and internationally.

See also: Content Economy and Connected Translation: Two paradigms shaping the new industry landscape

But it’s not just about the quantity of content; quality is vital for real return on investment. No longer is it sufficient to churn average content for the sake of getting it out there in hopes that people will take notice. The fact that anyone can create and publish content today means that we have far too much information to process and we’re far more selective when it comes to what we want to consume. To stand out, content needs to be of value, which means it has to be relevant. And the key to creating relevant content is personalization.

More and more companies are starting to understand that one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to personalize content for their global audiences is by translating their content into the languages of their different markets. It’s clear that content is still king in today’s digital age, but the rate at which content needs to be created is accelerating, to the point that content needs to be quickly recycled and repurposed to keep up with the pace. Thus, using CAT tools is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways of doing this.

The rate at which content needs to be created is accelerating, to the point that content needs to be quickly recycled and repurposed to keep up with the pace.

By using CAT tools, you can ensure that the translation process is as fast and efficient as possible without sacrificing quality. Your customer’s only alternative for speed is machine translation, but results are far from perfect and could seriously damage their brand’s reputation — so it’s never been a better time to offer CAT-powered translation to your customers.