What are CAT Tools good for? Absolutely… everything?!?

As a follow on to my post Freelance v In-House Translation: Which is the right one for me?, another part of my Methods and Skills module also looked at CAT Tools, and their strengths and weaknesses regarding specific text types.

CAT Tools – or Computer Assisted Translation Tools – are designed to help translators translate more quickly and accurately. Most CAT Tools are equipped with memory banks that store previous translations. For companies who have lots of texts to translate, with similar lines of text repeated over the course of several documents, CAT Tools enable translators to achieve uniformity throughout the text, by reusing or matching source and target text segments that may have been previously translated.

CAT Tools are not be confused with Machine Translators – CAT Tools are designed for human translators to make their job easier. Machine translators are computer programmes – although most CAT Tools do have machine translation add on. CAT Tools also include memory banks, terminology banks and autosuggest dictionaries.

For more information about CAT Tools in general, please see:

  1. Pangeanic – What is a Computer-Assisted Translation Tool (CAT)?
  2. Metatexis – What is a CAT-Tool?
  3. About Translation: CAT Tools and Translation Style

In my post today I’m going to share with you some of the research notes I made comparing the advantages and disadvantages of using CAT Tools in Literary and Technical translation. I hope that these points are useful for anyone who wants to know more about CAT Tool usage, or even those studying for translation exams.



  • CAT tools display the number of words and percentage of text translated, this can help translators plan and manage their time.
  • Consistency for character names – CAT tools will flag up inconsistencies in misspelt words.
  • Can search already translated text for how you’ve previously translated unusual terminology – helps to maintain consistency.
  • Newer versions of CAT tools learn quickly – e.g. novels in diary format can have alternative date formatting – the CAT tool can learn to understand the syntax formatting for future dates.


  • CAT tools split texts by line – segment by segment translation doesn’t encourage smooth writing. It can be difficult to reverse word or sentence order because the segments will not match up.
  • Freedom of writing is constrained – variation of meaning in each word or phrase is significant – novel translation needs creativity and freedom to move text segments to fit the target text syntax.
  • Machine translation and Autosuggest functions cannot allow for variation. Words or phrases may have inherent meanings in the source culture that cannot be picked up on by a machine.



  • Technical documents like contracts often repeat words or phrases – CAT tools get better with more use, as Translation Memory Banks get more populated.
  • Translation Memories save translators time as replica words will be inserted.
  • Guarantee consistency of terminology throughout the document and will flag up inconsistencies and errors e.g. 1495 instead of 1945.
  • Segment by segment translation means you’re less likely to miss sentences or paragraphs.
  • File formats are converted by the CAT Tool and the saved end result will resume the source text formatting.
  • If large projects are split amongst many people, Translation Memories and glossaries ensure consistent terminology.


  • Translation errors that are saved to the client’s Translation Memory database could be seen by other translators.
  • If large projects are split between many translators, inconsistencies in phrasing may occur, since everyone translates slightly differently – 100% consistency in phrasing cannot be ensured.

More general advantages of CAT Tools can be found in the links provided. Obviously the ability to use translation memory banks achieves a greater level of consistency, and speeds up the job of the translator. On the other hand, CAT Tools can be very expensive, and with new versions coming out every few years, it is also a long term cost of maintaining and keeping up with the latest versions and technology.

However, in recent years many companies have been looking at the future of CAT tools and machine translation. Lilt is an online CAT tool platform with a predictive text function, interactive machine translation and a built in-term base. There are free versions as well as professional and business editions (Professional costs around $24 a month with additional features). I’m currently working on a translation project for my Training Placement module – I’m tempted to try it out and see how it does on a short text!

If I’ve missed anything or you have anything to add, leave me a comment below or tweet me @amjscorr!



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