Computer-Assisted Translation

How to Get Started with Computer-Aided Translation

If you’ve been a translator for any length of time or have thought about becoming a freelance translator, you’ve no doubt heard of computer-assisted translation (CAT) or computer-aided translation tools and software.

If you haven’t heard of CAT tools before, here’s a quick definition (nothing to do with cats):

Computer-assisted translation tools assist a translator in translation. The software provides some level of translation on the text in question, which then allows the human translator to go through and edit the text in order to improve the quality and remove any errors introduced by the automatic translation.

So, CAT tools can help you as a translator with speed and accuracy while translating.

Now, word-processing software isn’t normally considered a CAT tool because most word-processing software that I’ve seen doesn’t incorporate any type of automatic translation into the workflow.

Difference Between CAT and MT

Now, before I talk about how to get started with CAT tools, it’s important to understand what computer-aided translation is not. And for starters, it’s important to know that CAT is different than machine translation (or MT).

In machine translation, a computer takes charge of the entire translation, ingesting the source material and then spitting out the automatic translation (that is most likely not going to be of professional quality).

In computer-assisted translation, though, the software facilitates the translation process by providing the human translator with tools (and sometimes a pre-translation) to help with the accuracy and speed of the translation.

Another difference is that CAT software often includes multiple tools to the human translator in order to facilitate that translation. Here are a list of some tools that various CAT software provides:

  • translation memory
  • spell or grammar checkers
  • terminology management
  • search tools
  • concordances
  • bitext aligners
  • project management

It’s important to note that not all CAT software tools are created equally. Not all of them will have all of the tools mentioned above. A lot of times, the number of tools included in the CAT software will depend on the amount of money you’re willing to spend on the software itself.

Should You Use CAT Software

The real question to consider when thinking about purchasing computer-assisted translation software (or using it in general) is whether or not the costs (both in money and time spent learning the programs) are worth it. The answer to this question will vary among translators, and you need to really look at your workload to see if it makes sense for you.

In the beginning it might not, but you might find that as you get more and more clients, you could use the convenience of this type of translation software.

Now, that being said, there are many translators that use translation-specific software to help them in their work. They might do really large projects where it’s crucial to have terminology-management capabilities. A terminology tool can be a lifesaver when doing huge projects and in this case a software suite is well-justified.

Before you decide whether to invest in a translation software program, I suggest that first you look at the type of work you do.

Are your translations mostly short text that don’t require you to manage your vocabulary and set up specialized dictionaries or do you do large projects where that is essential?

If so, then CAT software can really be a lifesaver.

Second, if you decide that computer-aided translation software will help you, stop before you outright purchase any of them.

Instead, take some time and download a couple of trial versions from different vendors.

See which one you like, which one feels more intuitive to you, and which of those fits within your budget.

There are lots and lots of CAT software companies out there that sell their software at varying price points. There’s no need to spend the money on one particular type if it’s not going to help you in the long run.

If you don’t ever intend of using a CAT software tool but are still curious on how they work, you can always try the Google Translator software kit. It’s a scaled down CAT tool that is free, easy to use, and integrates easily with your Google account.

You can check it out here: and read my Google Translator Kit step-by-step guide on how to use it.

P.S. For more tips on becoming a successful freelance translator, read my book.

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