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CAT Tools: Overview and Benefits

Posted by Anne Quach on Nov 2019.

Many people tend to relate translation to a “human-only” industry without using any cutting-edge technologies. What they don’t know is, to guarantee the high quality of the TEP process, every project conducted by professional translation agencies and freelance translators is assisted by powerful tools called Computer-Assisted Translation Tools (CAT Tools).

So what exactly are CAT Tools? Why are they so important? Let’s find out the answers in today’s post.

What are CAT Tools?

Computer-Assisted Translation Tool (CAT tool) is a program specifically designed for translators and linguists in the translation of documents. The aim of CAT tools is to help translators improve their productivity and the quality of translations. What’s more, CAT Tools allow translators and linguists to edit, manage, and store previous translations.

It’s a common belief that CAT Tools do all the translating tasks (just like machine translation) without human involvement. The truth is, they are only a helpful translation environment for translators. It helps you boost the translation process, not do all the work for you.

Trados Studio Display 2017

                                                                  Trados Studio 2017 Display

In the past, one CAT Tool could only be used either online or offline. XTM, Smartcat, or MateCat to name a few only supported online projects while Trados and MemoQ used to be offline platforms. Now, the gap between the online and offline platforms is narrowed down. More and more CAT Tools integrate online and offline platforms together, making it easier than ever for translators to work on a project.

Common CAT Tools

What makes CAT Tools important?

CAT tools contain four core features that make them powerful: (1) Translation Memory and Termbase, (2) The ability to work on almost any format, and (3) Bilingual format.


Benefits of CAT Tools

(1) Translation Memory (TM)

A Translation Memory (TM) stores the source sentences and their translation of the previous projects so that translators will then make use of these data for future projects. The Translation Memory can be a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, or a heading.

A Translation Memory brings various benefits to translators:

      • Translators never have to translate the same sentences twice which helps reduce the time for translating;
      • CAT Tools stores all previous translation so the consistency of translated future projects remains. In general, the overall quality of translation is improved;
      • Translators can share assets with other translators while working on high volume projects.

A Translation Memory is made of Translation Units (TU). A TU is usually a sentence that was stored from previous projects. Simply speaking, the more TU you have, the more various your TM is. If a TU in the current source text matches the TU in the Translation Memory, CAT Tools will automatically find the matches and suggest the translation for translators. The types of matches might vary among CAT tools due to the different algorithms of producers. But in general, there are four types of matches:

      • Context Match (or Perfect Match) – both the context and meaning of a sentence match 100% with the previous translations in TM. To put it in other words, it’s not only that you have translated the sentence before but the CAT tools can also recognize the sentences around it. These are usually headings, tables, and titles. With Context Match TU, translators can use the previous translations without changing anything.
      • 100% Match – a sentence that has the same words and format as the sentence that was translated is called 100% Match. The context of the sentence may be different so you need to check the 100% Match sentences again to avoid some surprising differences. But most of the time, translators don’t have to translate that TU again.

100 Match

      • Fuzzy Match – Some words in the sentence match the previous translations. Translators have to translate these new words. Fuzzy Match is mostly divided into 4 groups: 95-99% Match, 85-94% Match, 75-84% Match, and 50-74% Match.

Fuzzy Match

      • No Match – The whole TU is new so translators must translate it from scratch.

No Match

(2) Termbase (TB)

A termbase (TB) is a searchable database or glossary integrating into CAT Tools. To some extent, it is similar to dictionaries. It can store a single word or a short-expression for your use. While Translation Memory restores all types of words, a Termbase focuses on only terminologies. In other words, a termbase is a special type of Translation Memory. A termbase also contains reference notes and rules about the terms’ usage. When translating, the termbase suggests to you what a word or expression, say, brand names or product-specific terms should be translated accurately.

So why is a termbase beneficial? Instead of searching the meaning of a term on the Internet or dictionaries, translators can get help from Termbases displaying on the working screen of CAT tools. With the Termbases on CAT tools, translating time can be reduced significantly, and thus the productivity of translators is enhanced.

(3) The ability to work on almost any format

Without using any supporting tools, translators can only work on ready-to-use files such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. Since more and more customers are asking for translating the complex types of file, using no tools deprive translators of potential translating tasks. Meanwhile, CAT Tools support a wide range of file types, from Microsoft Word to HTML, XML, MS Word, Open Office, Java Resource (Properties), InDesign (INX/IDML), and so on to meet all customers’ demands.

(4) Display bilingual format

The display of CAT Tools is divided into two separate columns. One column is the source text and the other is the target text. The translators can easily translate, and review two versions at the same time. The bilingual format of CAT Tools also benefits Quality Assurance (QA) process with QA Tools. Instead of reading and comparing two separate files, the QA process can take place on CAT Tools, saving reviewers a great deal of time and effort.

CAT Tools


How can CAT Tools benefit your projects?

Besides being powerful assistance for translators, CAT Tools bring direct gain to clients’ projects in terms of time, money, and quality.

(1) Reduce costs:

If you have a 1000-word document, for instance, you don’t have to pay for all 1000 translated words. You only pay full price for what’s new, i.e. words that translators really translate, not words that have already stored in the Translation Memory.

The rate for words is also based on the types of the duplicate rate we have mentioned above. Let’s take an example. In your 1000-word document, there are 450 “No match” words, 300 “Fuzzy match” words, and 250 “Exact match” words. The weighted Word count for them is 1, 0.7, and 0.25 respectively (This is not a fixed weighted Word count. The Weighted Word count of each CAT tool and customers varies).

“No match” words x 1 “Fuzzy match” words x 0.7 “Exact match” words x 0.25 Adjusted word number
450 x 1

= 450

300 x 0.7

= 210

250 x 0.25

= 62.5


With CAT Tools’ involvement, you are only charged for 5 words instead of 1000 words. In a nutshell, CAT Tools help reduce a great deal of money for translation projects.

(2) Quicker turn-around time:

Since translators don’t have to translate 100% of the text, less time is needed to translate documents (compared to no CAT tools translation methods). It’s helpful especially when you need a rush translation.

(3) Remain consistency of translations:

There are many ways to translate one word while retaining the same meaning. A simple example, “Quan trọng” literally means “important” in English, but it’s still correct if translators paraphrase it into “vital” or “crucial”. If translators use no CAT tools during the translating process, there can be several translations for the same source which leads to the inconsistency of the target documents. Likewise, in cases where many translators work together on one large-volume project, each of them might use a different translation for the same word. It’s not favourable to guarantee a consistent final outcome. Luckily, the problem can be solved by using CAT Tools. Thanks to Translation Memory, the terms used throughout the translation are consistent. It makes the translations smoother and thus, increases the overall quality of the projects.


Drawbacks of CAT Tools

With all the benefits above, does it mean CAT Tools is perfect? Well, nothing is perfect, neither are CAT Tools. CAT tools are likely to divide the source file into small separate segments such as a phrase or a sentence. As a result, it can only understand the context of the sentence, not the whole documents. Therefore, translators cannot rely 100% on tools without checking the translation carefully. Referring to the source documents is an essential step to guarantee an accurate translation.


Infographic about CAT Tools

Infographic - What are CAT Tools