Computer-Assisted Translation: Advantages and Drawbacks of CAT Tools

Nowadays, computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools are flourishing in the professional translation sector. However, the use of such software has created a lively debate within the profession. Are CAT tools relevant for all types of translation projects? Can CAT tools really take precedence over human know-how and creativity?

CAT tools were built with the aim of making the translation process easier for its users by building and updating translation memory banks during the translation process. The main benefit of using CAT Tools is obviously the drastic gain in time and efficiency. Translators who support the use of this technology in their line of work would argue that these tools guarantee a rigorous consistency of terminology throughout their document and avoid later mistakes. They also minimise the amount of manual entry work needed thanks to the pre-translated grammatical and orthographic suggestions. For instance, this type of software guarantees consistency when the same sentences or terms appear later in the text to be translated.

CAT tools can obviously bring benefits to translators. Yet, some of the professionals have been reluctant to use this technology.

Computer-Assisted Translation Tools might be truly helpful and efficient. However, is CAT technology relevant for all types of translation projects?

When it comes to technical documents such as contracts and financial documents, which are likely to have a number of terms repeated throughout, CAT tools are relevant and the more you use them, the better they get as your translation memory banks become more populated and therefore accurate. However, when it comes to translating literary texts, this technology is unsuitable and ineffective as the variation of meaning behind each word and sentence is significant.

In the case of novel translations, which Bookworm Translations specialises in, creativity and human input are essential. This is often down to cultural references, play on words and the perils of translating humour, something which machines are still unable to do convincingly as it requires an in-depth knowledge of the target culture’s sense of humour, clichés and stereotypes to name a few. 

Moreover, when the documentation needs to be localized in order to adapt to the targeted culture and people, which is often the case for marketing material, websites and PR documents, human know-how, creativity and cultural knowledge are absolutely imperative.

In a nutshell, CAT tools are to be used with caution. Translators must be aware of the type of text they are about to translate in order to meet their client’s requirements.  If, however, the client needs a technical document translated such as a user manual, a contract, an e-commerce website or any other text which has a lot of repetitions in it, then this is definitely something to be considered in order to reduce the overall time, cost and likelihood of terminology being used inconsistently throughout. This is especially true if the text in question is to be translated by more than one person as they will all be singing from the same hymn sheet if they use the same translation memory bank or glossary from the outset.

To learn more about CAT tools, please visit the following websites:






Free CAT tool:


Bookworm Translations is a Manchester-based company which was founded in 2008 with a view to becoming the creative industries' translation partner of choice, including authors and publishers. Since…


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