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CAT Tools 101: Computer-Assisted Translation Software

What are CAT Tools?

Computer-Assisted Translation tools (CAT tools) are software that aid linguists and human translators in the production of language translation. A CAT tool makes the translation process more efficient by generating machine translations and offering a set of features that help to improve translation quality.

They are accessed either online as cloud applications or as desktop software systems.

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Common CAT Tool Users

CAT software tools are commonly used by LSP’s (Language Service Providers), which are translation agencies that provide translation services. They’re also frequently used by individual translators and bilingual employees who work for organizations that have global audiences or have extensive localization needs.

Overall, it’s estimated that CAT programs are used by more than 86% of translators. Furthermore, they are fundamental to the commercial translation way of doing business and they help save on translation costs and time.

How Do CAT Tools Work?

The main purpose of a CAT tool is to provide some form of translation support.

The features included with any given CAT tool may differ, especially depending upon the price point. There are various features that help with multiple parts of the human translation process. And in essence, how one CAT platform works may differ from how another one works.

Here are some examples of features one might find in a CAT solution so that you can understand how CAT tools work:

Translation Editor (core CAT tool component)

checklistTo produce a translation using a CAT tool, you will need to translate and edit the translation in a translation editor interface. A translation editor is a text editor. Here’s where you’ll either type in your translation or make edits to a machine translation draft.

The interface will provide users with a variety of translation tools. Including terminology management, segment analysis, Translation Memory, file parsing and automatic file formatting, spellchecker and artificial intelligence like Dynamic Machine Learning.

Terminology Managementcomputer aided translation

One common function of a premium CAT tool is that it enables a human translator to maintain consistent use of company-approved terminology by storing an uploaded glossary. This is particularly vital to the proper translation of technical, scientific and legal texts, which require a high degree of consistency and accuracy. Most glossaries start in Microsoft Excel and must be converted or saved as a TBX file to be used by a CAT tool.

Segment Analysis

CAT toolsCAT tools will “analyze” files and help the user understand how much work a translation will require.

As more and more translations are produced in a CAT tool, typically the less work is required on future files. An Analysis typically identifies what text has already been translated and what text requires translations. This data is expressed as 100% Matches, Context Matches, Fuzzy Matches and New Words.

The more 100%, Context, and Fuzzy Matches, the less translation work there is to be produced.

Translation Memory

CAT toolMost CAT tools core functionality includes Translation Memory. This provides users a seemingly endless number of bilingual databases for storing translations that are manually created or improved from their machine-translated origins.

The storage of these translations allows a user to draw on them later. Consequently, the next time they need to produce a translation, they don’t need to manually produce the same translation. Translation Memory is very effective for highly repetitive text like owners guides, service repair information, NDA’s, and patent applications.

Dynamic Machine Learning

CAT tools definitionThis one applies to CAT tools that integrate Dynamic Machine Learning.

When a user makes an edit to a segment of text that is repeated in a file or a batch of files, that edit will simultaneously and automatically be applied to any repetition of the segment they edited that exists within the translation editor and document.

Translation Collaboration and Instant Messaging

CAT tools that support team collaboration commonly enable the user to invite colleagues to edit translations within the program interface and allow multiple users to collaborate in real-time on a translation.

Other collaborative features contained in a CAT tool might include segment edit history and tracking. Today’s best CAT tools come with Slack-like instant messaging in addition to email notifications. Instant messaging allows translators and project managers to communicate in real time.

Parsing Files and Automatic File Formatting

CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation)While not all CAT tools provide a large variety of file parsing options and automatic file formatting to the user, this functionality is a major time-saver. It preserves a user’s file format so that the translated version closely matches the original layout, formatting and image placement. This feature saves users a significant amount of time. The best CAT tools support a large variety of file formats.


A spell-checker is another CAT tool that will help a user maintain quality in their translated text. Some tools Benefits of CAT Toolswill also offer a dynamic experience which allows the user access to additional features; some will provide lookup options, allow you to add to dictionaries and correct one misspelling and simultaneously edit all repetitions of the incorrect word. A robust spell-checker will help users produce higher-quality, error-free translations in less time.

Machine Translation

Computer Assisted Translation ToolsMachine translation is typically built into a premium CAT tool. When machine translation takes place in a CAT tool, segments of the source text are then automatically aligned side-by-side with their corresponding target language text segment. This makes for easy review and editing of the text within the user interface. This reduces the chances that a human translator will miss an error during the post-editing process.

5 Benefits of CAT Tools

Here are the 5 main benefits of CAT tools:

  • Help to produce high-quality translations
  • Improve translation productivity
  • Yields significant cost savings
  • Reduce the amount of time and effort needed to produce translations
  • Provide a return on investment (ROI)

Over many years and across thousands of companies, CAT tools have proven to provide these benefits. The objective is to “translate once and reuse often,” which is possible when a CAT tool is used properly.

How Much Do Computer Assisted Translation Tools Cost?

CAT tools cost anywhere from $0 to $3,000 or more.

They are often developed by software companies for purchase as a product or as a SaaS (Software as a Service). They can also be integrated into existing translation platforms via APIs and SDKs. Most commonly they are priced by license or by account.

The pricing of a CAT tool depends on some of the following factors:

  • Number of seats
  • Volume of words
  • Features included
  • Customization
  • Length of commitment

Possible File Types Supported by CAT Software Tools

CAT software tools support the upload of the following types of file formats:

  • Word (.docx)
  • Excel (.xlsx)
  • PowerPoint (.pptx)
  • Outlook Mail Message (.msg)
  • Email (.eml)
  • HTML
  • XML
  • XML for Android
  • Adobe InDesign (IDML)
  • ARB
  • Autocad (.dxf)
  • MS Visio (.vsd)
  • PDF
  • Resource files (.strings)
  • JSON (.json)
  • Portable Objects (.po)
  • Plain Text (.txt)
  • DXF
  • RTF
  • Srt (YouTube subtitles)
  • Sub(.txt)
  • Xliff

Best CAT Tool for Enterprise Translation

The best CAT tool for enterprise translation is Pairaphrase.

Pairaphrase is one of the best CAT tools for translation because it has a strong focus on ease-of-use combined with powerful functionality, all the while providing the best security available. If you’re searching for an online “CAT translator tool” with the intent to find a robust, powerful and easy-to-use application, it’s your best option.

With little to no learning curve, you can get your entire translation team up-and-running on this web-based CAT tool immediately. Whether you need translation software for PC or Mac, desktop or mobile, you can use this one anywhere because it’s accessible from your web browser.

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