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CAT tools: A translator’s best friend?

Top 5 Mobile Communication Apps Among translators, CAT (computer-assisted/aided translation) tools are a topic of interesting discussion and diverse perspectives—some swear by them while others find them to be more of a hassle than anything else. Regardless of personal opinion, CAT tools are an integral part of the translation industry as a whole. For localization buyers, it is important to understand how your translations are generated and what tools might be involved in this process. For localization providers, in order to maintain clear and open communication across functional groups, we need to be sure to be well-versed in all steps of the localization process, translation included.

The Basics of CAT Tools

Generally, CAT tools come with three basic functions: segmentation, translation memory, and a terminology database. By breaking text up into segments, CAT tools present text in a simple and easy-to-read manner. The phrase to be translated is usually sectioned off in a special box or highlighted, and the translator is able to insert the translated text into another identified box. Each source and target segment are paired together (identified as a translation unit) and saved in a database for future reuse (translation memory).

Translation memory allows translators to reuse translations in topic-similar texts. Additionally, translation memory also works with fuzzy matches, matches that are not 100% identical, but have overlapping or relevant content. This saves time and effort, while promoting consistency and quality both within and between documents.

Another database that is usually included in CAT tools is a terminology database, which is essentially a built-in multilingual dictionary (but with a lot more data categories). With termbases, translators are able to instantly look-up and insert terminology into the text they’re translating. Like translation memory, this enhances the quality and consistency of a translation. Among language toolmakers, most of their CAT tools offer the same basic functionality, though the specific features within each individual tool vary.

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The Reactions

In certain situations, using CAT tools has clear benefits:

  • In lengthy texts, to maintain consistency
  • In technical text, to reuse repetitive content
  • In group translations, to ensure terminological consistency

Amidst these advantages, the common complaints about CAT tools seem to be that they are too costly and training is too time-consuming. Another common reaction is that the various CAT tools on the market are not compatible with one another. Among the CAT tools that are being used, including Trados, Wordfast, Déjà vu, and Systran, most have overlapping features and functionality, but are not easily interoperable with one another easily, if at all.

Although some may be against these tools, the main objective of these technologies is to increase productivity. Despite their current shortcomings, these tools represent the direction in which the localization and translation industry is heading.

Regardless of whether you’re for or against CAT tools, we’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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