What is a CAT Tool?

Project managers, human resource agents, and marketing professionals know translation is essential in today's business climate. A global workforce, customer base, and corporate presence all require the ability to communicate across languages.
Rodrigo Demetrio
4 min
Table of Contents

Project managers, human resource agents, and marketing professionals know translation is essential in today's business climate. A global workforce, customer base, and corporate presence all require the ability to communicate across languages. That's why the global translation service market is expected to reach $3 billion at some point in the next five years.

However, with the increased demand for translations comes an ever-growing challenge: how to ensure that translations are accurate and consistent? Hiring multiple translators might solve this problem, but it's too costly for many. Companies are turning to computer-assisted translation or CAT tools to help.

What is a CAT tool, you might be wondering? How does it work? And how can it benefit the business? Let's find out.

What are CAT Tools?

Computer-assisted translation tools - CAT tools- software programs designed to help translators do their work quicker at a higher volume. CAT tools come with a broad set of features that can make translations easier and more accurate.

When working on a tight schedule, a translator can use a computer-assisted translation tool to finish the job quickly. For some translators, CAT tools have allowed them to more than double their per-hour output. CAT tools are widely used by professional translators, agencies, and publishers to make the translation process smoother.

What Do CAT Tools Do?

A computer-assisted translation tool streamlines the translation process by breaking the text down into small, easily manageable segments. It stores the segments in a database called "translation memory." There, they can be reused, modified, or updated.

The next time when one of the stored segments is needed, the translator can quickly get it without having to re-translate. When the translated material is similar to one of the stored segments, the CAT tool can suggest a match. That reduces the translator's workload, so they don’t have to start from scratch.

The more content one translates, the more translation segments the software can reuse. That kind of automation helps one's translation work remain consistent and accurate. More than 85% of translators that have used CAT tools in the past say they're great resources that they "couldn't live without."

How do CAT Tools Work?

A translation project was done manually in the past, with the translator going through the text line by line. Today, nearly every serious translator uses a CAT tool to automate the process. According to a recent Proz survey, roughly 9 out of 10 translators have used at least one CAT tool for their tasks.

At the start of a project, the translator will load a text document into a CAT tool. The software presents the text as a two-column table of sentence segments. The source text appears in one column, and the target translation in the other.

There are multiple other functions available, including:

Memory Tools

Translation memories are the core feature of CAT tools. You can find words, segments, and even full sentences stored in these databases. You can refer to the memory segments when translating similar content for future projects.

These databases, however, don't contain only translation segments. They also contain style guides and glossaries in multiple languages. These tools provide you with an endless number of multi-language resources. Memory is really effective for repetitive content like guides, product descriptions, and NDAs, to name a few.

Terminology Management


When you're translating multiple pieces of content for a single organization - think web pages, employee manuals, and the like - maintaining the same terminology across the board is more important than you think.

With a translation memory management tool, using only company-approved terms is a breeze. Storing approved terms in a database allows you to quickly refer to them when needed. That way, a translator can ensure that all content translated for a given organization remains on-brand and follows the language guidelines to a t.

In-context Translation

At the dawn of modern translation technology, computers could only translate isolated phrases. That often led to literal translations that would only confuse the reader.

Thanks to in-context translation, you can now translate content while maintaining the text's original context.

You can get a preview of the translated text using a CAT tool and see how a text will look once exported. That minimizes the chances that a human translator will miss an error during a manual review.

Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing, or DTP for short, is one of the final phases of the translation process. DTP is the process that involves formatting a translated text so that it retains the same layout as the original.

Once the translator completes the job, the translated text will go to a DTP specialist who imports the text into a DTP program like InDesign. Then, they modify the translated text so that the layout looks as identical as possible to the original.

Top Features of CAT Tools

If you've ever used an advanced text editor, then you shouldn't have any problems using a CAT tool. Such tools are pretty straightforward and user-friendly. There are many different CAT tools on the market. While there are some big and small differences between them, the core features remain the same. Let's look at the top computer-assisted translation tool features.

Translation Memory (TM)

A record of previously created translations is called translation memory, or TM for short. Translators can use the function to split big multilingual documents into smaller fragments and store them in a database.

The next time a translator uses the translation management system and recognizes an identical match (full match) - or even a similar one (fuzzy matching) - in a new translation project, it will automatically suggest the translation.

As mentioned earlier, when you're dealing with content that has repetitive technical jargon, the CAT tool is indispensable. Translation memory will save time, energy, and money.

Term Base

Term base, often called a translation glossary, is a database that contains definitions or instructions for the use of translated terminology. That sounds a bit complicated. What does it mean?

