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In recent years, computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools have made the translation process much more efficient, highlighting the crucial role of translators as stakeholders in this process. Most professional translators nowadays use these tools. A CAT tool is specialised translation software often referred to as a “translation tool”. Its function is to aid and optimise the translation process, and to increase the overall quality of translations. CAT tools include integrated features, such as:

  • Translation memories
  • Term bases
  • Automated quality assurance (QA)

This specialised translation software can be used to create translation memories, i.e., client-specific databases storing translation units (“segments” containing a sentence/phrase in the source language and its corresponding translation). With each new translation order from a specific client, CAT tools compare the new source sentence and existing source sentences in the translation memory, calculating how much they match; i.e., how similar the new text is to previously translated texts. Segments already translated in a previous order (and therefore saved in the translation memory) are then automatically suggested to the translator as possible translations.

What are the benefits of CAT tools?

Benefits for clients

  • Better quality
  • Shorter turnaround times
  • More consistent terminology
  • Uniform wording (using existing translations whenever applicable)
  • Technical compatibility (translations are exported in the same format as the source texts, retaining formatting and file metadata)

Benefits for translators and translation agencies

  • Larger volumes can be translated in less time
  • Multiple translators can work on the same project at once (with a cloud-based CAT tool), handy for meeting tight deadlines
  • Terminology databases and translation memories
  • Streamlined process (translation, proofreading and QA in the same program)
  • Automated QA
  • Precise automated analysis and statistics of the document(s) to be translated
  • Management of all file formats (InDesign, HTML, XML, etc.)
  • Several documents can be translated within a single project, ensuring consistency

What about machine translation?

Machine translation (MT) is a translation carried out by a computer program, primarily without human intervention. The beginnings of MT date back to the 1950s. [1] MT is a highly complex computing process that analyses the source text and then produces a translation. Different approaches or models can be used; the two most common ones are statistical machine translation (SMT) and neural machine translation (NMT). Machine translation is based on a) increasingly powerful linguistic analysis tools and statistical models, derived from bilingual corpora analysis, or b) engines employing deep learning. These automatic (instant) translators can translate whole documents in only a few seconds, with the best-known example probably being Google Translate.

Though MT works at a speed unparalleled by any other process, it has serious limitations. Namely, the quality of the translations produced in this way often leaves much to be desired. The most problematic feature is word-for-word translation, which often (depending on the target language) results in strange, foreign-sounding, or even ridiculous translations. Another key problem is consistency of terminology as the MT does not “remember” what it did from one sentence to the next. For this reason, nowadays almost all MT-produced texts intended for further use are post-edited (checked and edited after the machine has finished) by a human translator. Sometimes, post-editing such a translation can take longer than doing the translation the “old-fashioned” way. But  the post-edited machine translation may still be faster than using traditional methods, with fewer shortcomings when it comes to quality.

What is the difference between MT and CAT tools?

According to the NF EN ISO 17100 standard, machine translation is “automated translation of text or speech from one natural language into another natural language using a computer system” [2]. Generated by software without human intervention, it provides a quick overview of content, regardless of the source language, although it has limitations as mentioned above.

A CAT tool is practically indispensable to the human translator for preparing a new translation. This specialised software maintains the same file format of the translated document, and integrates client terminology, wording, and style preferences through translation memories, term bases, and automated QA tools. CAT tools (as software) not only ensure consistency of translations, but also increase quality and turnaround times, thus helping to reduce costs and shorten deadlines in the long term.

The difference is the human touch

Machine translation is entirely done by a computer program; it may or may not be post-edited by a human translator who knows the field afterwards. Computer-assisted translation, in contrast, is done by a human translator.

It is thus very important not to confuse the two. In both cases, a computer program is involved in the translation process, but in a dramatically different role. At Alamma, we do rely on technology to make our work easier and faster; however, we are firm believers in the human touch and everything it brings to the table. Our translators benefit from the use of CAT tools to provide our clients with quality and, above all, human translations, though it is impossible to deny MT also has its place in the needs of modern-day clients.

If you have found this article useful, but still have questions about the differences between the two processes, do not hesitate to contact us at, and we will be happy to answer your questions.


[1], accessed on 2 Jun 2021
[2], accessed on 2 Jun 2021