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Written by Steven Bussey
on February 20, 2020

Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) Tools are software applications that assist in translating content from one language to another.

Translation tools, also known as CAT (computer-aided translation), enhance the productivity and consistency of translators. They usually include several component technologies in a single integrated workbench, such as document editors, terminology management, and translation memory. The tools have evolved along with the computing and networking industries, first as stand-alone software to be used on a single computer, then client-server tools to be used on a company network, and most recently to cloud-based tools delivered via the internet.

 

A brief history of CAT tools

Interest in translation technology grew since the 1950s, when the needs for translation started to expand exponentially while the productivity of translators remained constant. This created an expensive and time-consuming bottleneck in the workflow of corporations, a problem waiting to be addressed. Since the mid-sixties, companies looked for a method to use computers to aid translators, especially to reuse previous translations by aligning parallel bilingual texts.

One of the first commercial products to provide this functionality was Translation Support System created in the USA, but the technology only found its foothold with the release of Trados MultiTerm and Translator’s Workbench in the early 1990s by German company TRADOS GmbH. In 1994, Trados released a Windows version with a MS Word interface and received a major boost in 1997 when Microsoft decided to not only use their products for internal localization needs, but also acquired a 20% share in the company. Despite competition from the likes of IBM’s Translation Manager 2, STAR Transit and Déjà Vu, by the end of the decade Trados became the clear market leader in CAT software until it was acquired by competitor SDL in 2005. More about the history of Trados and SDL here.

Recent years have seen a number of new translation tools enter the market and a number of mergers and acquisitions. In 2009, Google entered the fray with the release of Google Translator Toolkit. Other modern CAT tools of note are memoQ and Wordbee.

 

CAT tool features

CAT tools are similar to a text editor, such as Microsoft Word only with additional features useful for a translation professional. There are many products on the market with different sets of features included. Below is a list of common features that are can be found in CAT tools:

  • Termbases are translation glossaries that are built from frequently occurring words or phrases, such as technical terms and brand names. They are used to pre-translate recurring words and phrases, and to assist translators in maintaining consistency.
  • Translation memory is an aligned record of previously created translations. When identical or similar segments are found in a new translation project, translation memory allows the reuse previous translations with or without modification.
  • Quality assurance relies on a combination of technology and processes to prevent errors from creeping into translation projects. The QA process starts before a project is sent for translation, continues throughout translation and editing, and lasts until after finalizing the new text in the final format.
  • Resource lookup gives access to online and offline resources, such as dictionaries and reference materials.
  • Word counts and match analysis provides number of words or characters along with any TM or internal matches. This forms the basis of quotes for translation services.
  • Term extraction allows the extraction of term lists from translation memories or translated and aligned documents to use in termbases.
  • Conversion of files between translation-specific (.tmx, .tbx, .xliff, etc.) and source formats.
  • Alignment is the process of matching segments in the source text with their translated renditions in order to create new translation memory files.
  • Machine translation integration allows connecting an external MT engine which displays machine-translated words and phrases to the translator, who can accept or reject them.
  • Concordance searches are manual searches in a translation memory for a particular word or phrase.
  • Predictive typing suggests complete words and phrases to translators as they type based on the content of dictionaries, termbases and translation memories.
  • Spell check is a more advanced form of the tool typically seen in simple text editors. It allows the selection of not only language and flavor, but also specific grammar and style rules.
  • Software localization features allow translators to work on software files directly and see the results of their work in a mirrored rendition of the user interface of the software being translated. Once translation is done, the localized strings are automatically reintegrated in the software.
  • Controlled authoring prevents writers from using inconsistent terminology, highlights common errors, and produces standardized output that is search engine friendly, and translation ready.

CAT tools are generally used by individual translators and editors. More robust systems used by translation providers and translation departments inside corporations that allow for management of linguists, management of translation workflows, invoicing and billing are known as Translation Management Systems (TMS).

Find out more about this and other localization technology in our Automation technologies Ultimate Guide.

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