Working with CAT tools

Working with CAT tools

CAT – Computer Assisted Translation, is not the same as machine translation. It’s not a program like Google Translate where you feed in your source text and the program handles the translation for you – and where you often get these hilarious mistakes that arise because the program does not understand that different words are used in different contexts. One the famous ones of these howlers is "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation", which was translated into "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead."

CAT tools, on the other hand, are software that stores your own translations in its memory, so if you get more work on the same or a very similar project, the CAT tool will retrieve those translations for you. And it recognises repetitions within a text and automatically inserts the translations..

CAT tools greatly enhance productivity and ensure consistent translations.

They are particularly well suited to technical and repetitive texts, to manuals, handbooks, product descriptions. They are not quite so suited to literary texts, to the translation of novels and poetry.  But for most translators, they are an integral part of our daily work.

It is extremely helpful if a CAT tool is capable of showing us our own previous translations automatically inserting translations into repeated sentences.

But it does give rise to a huge question in the translating industry: What to charge for repetitions and matches. Matches are instances where a translation memory (TM) provided by the agency, already contains the translation of a sentence and the translator simply has to accept that translation. And matches are expressed in percentage points, from 100% the same as the sentence stored in the memory down to 0% the same.

Our agency clients in particular also all use CAT tools and expect us to charge differentiated rates. They don’t want to pay for 100% repeated text nor for 100% matches, and they want to pay less than full price for 70-99% matches.

It makes sense. If you don’t have to translate it, or only make a minor change, say from red skirt to red trousers, why should you get paid as much for that as if you had to translate the whole paragraph?

And yet, for translators, it’s not quite that simple.

Not everything that is a 100% repetition in one language is also a 100% repetition another. Sometimes, one word has several meanings and just happens to be spelt the same.

And so, in a recent tourism text on various winter sporting events and competitions in South Tyrol, there was a frequent one liner: Preise:.

In most cases, it meant prices. But on two occasions it meant prizes.

So if your text is about a sporting event at which prizes are given out, but if there is an entry price for spectators, your CAT tool segment Preise can have many 100% repetitions of Preise. But you still have to check whether any repetition refers to prices or prizes.

If you’re not willing to pay me anything at all for any repetitions, I will not even look at them. I filter them before I start your translation and I lock those sentences, so they don’t even appear before my eyes.  And I would not spot instances like this one.

Matches below  100% are even more complicated. You’ve changed red skirt to red trousers and only want to pay a fraction of the standard price for the sentences concerned, because the change only affects two words.

While that is true in English, it is not true in German, where a skirt is grammatically an it, while trousers are feminine, she.  And that impacts on the translation of red and green, but also on the translation of other words in that sentence. It is possible that several words have to be changed, including the whole word order in a sentence, when all you do in English is change two simple words.

An English language example would be substituting  "umbrella" for "raincoat". It’s "a" raincoat but "an" umbrella. So if you change raincoat to umbrella, you have to also change any a’s in front of the word, or you end up with "a umbrella"

A particular challenge are questionnaires like this:

What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

1.       clean your teeth

2.       make a cup of tea

3.       feed the dog

Your next question could be:

What do you say most frequently to your child in the morning?

1.       clean your teeth

2.       make a cup of tea

3.       feed the dog


Exactly the same 3 answers in English. So they’re 100% repetitions.

Only, again, in German they’re not.

The first set of three are plain statements of what you do, the second set of three are requests. And in German, the two are translated completely differently.

And so clean your teeth changes from die Zähne putzen to putz dir die Zähne.

When your translator isn’t immediately willing to give you massive discounts for repetitions and matches, please don’t assume that they are trying to rip you off. Discounts are fine if you are absolutely 100% sure that your repetitions are repetitions and that your matches are matches ’ in both languages. Otherwise it pays to be careful.


Can you put that quickly into German?

Working with CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools

Working with PDFs