CAT stands for computer-assisted translation. CAT tools are programs or software that translators use to assist them with the translation process. Using the editor, translators can edit the text in all the most commonly used file types without losing the formatting. The software also offers various other useful tools such as terminology databases in order to incorporate existing terminology better and with greater ease. What’s more, translations are saved, processed and edited in so-called translation memories. The software then automatically pre- translates any matching text segments. This facilitates the translator’s job, helping them be more efficient while also making the translation more consistent and accurate and significantly reducing costs. CAT tools are not to be confused with automatic translating software (machine translations). Machine translation tools are ones that generate translations based on probability and fixed rules, e.g. “google translate” or the neural network-based translator “deepL”.
The most well-known and widely used CAT tools are produced by SDL Trados, MemoQ and Across.
The basic idea behind the development of CAT tools was that a text or segmented unit of a text (i.e. a sentence or translation unit) which has already been translated once before should not have to be translated again (to put it simply).
If, for example, a sentence occurs multiple times within the same operating manual, or if it re- appears in a different document, then that sentence is only translated once and is then saved as a bilingual segment by the CAT tool. Excursus: A segment is always defined by a segment end mark. This refers to a sentence end mark such as a period, exclamation mark or a question mark. The CAT tool divides the source text into segments, i.e. breaks down the text into small units according to the segment end marks. This results in small units defined by segment end marks. Once a segment or segment unit is translated, it gets stored as a bilingual dataset in the translation memory. Should the same segment occur again in the same or in a new document, the translation memory automatically suggests the stored translation to the translator.
Another major advantage of CAT tools relates to the use of specialised terms from a glossary or terminology database. In practice, translators often spend a lot of time searching for the correct technical term that the customer needs, as there are often a lot of synonyms. In case of newly created terms, an adequate translation must first be found, which can also be a time- consuming process. For that reason, glossaries or terminology lists are essential and should be provided by the customer or at least be compiled in collaboration with the customer and subsequently approved for translation. CAT tools can then be used to convert terminology lists into termbases or generate termabases directly (the CAT tool then accesses this database and automatically searches for matches, i.e. takes over the predefined term/ the approved terminology in case of a match).
These databases are stored in the CAT tool. During the translation process, the software detects terms from the termbase that appear in the source text and automatically suggests them to the translator, meaning that time-consuming searches are no longer necessary.
CAT tools therefore not only improve efficiency and result in optimised workflows but they also ensure that translators use the relevant terminology consistently.