What Are CAT Tools? A 101 Guide to Computer-Assisted Translation

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Written by

Chidinma Egwuogu

Translation may seem like a strictly human endeavor.

However, behind the scenes, powerful tools known as Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools play a vital role in ensuring the quality of your translations.

So, what are CAT Tools? And why do 8 out of 10 translators swear by them?

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore what CAT tools are, how they work, and how they can help you ‘purr-fect’ your translation processes.

Pro tip: Juggling multiple CAT tools is complex and costly. Simplify and automate your translation management process with Centus, your unified platform for seamless CAT tool integration. Learn more.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

-What are CAT tools?

-Difference between machine translation and computer-assisted translation

-Translation management systems vs CAT tools

-Common CAT tool features

-What are the benefits of using CAT tools?

-How do CAT tools work?

-How to choose the right CAT tool for you

-Tips for computer-assisted translation

-Elevate your CAT tool experience with Centus

What Are CAT Tools?

Computer-Assisted Translation tools, or CAT tools, are software programs that make translating text between languages faster and more efficient. They provide an all-in-one platform for entering, editing, organizing, and storing multilingual content.

By streamlining various parts of the translation process, CAT tools help translators work faster, more consistently, and with better results.

What are CAT Tools?

Difference Between Machine Translation and Computer-Assisted Translation

Machine translation (MT) and computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools are two frequently used technologies in the translation industry. While they share the common goal of aiding the translation process, the way they operate and the roles they play are quite different.

Let's have a closer look at these two technologies:

Machine Translation (MT) Computer Assisted Translation (CAT)
Definition MT is an automated process where a computer program translates an entire text from one language to another without human involvement. CAT is a process where translators use software tools to assist them in translating text. These tools do not translate, rather they make the process easier and more efficient.
Role MT provides a quick, initial translation. This translation can be used as a starting point for human translators. CAT tools are used throughout the translation process. They help with tasks like managing terminology, leveraging previous translations, and conducting automated quality checks.
Accuracy The accuracy of MT can vary widely. It often requires human editing to ensure quality and context-appropriate translation. CAT tools improve the accuracy of human translators by providing reference materials and consistency checks. The final accuracy largely depends on the skills of the translator.
Use cases MT is often used for translating large volumes of content quickly, where perfect accuracy is not required. For example, translating social media content or internal documents. CAT tools are used in professional translation where quality and consistency are crucial. For example, legal documents, technical manuals, or marketing materials.

To sum it up, machine translation is all about speed and automation, whereas computer-aided translation focuses on helping human translators maintain translation quality and efficiency. Both have their own benefits and can be used effectively depending on the requirements of the translation task at hand.

Translation Management Systems vs CAT Tools

Translation management systems (TMS) and computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools both offer significant help in managing and streamlining translation tasks, but they serve different roles within the process.

Here's a side-by-side comparison to help distinguish between these two types of systems:

Translation Management System (TMS) Computer Assisted Translation (CAT)
Definition A TMS is a software that helps manage and streamline the entire workflow of translation projects. A CAT tool is software that assists translators in the translation process, improving their efficiency and the quality of their work.
Functionality TMSs provide a holistic approach to translation project management. They handle project tracking, resource allocation, workflow management, and often incorporate CAT tools within their systems. CAT tools focus on aiding the actual translation work. They offer features such as Translation Memory, Terminology Management, and Machine Translation integration.
Target users TMSs are designed for use by translation project managers, translation agencies, language service providers, and companies that handle a high volume of translation work. CAT tools are targeted at individual translators, whether freelance or part of a larger organization.
Use cases TMSs are commonly used for complex or multiple translation projects, where organization and coordination are essential. CAT tools are used in the everyday work of translators, helping them to translate more efficiently and consistently.

A translation management system is a comprehensive solution for managing multiple translation projects, while CAT tools focus on supporting translators in their specific tasks. Many large-scale translation operations may use both together, leveraging the strengths of each system to form a super-efficient translation process.

Common CAT Tool Features

Just like how a calculator helps with complex math problems, CAT tools assist with translation tasks that would’ve ultimately taken much more time and resources. However, these tools do not translate texts themselves. Instead, they have specific features that help translators in several ways:

1. Translation memory (TM): This is like a translator's personal phrasebook. It stores previously translated sentences, phrases, and paragraphs. If the same or similar text appears again, the TM suggests the earlier translation. This way, translators don't have to translate the same text multiple times, saving time and ensuring consistency across all their work.