Well, a term base is similar to a dictionary containing a list of words and phrases relevant to a company, organization, or institution the translator works with. The feature is there to ensure the accuracy of used terms.

Taking a break every few minutes to look at different terms can be quite time-consuming. That's why some CAT tools allow users to access the term bases within the software. The translators can use the term base without constantly switching between windows, needlessly clicking away.

Quality Assurance

BMX Platform

Text editors like Microsoft Word and Google Docs have had spell checkers and grammar tools for nearly two decades at this point. So it's only natural that CAT tools possess certain quality assurance (QA) capabilities.

A QA tool will go through the text and find missing words, deviations from approved terminologies, and numeric mismatches in seconds. The QA feature will scan through the text and look for any potential errors or typos. It also provides suggestions on areas you can improve to make the translation more accurate.

Any text should go through the QA process before it's sent to the client. With QA, translators can rest assured that they've done their job at the highest possible quality.

Real-time Collaboration

Using a cloud-based CAT tool, a translator can collaborate with other translators, proofreaders, managers, and even customers in real-time. That allows the translator to receive input from other participants without having to wait to write an email and wait for a response.

Translators can finish a portion of the translation work, share it with a collaborator, and decide together whether the tone, wording, and context are correct. Certain tools even allow you to coordinate with different team members, give them tasks, and assign due dates too.

Machine Translation

Machine translation is a function that relies on artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically translate any text. You can use machine translation to quickly translate a text without human intervention.

When you need a few dozen pages translated quickly, machine translation can come in handy, since it's much faster than traditional translation methods.

Of course, having speed often means sacrificing accuracy. That's why you should always double-check the translation with a professional translator or use post-editing services to adjust the machine-translated text.

Machine Translation vs. Computer-Assisted Translation

Speaking of machine translation, one might wonder whether it serves the same purpose as a CAT tool. After all, they both involve computers and can help you translate faster - so is there any actual difference between the two?

While in the translation industry, the terms machine translation and computer-assisted translation are clearly defined and not used interchangeably, people outside the industry often get confused between the two.

Machine translation (MT) is an automated translation where software processes a written text and translates it into another language. It allows the translator to give their input and customize the text for a better result. MT can translate any text quickly but requires proofreading and editing afterward.

On the other hand, computer-assisted translation is a process in which software supplements a translator's effort. Translation software helps a translator create a database of translated segments, which can be reused and shared. It's not a translation substitution but a translator's aid.

While MT focuses on getting the translation done fast, CAT tools help to make the post-editing process less time-consuming.

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) Tool Benefits

A CAT tool can seemingly handle everything from creating a visual translation memory to post-editing machine translations. So, what does using one bring to the table? Now, we'll look at some of the biggest benefits of CAT tools so you can understand how your translation projects can be improved.


Let's get the biggest and most-obvious benefit out of the way. Whether you're a business owner in need of large volumes of translated text or a professional linguist translating multiple projects at once - a translation management system is there to boost productivity.

Without proofreading, translation software can do the job of several people in a fraction of the time. And just how much one's productivity can increase? Freelance translators report that their productivity can increase anywhere between 40% and 60% by using a CAT tool.


CAT tools can help you maintain consistency throughout your translation projects. Every company has a set of approved terms and phrases. These terms are used for in-organization manuals as well as on customer-facing websites, brochures, and ad campaigns. Keeping everything consistent can be challenging, especially for an inexperienced translator.

No matter the volume, industry, or language combination, a CAT tool can help you maintain consistency. These translation tools can store branded terms, approved by the company owners, in a database. Professional translators can refer to them at any time they want. That way, the translator won’t have to worry about getting it wrong, and the higher-ups can rest easy knowing all of their content is consistent.


Did you know that for 75% of employees, flexibility is the biggest workplace benefit? Regarding translation, CAT tools help linguists be more flexible with their schedules and client base. The translator doesn't need to spend all of their day sitting behind a desk in an office.

The translation tools allow you to add team members, reviewers, and others to work on projects in real-time. They're also accessible across multiple platforms. You have a desktop, mobile, and web version.

So, while they make it easier to work on translations, they also provide the flexibility needed to get them done quickly and efficiently.


Although CAT tools allow you to speed things up significantly, that's not their only purpose. A major benefit is their ability to help you deliver higher quality products with less effort. In simple terms, you can improve your translation quality without wasting time.

How? If you're translating content within the same industry, you're probably using the same phrases, tone, and style over and over again. By referencing internal language databases integrated into the CAT tool, you can easily pick up these nuances and improve the quality of your translations.


