What is a CAT Tool?

What does the phrase CAT tool bring to mind? Maybe something a lion tamer would use? Or an app that brings you the most adorable cat videos on demand? Unfortunately, it’s nothing so exciting in the world of translation, although it is a big part of the profession as a whole.


You can think of a termbase as a personalized dictionary. Translators who use CAT tools might have termbases for different specialties (one for cardiology terms, another for pharmaceutical, etc.). They also might have different termbases for different clients. Think about Apple and Android…those two companies don’t want their texts sounding anything like the competitor’s, so they likely have specific terminology requirements. Say the translator reaches a segment where the source has a word that’s in this cultivated dictionary. The program will show the translator what’s in this “dictionary” as the translation for that word. The translator uses critical thinking to determine if that’s the right translation in context.


Translation memories (TMs) look for phrases in the source text that have appeared previously. It might be searching only within that one file or also within other files — it’s based on how the translator sets it up, which is based on the project type and the client. A translator working for both Apple and Android would certainly not set their file up to search through the competitor’s texts. Conversely, a translator who has handled dozens of mechanical engineering patents might compile one TM with all their patents to keep wording consistent.


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