2. Terminology management: This works as a custom dictionary for translators. It keeps a record of specific terms and their approved translations. For example, technical terms or company-specific language. This guarantees the correct use of terms across all documents.

3. Automated quality checks: This feature helps you scan the translated text for potential errors such as missing translations or inconsistent terminologies, helping to maintain a high level of quality and accuracy.

4. Project management: Some CAT tools also offer features that help track and manage multiple translation projects. These can include monitoring deadlines, managing different resources, and tracking project progress.

With the significant role CAT tools play in the daily work of nearly 88% of professional translators, per ProZ.com's latest survey, it's clear these tools offer vital support in the language industry.

What Are The Benefits of Using CAT Tools?

CAT tools offer a multitude of benefits that significantly enhance the translation process. Some of them include:


A recent survey by ProZ shows that 93% of CAT tool users agree using a CAT tool helps them translate more efficiently. CAT tools, with their translation memory and glossary features, help translators avoid redundant work. For instance, if a translator comes across a segment they have translated before, the tool can auto-fill the translated text, saving time and effort.


Consistency in translation is important, especially in large projects or those that involve technical jargon. With terminology management, CAT tools ensure that the same terms are translated the same way across a project.

Quality control

With features such as spell-check, grammar-check, and consistency-check, CAT tools help translators maintain high-quality translations. They also provide an overview of the translation, helping to spot and correct errors that might otherwise go unnoticed.


CAT tools also help with easier collaboration between translators, editors, and proofreaders. They allow multiple people to work on a document at the same time, making team projects more streamlined.


CAT tools reduce costs by speeding up translation tasks and reducing repetition. With less time spent on each project, expenses go down. Translation memories also save costs by reducing the work needed for repetitive or updated translations. Better translations from the start mean fewer costly revisions later on.

How Do CAT Tools Work?

To create a clear picture of how CAT tools help with translation, let us break down the entire translation process into several steps:

Stage 1. Text importation: The process begins when a translator imports a text document in the source language into the CAT tool. This document could be in various formats, including Word, PDF, Excel, or HTML.

Stage 2. Text analysis: Once the document is imported, the tool performs an analysis. It identifies and separates only the translatable text. This text is further divided into smaller segments, usually sentences or phrases, to be translated individually. This process, known as segmentation, makes the text easier to manage. Learn more.

Stage 3. Translation memory tools: Next, the CAT tool checks each segment against previously translated segments stored in the translation memory. If the same translation or similar match is found, the tool suggests that translation.

Stage 4. Translation: For segments without a TM match, the translator manually translates the text, and the CAT tool stores both the source text and its translation in the translation memory. In some cases, they may also use machine translation for a rough translation that the translator can refine further.

Stage 5. Terminology management: While translating, the CAT tool continuously checks against the stored terminology database. If a term from the database appears in the text, the tool can suggest the approved translation.

Stage 6. Quality assurance: After the translation is completed, the CAT tool can perform automated quality checks. It can spot potential errors such as missing translations, spelling mistakes, or inconsistent use of terminologies. Learn more.

Stage 7. Exportation: Once all translations are finished and checked, the text can be exported from the CAT tool back into its original format, maintaining all original formatting and layout.

Stage 8. Update translation memory: After the project is completed, the CAT tool updates the Translation Memory with the new translations. This means that the TM becomes a more valuable resource with each translation project.

How to Choose the Right CAT Tool for You

Choosing the right CAT tool can seem daunting, given the multitude of options available. But don't worry, here are some key factors to consider when selecting the best CAT tool for your needs:

how to choose a CAT tool

  • Ease of use: The user interface should be intuitive and easy to navigate. A tool that's difficult to use can slow down your translation process instead of aiding it. If it has a steep learning curve, then you might want to look at more accessible options.

  • Features: Identify the features you need most. This could include translation memory, terminology management, spell-check, or collaborative capabilities. Ensure the CAT tool you choose provides these features. Remember, you might not need all the costly bells and whistles.

  • Support for languages and formats: Make sure the CAT tool supports all the languages you work with. It should also handle the file formats you commonly encounter.

  • Integration: If you use other software in your work, such as a translation management system, check that the CAT tool integrates well with them.

