what is computer-assisted translation?

What is Computer-Assisted Translation or CAT?


What is Computer-Assisted Translation or CAT?

CAT stands for Computer-Assisted Translation or Computer-Aided Translation. It is also called Machine-Assisted Translation (MAT) or Machine-Aided Human Translation (MAHT). Plenty of abbreviations, but they all stand for the same thing: a real person creates the translation, with computer software facilitating parts of the process. So the words ‘human’ and ‘assisted’ are quite essential there. The human touch is what makes CAT very different from Machine Translation (MT) where there’s no intervention of a real person at all. Why do professional translators use these tools anyway? Let’s clear things up for you.

what is computer-assisted translation?

Machine Translation or MT: the quick win

Machine Translation is exactly what it says. A computer program creates a translation without any human interference. MT replaces words in one language with words in another language. Will you understand the translation? Sure. Will it be flawless? Never. Because a text is not about loose fragments, but about a flow of sentences.

No matter how many great steps we have already taken with technology, good translations still require human interference if you want to maintain subtleties of meaning and flow. For this, MT lacks human skills. When you do opt for Machine Translation, you should at least intervene yourself with post-editing. But how will you do that if you don’t know the target language yourself?

Computer-Assisted Translation or CAT: the human touch

In the case of Computer-Assisted Translation, computers also get involved, but real people have the first and final say. The translators only employ the software to optimise their work. Do we encourage professional translators to use them? Absolutely. CAT tools speed up the translation process and reduce errors without creating new ones.

How exactly does CAT work? First, you open the source text in a credited CAT tool (think of Wordbee, CafeTran and Trados). The software splits the source text into sentences, paragraphs, titles, etc. You’ll see two fields on the screen: the source text field and the empty translation field, one segment after another. You then type the translation into the empty fields. When you are writing a similar fragment, the CAT tool will recognise that particular text unit and provide you with recommendations from its translation memory.


The advantages of CAT

Computer-Assisted Translation facilitates the translation process with a broad range of tools:

  • Translation memory tools cross-refer to segments stored in the database
  • Spelling and grammar tools take care of double-checks
  • Terminology databases provide specific instructions for specialised terminology
  • Electronic dictionaries suggest synonyms and related words from a thesaurus
  • Project management software structures complex translation projects


At lilo, we can only encourage our freelance translators to use a Computer-Aided Translation program to optimise their professional translation services. Humans and software make for a golden match. Just like our online translation platform matches a suitable translator with your text.

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