Frankly, freelance translators aren't cheap. A professional translator will charge between $0.10 and $0.20 per word. That means even a modest project might cost you a lot. And if you need translation on an ongoing basis, the costs can quickly become unaffordable.

Investing in translation software can help you save money in the long run. With a CAT tool, the translator doesn't need to retype the same phrases several times in similar documents. These phrases are already stored in the tool's database. You can handle more projects with fewer people and at a lower cost.

How to Choose a CAT Tool

You know what a CAT tool is, how the translation technology works, and its biggest benefits. What else should you know? There are many CAT tools out there, so picking one isn't that straightforward. That's why we're going to talk about some of the most important factors to consider when getting a CAT tool.

Decide on a Budget

While you can find free CAT tools out there, you need to be aware that most cat tools require a fee. Free CAT tools can be a great option for small businesses, but if you're looking for something with more features, you'll need to choose one of the paid CAT tools.

That's why it's important to understand what features you'll need and how much funds you'll be able to spend. Consider what payment model would be most suitable for your needs.

In the beginning, the investment might seem a little bit high. However, it will pay off in saved time, efficiency, and translation quality.

Define Your Goals

Do you need to translate in-house documents for internal use? Are you translating marketing content for an international audience? Do you need a specialized tool for medical translations?

These are all important considerations when choosing a CAT tool.

You should take time to outline your needs and define what you'll use the CAT tool for. That will help you narrow down your choices and find a tool that suits you best. Work out who'll use the CAT tool the most and ask them what kind of features they need to get the job done.

Look for Integrations

BWX integrations

Every tool you add to your translation workflow needs to complement it perfectly. It needs to bridge the existing gaps, optimize the process, and help improve the translation quality.

That's why you should always look for integrations when shopping for a CAT tool.

Different integration levels are available on the market. There are solutions that work better with eCommerce software and ones that work better with accounting apps. Your choice will depend on your specific needs, so check what integrations the CAT tool offers.

Do a Back-check

You're probably doing your best to find the perfect CAT tool for your business. But you can't just trust the claims a copywriter hired by the company made in the product's marketing campaign. You need to do your homework and see what real people have been saying about the tool.

The easiest way to do this is to look up written and video reviews. You can find them on the company's website, YouTube, industry-specific blogs, as well as forums. Read what other users say about the product, and check out both the positive and negative comments.

Use the Free Trial

Once you create a shortlist of language service providers and software localization tools you're interested in, it's time to give them a test run. Start by signing up for a free trial. This way, you can see how the CAT tool works in real life and if it's worth investing in.

There are also free CAT tools, so you don't even need to sign up for a free trial. With a free translation memory tool, you can experiment with basic management system functionalities, file formats, and linguistic quality assurance.

With free trial, you can also check out the user interface and help sections to see if the software is something you'd like to work with.

Best CAT Tools on the Market

So now that you know how to pick a fully featured CAT tool, it's time to look at a few translation management system providers out there. All of these CAT tools come with features like translation memory, terminology management, project and workflow management, quality assurance, file format support, multilingual capabilities, and more.

  • Bureau Works - An innovative CAT tool that helps translators, agencies, and corporations manage translation projects efficiently. The platform prioritizes translators by offering a cockpit equipped with a glossary, translation memory, machine translation, and ChatGPT. These resources aid translators in making informed decisions and achieving optimal results.
  • SDL Trados Studio - A powerful CAT tool that offers a wide range of features, including automated translation options, full-text search capabilities, and multiple translation memories, to name a few.
  • memoQ - A popular CAT tool that allows you to quickly search, edit and manage multiple projects. It offers software localization, full-text search capabilities, as well as terminology management tools.
  • Smartcat- Smartcat is a powerful translation resource management system that allows you to manage, analyze, and track projects from start to finish. Reportedly, the tool helps users achieve an 80% reduction in translation costs.

Empowering Human Translators With Machine Translation

With the population increasing, Internet penetration rising, and cross-sea trade blossoming, the translation industry will continue to expand. Working with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and languages is an avoidable part of the business world.

That's why knowing what CAT tools are and how they can help you is important. Using your own CAT tool can help you speed up translation projects, maintain consistency across all outputs, provide flexibility, and even save money in the long run.

With Bureau Work's technological framework, you can continuously deliver high-quality translations, no matter your industry. The framework has the translation know-how of experienced language service providers, and it's easy to use.

Make sure to contact us today, check out our free trial, and see if we're the right service for you.

Rodrigo Demetrio
Steering the marketing ship at Bureau Works with 17+ years of MarTech under my belt, I transform mere ideas into tangible realities. Passionate about languages and their power to build bridges, let's build a new one?
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