  • Training and support: Good customer support is crucial. You want to know that help is available if you encounter any problems. Some companies also provide training on how to use their CAT tool effectively.

  • Price: Consider your budget. While some CAT tools are free, others require a subscription. Look for a cost/value balance.

  • Reviews and recommendations: Read reviews and ask other users for their experiences with different CAT tools. This firsthand feedback can provide valuable insights.

Remember, the best computer-assisted translation tool for you depends on your specific needs and translation workflow. Think about the kind of projects you usually handle, your technical comfort level, and your workflow and interface preferences.

Tips for Computer-Assisted Translation

Getting the most from a CAT tool isn't just about understanding what it can do. It's about using those capabilities effectively in your day-to-day translation tasks. To help you with this, here are some valuable tips to optimize your use of CAT tools:

  1. Learn the tool: Invest time in learning the ins and outs of your CAT tool. Most tools have tutorials, webinars, or online communities where you can learn more about their features and how to use them effectively.

  2. Communicate with your team: Remember to carry your teammates along if you're working as part of a team. Share TMs and glossaries, discuss style guides, and clarify any queries. This will help maintain consistency across the team's translations.

  3. Update your translation memory: Your translation memory database is a valuable resource. Regularly update and review them to maintain the quality and consistency of your translations.

  4. Don’t forget the humans: CAT tools are here to help, and not to replace human translation. Always proofread your translations. The tool may not catch errors in context, idiomatic expressions, or culture-specific references, but your human translator will.

  5. Use glossaries: Glossaries ensure that specific terms are consistently translated. If you're working on a project with specific jargon or industry terms, take the time to build a glossary.

  6. Stay organized: Manage your projects, files, translation memories, and glossaries efficiently. Most CAT tools provide features for this, like project folders or management dashboards.

  7. Regularly save your work: CAT tools often auto-save your work, but it's good practice to manually save your work regularly to prevent data loss. You can also back up your work to the cloud so you can access it from anywhere in the world.

  8. Leverage machine translation: Some CAT tools come with automated translation engines. Use this feature wisely to speed up your work, but always review and edit the machine-translated text to ensure high quality.

  9. Stay updated: Technology is constantly evolving, and so are CAT tools. Stay updated with new features and improvements to your CAT tool to ensure you're getting the most out of it. You can subscribe to their Youtube or newsletter. You can also join a community forum.

  10. Take advantage of customer support: If you're unsure about how to use a feature or if you're facing technical issues, don't hesitate to reach out to customer support. They're there to help!

Elevate Your CAT Tool Experience with Centus

Centus dashboard

CAT tools can make your translation work simpler and quicker. Yet, the real power comes when you manage them efficiently, and that's where Centus comes in.

Centus is an affordable and easy-to-use translation management system designed to help you manage and optimize your CAT tools. It doesn't matter if you're just starting with translation or handling complex projects, Centus scales as your needs grow. And with excellent customer support, you're never alone in your translation journey.

Why juggle multiple CAT tools when Centus can streamline everything? Learn more.

To Sum Up

CAT tools are game-changers in translation work, and you should definitely take your time picking the one that’s right for you. However, although CAT tools assist in the translation process, it’s important to still keep that human touch.

Centus combines the beauty of CAT tools with the creativity of human translators, by providing a unified platform for the management of translations.

So, whether you're just starting out or have been translating for years, using CAT tools — and a good TMS — can help you simplify your workflow and ensure superior-quality translations.


What does a CAT tool mean?

CAT stands for Computer-Assisted Translation. CAT tools are software that help translators in their work. They offer features like translation memory, glossaries, and collaboration tools which improve the efficiency, consistency, and overall quality of translations.

What are the most used CAT tools?

There are several popular CAT tools used by translators globally. Some of these include SDL Trados, MemoQ, Wordfast, and MateCat. The choice of a CAT tool can vary based on personal preference, specific feature needs, and budget.

Why do translators use CAT tools?

Translators use CAT tools to make their work faster and more accurate. Features like translation memory save time by storing translated segments for future use. Glossaries help maintain the consistency of terms across translations. Collaboration tools allow multiple translators to work together effectively on a project.

What is the main benefit of CAT tools?

The main benefit of CAT tools is that they significantly improve the efficiency of translation work. They automate repetitive tasks, ensure consistency, and generally speed up the translation process. This can result in better translation quality and productivity for the translator.

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