Before you ask what CAT tools are, we’ll start with what they aren’t. Though we joke around the office when our feline friends monopolize our laptops or Zoom calls, CAT tools sadly have nothing to do with cats. If it helps to picture this when learning about them, though, by all means:
What are CAT tools?
CAT stands for computer-assisted translation, also known as computer-aided translation. Computer-assisted translation software is invaluable for professional translators and significantly improve the consistency and speed up translation projects.
Whether you’re translating HTML files, content like your blog or website, or your app interface, CAT tools allow human translators to speed up the process of turning a source language into a target language. This kind of assistive technology is similar to word processors like Google Docs that suggest alternate spellings or flag grammar errors or when messaging services like LinkedIn automatically add potential one-click responses to your reply screen.
This is often confused with machine translation, but they’re not the same. Machine translation (MT) constructs the translation itself, while translation memory (TM) simply stores previously generated translations in a database and retrieves or suggests similar translations already existing in the database.
The 5 best CAT tool features
The best CAT tools increase quality and consistency, speed and efficiency for your translation team — and also for your business partners, developers, and designers. That’s why we believe these are the five best CAT tool features and functionality available today (and why we integrated each of them into Lokalise’s translation management software):
1. Translation memory
This is the most important feature of any CAT tool. Translation memory (TM) is a database that stores every translation you’ve previously completed, from any translator. This allows translators to easily choose phrases that are already translated over a period of time across different projects, which may have been archived or difficult to find. Unlike machine translation, which suggests possible translations from scratch, it’s up to the professional translator to make the judgment call as to whether or not the recalled sentences from the translation memory fit in the context of the new translation.
Here’s what it looks like in the translation environment:
In the Lokalise editor, that shows up as a suggestion while creating a new entry. TM is cloud-based and updated in real-time, so you can access it anywhere. You don’t have to commit to one CAT tool or one translation memory tool. Team administrators are able to manage translation memory (.tmx) files in the team settings under the Translation memory tab so it’s all in one place:
To do this, you’ll need to export your translation files from another tool like Wordfast, SDL Trados Studio, or Metatexis and turn your .docx or .pdf files into .tmx files, which can then be uploaded into Lokalise’s system.
You can establish multiple translation memories in a given project in Lokalise, and then set your translation memory priority by project, so you can separate different content types — e.g. separate marketing from legal or target audiences like the general public from professionals — styles, tone, voice, or other information based on where on your website or mobile app the information goes. That way, you don’t have to worry about your more technical content in your help center getting confused with marketing language or step-by-step directions in other parts of your software application.
In the example above, you’ll only see translation memory from the “B2B” and “HelpCenter” database, which can be found in your project settings and can be changed anytime. Similarly, each project can choose a target location to save your translation memory, so you can easily export it at any time:
Part of any translation memory feature should be the ability to search through past translation projects. Concordance search gives translators the ability to see how many previous instances of a word or phrase already exist in the translation database, so you can check the way it interacts with larger sections of previously-translated text.
In Lokalise, every suggestion comes with a tag that shows which project and what date a given memory suggestion is from so it’s easy to dive back into the full text for more context.
2. Collaboration features
Any great CAT tool includes collaboration features that make it easier and more efficient for teams to work together. That’s because localization isn’t just the role of a translator — it involves everyone working on a given piece of software, from design to engineering, product, and marketing.
Localization is a complex process, and the right CAT tool can help your team find a way through the complexity to deliver projects on time. Traditional collaboration tools are a start, but purpose-built, integrated platforms designed for the needs of teams delivering synchronous, complex, and continuous software assets create a single source of truth for everyone, from your designers to your developers.
Your localization workflow should be as seamless as possible with features like:
- Role assignments and user groups so everyone who needs to be involved can be, from “need-to-know” billing owners or executive sponsors to team members assigned to a specific project.
- Messaging. In Lokalise, comments and chat are built-in to the translation workflow to work together on checking translations, managing deadlines, or changing project requirements. Or you can set up an integration through Slack or email.
- Integration with project management tools like JIRA, Asana, Azure Repos, Github, and Trello, so each team knows exactly what’s going on with the translation process, when milestones are achieved, and the target timeline. No matter what’s going on in a translation project, your team will be able to know who to talk to and where you are in the process, making it transparent for everyone.
3. Terminology management
A glossary (otherwise known as termbase or dictionary) is a list of industry and/or company-specific terminology. It refers to a list of terms and definitions in a specific localization project that you can upload or extract from your body text. It explains what the terms mean and how to translate them and whether to translate them at all, e.g. the brand and feature names.
Terminology databases ensure that even if these translations are made by different people, or requested by different areas of your company, you know that the most important terms will be the same.
In Lokalise, translators can easily access these terms directly in the bilingual editor, or double-click to learn more about a specific term, with definitions in multiple languages. That way, every in-country reviewer, internal editor, or translator can be on the same page about the nuances of a specific term, phrase, or brand messaging.
In the example above, the term may seem obvious: “card.” But in English, a card can mean many things — a greeting card, for example, that you would send to someone on their birthday; a Green Card, which refers to U.S. workforce authorization paperwork for immigrants; or the phrase “to be carded,” which refers to a server or bartender asking for your identity to prove you’re over 21. Those are all different from the definition in the glossary, which clearly states to translators that when the term “card” is used, it refers to a credit card.
In Lokalise, you can set a glossary by project or select one overarching glossary to share across your projects. Glossaries are particularly useful for industry terminology, especially in regulated industries, or for brand-specific words, like product names that won’t be translated.
4. Quality assurance
Mistakes happen to the best of us. Quality assurance (QA) tools automatically check for double words, extra spaces between words, or any other typos that might be introduced during the translation process.
Decrease errors with built-in spell checkers and grammar algorithms that flag inconsistencies, changing number or content for email addresses or URLs, different brackets or numbers, and inconsistent HTML.
5. In-context editing
In-context editing tools give you a sense of what translations will look like in real-time, saving countless hours of back-and-forth to make a design or development cycle work. When a translator can see the environment in which the word or sentence is used, it’s much easier to provide an accurate, natural translation to that word or sentence.
At Lokalise, we integrate with design tools like Adobe XD, Figma, and Sketch so you can easily see how your designs will change based on the target language and so you can design defensively. You can easily see how your design will handle right-to-left languages like Arabic, or ones that take up significantly more space, like Finnish, German, or Russian. Translating the text first and then optimizing the UI based on all languages, rather than your source text, can help you release your web pages more quickly and eliminate hacky code later.
For project managers, or translation projects for larger teams with more approval cycles, it can make it much easier to get things done — you’ll know exactly what it looks like in real-time, in every language.
The benefits of CAT tools
Professional translators widely use CAT tools for several reasons, but mainly because it provides:
- Consistency: Deliver your brand messaging clearly and distinctly from the competition while maintaining a consistent style and terminology across all your digital assets
- Speed: Reach your customers faster by choosing smart translation tools with built-in CAT functionality
- Cost: Recycling previous translations is less costly than translating each time from scratch
- Quality: The more context a translator has, the higher quality translations they can provide. Translation memory, glossary provide descriptive context, while design tool integrations are indispensable due to visual context
- Flexibility: Cloud-based CAT tools like those built into Lokalise mean you have real-time access to your linguistic assets such as TM and glossary