CAT tools are a mystery to some and a blessing for others. In my case, I consider them truly magical instruments granted to translators by the language masters from above.
What Are CAT Tools?
CAT is the acronym for Computer-Assisted Translation. CAT tools help translators accelerate the translation process and manipulate document files easily. One important aspect is that these applications do not always offer a perfect translation. Nevertheless, they help you make the work fast and easy, and allow you to dedicate more time to find better ways to express ideas in the target language.
If you translate professionally, you most likely know what a CAT tool is. Or not. Some translators that work the traditional way seem to avoid these helpful resources out of fear or because they seem complicated. They are not.
Is It Difficult to Translate a Document Using a CAT Tool?
The process of translating a document using a CAT tool goes basically as follows: the translator loads the document onto the software and makes the necessary settings to tell the app about the language pairs to use, the dictionaries, and other resources needed.
The software processes the file and separates the text in units known as segments. These segments can be sentences or parts of a sentence that become the smallest units the CAT will divide the text in to do the job. Then, the software presents the user with an interface to display the source and target segments side by side. That way the translator can swiftly check if the target segments convey the original messages contained in the source segments.
The translator can edit the target result to adjust the translation. In the end, the user generates the final translated document perfectly finished. This is basically what a CAT tool does.
Depending on the kind of document and the level of difficulty, the translation will be more or less accurate after it is electronically processed. Sometimes, a minimum of human intervention is necessary. In other cases, the translator will need to make more adjustments depending on how specialized the topic and wording are. The most important fact is that the process is faster and the translator can focus on quality and precision.
What Else Do I Need to Know About CAT Tools? What Are Translation Memories?
CAT tools have numerous features, and the user needs to know how they work before doing their first CAT translation. One of the main elements is the use of translation memories. Simply put, the software learns how you translate certain expressions and words, and it stores them in the form of word chains. These “word chains” are the translation memories or TMs.
When the software detects word chains that have appeared in former translations, it knows the specific wording you used before to express the same ideas in the target language, and it will use them again. That way, the program “learns” how you translate and reduces future revisions. The software “remembers” using TMs.
Translation memories automatically translate repeated expressions in the source document every time they appear. They help reduce the work of typing redundant text in the target document.
Can I Manipulate TMs?
These memories can be created using different criteria. You may have TMs for medical translations, legal documents, aviation manuals, and virtually every type of text that you might find yourself working on. It means that if you are translating a medical report and you have done that kind of work before, you can activate your medical terms TM and link it to the medical document you are translating at the moment.
The same may happen with any other kind of material. The most important fact is that you create your own TMs, and you can use them whatever way you need.
What Document Formats Are Supported by CATs?
A very useful feature of CAT tools is that they allow users to open different types of documents and extract the text from them. Hence, you don’t need to transcribe the text in a new file to use it or manipulate complicated formats such as PDF or HTML.
If you have to use the text contained in a PDF document with a graphic design in it, for instance, you just follow the initial procedure described above and you will obtain the same segment pairs to work on. When the translation is finalized, the CAT will incorporate the translation in the PDF document with the same graphic design and you will have your document ready to go. Sometimes, some adjustments may be necessary but in the end, the effort is minimal.
This text extraction and recombination features work with a variety of file formats that include MSWord, JPG, and others. It is very helpful when clients want to translate documents with graphics or special formats in them, such as special typefaces, logos, letter sizes, etc. In the end, the CAT tool is capable of rendering a document that has the same look and feel of the original one but in the target language.
Are There Many Brands of CAT tools?
Yes, there are many brands in the market. Two of the most popular are SDL TRADOS, Cafe Tran Expresso, and MemoQ. One interesting case is SmartCAT, which is not only a CAT tool but an online platform that allows translators and clients to get in touch and work together.
SmartCAT includes all the characteristics listed before, and it is compatible with SDL Trados and MemoQ translation memory formats. This is very useful if a client sends you the translation memories to be used on their documents in native SDL Trados or MemoQ formats. You can seamlessly load them onto SmartCAT and use them on your translation.
The most important aspect is that many of the features on SmartCAT are free, and you only pay if you need to use more specific functions.
I sincerely recommend translators to give CAT tools a try. They will surely end up praising the benefits they obtain from CATs and the way these applications expedite work and make it more interesting, accurate, and fun.